Chicago Cubs: 2016 Stiles on Sports Sportsmen of the Year

*Editor’s Note:  This post was originally scheduled to be published on December 31, but due to personal sickness was delayed until now. 

 

They endured 108 years as the Lovable Losers, through a billy-goat curse, a black-cat jinx, and a Bartman blunder.  But now, after a World Series and a seventh game for the ages, the Chicago Cubs are, finally, the champions of baseball.

Historic championships always lend themselves to year-end honors, but with the Cubs it is hard to pinpoint one individual face of the franchise to recognize, as players, coaches, executives, and the fans all were an integral part of the storyline of the Cubs triumph.

Thus, the Chicago Cubs are, collectively, the 2016 Stiles on Sports Sportsmen of the Year.

The Cubs, as World Series favorites from start to finish, stormed through the regular season at 103-58, the best season in MLB since 2004.

Leading the NLDS 2-1, the Cubs ended the Giants run of even-year titles and their 10-game elimination-game win streak when they came from 5-2 down in the ninth inning to win Game 4, pulling the largest ninth-inning comeback in a series clincher in MLB history.

Facing a 2-1 NLCS deficit against the Dodgers, they dominated the next three games by scores of 10-2, 8-4, and 5-0, cruising to their first World Series appearance since 1945, clinching the pennant in front of a raucous home crowd at Wrigley Field.

In the Fall Classic, the Cubs met the Cleveland Indians, who had a 68-year title drought of their own and took a 3-1 series lead, putting the Cubs’ backs against the wall.  The Cubs won 3-2 in Game 5, the last game of the series in Chicago, but still needed to win the final two games on the road to win the series, something that had not been done in a World Series since 1979.  A 9-3 Cubs win in Game 6, led by an Addison Russell grand slam, set up a monumental Game 7.

It took an 8-7, 10-inning instant classic for the Cubs to win the World Series–a game that included home runs by Dexter Fowler, Javier Baez and David Ross, three errors and a costly wild pitch, the loss of a four-run lead, some debatable strategy, and regaining the momentum after a rain delay to score in the 10th on a Ben Zobrist double, before two young, relatively unknown pitchers got the final three outs.

When Michael Martinez grounded into the final out, Wrigleyville could finally erupt in celebration of a world champion, feeling both the thrill of victory and the relief of a weight lifted that had been bogging them down for over a century.

The final out was, in baseball scoring terms, a 5-3 putout, from third baseman Kris Bryant to first baseman Anthony Rizzo, a play that may be the most appropriate way for this team to clinch its championship.  Bryant and Rizzo, whose names have often been shortened and combined into the nickname “Bryzzo,” are the two young offensive stars of the Cubs franchise.

Bryant, the NL MVP, hit .292 with 39 home runs and 102 RBI, while Rizzo hit for an identical average with 32 home runs and 109 RBI.  Both are affable, young (Bryant is 24, Rizzo is 27), jovial stars who were beloved in Chicago quickly upon their arrivals, and now are practical immortals in the Windy City.  These two will be favorites in Chicago forever, but will be still team leaders for the North Siders over the coming years, a period that could include additional world championships.

But to focus on Bryant and Rizzo is to ignore the fantastic pitching the Cubs used all year.  Jake Arrieta had a fine season in defense of his 2015 NL Cy Young Award, yet was essentially the team’s third best pitcher behind veteran Jon Lester and breakout star Kyle Hendricks.

Lester, the NL Cy Young runner-up and NLCS MVP, went 19-5 with a 2.44 ERA, leading the team with 202.2 innings pitched and 197 strikeouts, and pitched the opener of each postseason series, as well as pivotal Game 5’s in both the NLCS and World Series, and three innings of relief in Game 7 of the World Series.  Hendricks, a 26-year old in just his second full season, was 16-8 and led baseball with a 2.13 ERA, finishing third in NL Cy Young voting and earning the win in the Cubs’ NLCS clincher, allowing just two runs over his final four postseason starts.

Behind every good pitching staff is also good catching, and while David Ross played the least of the Cubs’ three main catchers, he was one of the team’s biggest leaders.  The 39-year old in his 15th MLB season announced at the beginning of the year he would retire at season’s end, and “Grandpa Rossy” was given a farewell tour usually not seen for a role player such as a backup catcher.  But it was for good reason; his veteran leadership by example and positive attitude rubbed off on his teammates, aiding in their success.  Ross, who was Lester’s personal catcher, homered in Game 7 of the World Series–the final at-bat of his career–and was 2-for-5 overall in the World Series.

Many others from the top to the bottom of the Cubs roster had similar contribution.  Ben Zobrist, the son of a preacher who grew up two hours southwest of Chicago but as a fan of the rival Cardinals, earned the game-winning hit in Game 7 of the World Series, and earned series MVP honors after hitting .357 and slugging .500 in the series.

Kyle Schwarber, one of the best young players in baseball who had five home runs in the 2015 postseason, was thought to be lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL on April 7 in the third game of the season.  But Schwarber progressed rapidly through rehab, and after six months was cleared to resume baseball activities.  After just six at-bats in the developmental Arizona Fall League (in which he only got one hit), the Cubs and Schwarber agreed he was ready to play DH in the World Series.  In 17 at-bats in the World Series–his first against major league pitching in 201 days–Schwarber got seven hits (.412), with two RBI, three walks, and even a stolen base in Game 7.

The delivery of the immortality-inducing final out of the historic World Series came not from a big star, but from little-known Mike Montgomery.  The 26-year old southpaw in his second major league season was acquired on July 20 from Seattle, and projects long-term as a starting pitcher, but spent the last half of the season in the Cubs bullpen, pitching strong to a 2.82 ERA.  After struggling in the NLCS, Montgomery recovered to pitch 4.2 innings with one run allowed in the World Series.

With closer Aroldis Chapman expended in Game 7, and Carl Edwards struggling in the tenth, Montgomery came in with two outs and the potential tying run on base.  It only took two pitches for Montgomery to retire Michael Martinez and earn his first professional save at any level–a save that culminated an incredible game and clinched a championship 108 years in the making.

Even the Cub who may have struggled the most on the field throughout the season and the postseason made his own contribution to the North Siders’ title.  Jason Heyward, who signed an eight-year, $184 million deal with the team before the season, hit for just a .230 average in the regular season with 49 RBI and a career-low seven home runs, although he did contribute his usual stellar defense, winning his fourth career Gold Glove.  Heyward hit just .104 in the postseason with one RBI in 48 at-bats.

Yet it was Heyward, and not one of the multiple MVP-caliber players on the Cubs roster, who called a team meeting during the rain delay of Game 7.  The Cubs had led 5-1 before Cleveland had come back to tie the game at 6-6, and the skies had opened up just as extra innings were set to begin.

“I just had to remind everybody who we are, who these guys are, what we’ve overcome to get here,” Heyward told FOX Sports after the game.  “The beginning of every day, we didn’t worry about win or loss.  We’re just worried about how we’re going to go out there and have fun, compete, be right there for the guys next to us, and not take the situation for granted.  I just had to remind them of that, and I’m proud of these guys.”

Going out there and having fun is something the Cubs do well, thanks in large part to manager Joe Maddon.  To say Maddon’s teams in both Tampa Bay (2006-14) and Chicago (2015-present) have always been loose would be an understatement.

Maddon is the quintessential “players manager,” with a style that lets players be themselves and do whatever they wish, so long as they show up on time and perform on the field.  As a result, his players perform well more often.  Maddon always seemed to overachieve with young, upstart rosters in Tampa Bay, so once he had a championship-caliber roster with the Cubs, he delivered, likely sealing a future trip to Cooperstown.

Maddon was hired by the front office team of Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer.  Both Epstein, the Cubs president of baseball operations, and Hoyer, the general manager, now have a reputation as curse-breakers, after the pair were the top two in the front office in Boston when the Red Sox ended their 86-year drought in 2004, then ended an even longer one in Chicago.  Ending long-standing droughts for two of the most renowned franchises in baseball is remarkable, but it’s even more extraordinary when you consider that Epstein, the face of the front office, and Hoyer, a behind-the-scenes administrator, both just turned 43 in December.

The pair of Epstein and Hoyer were brought to Chicago for the sole purpose of ending “The Curse of the Billy Goat” by owner Tom Ricketts.  Ricketts, an investment banking executive, bought the Cubs franchise in 2009, and has now delivered on his vow to bring a championship to the Cubs and their fans.  This promise was important to Ricketts and his family, as Ricketts became a Cubs fan while attending the University of Chicago, met his wife in the Wrigley Field bleachers, and even once lived in an apartment at the “Sports Corner” of Addison and Sheffield, across the street from The Friendly Confines.

A Cubs fan leading the team to the title is only fitting, as this was truly the fans’ title.  No member of the Cubs roster has been with the team longer than six seasons, yet these loyal, dedicated, and overwhelmingly patient fans have been with the team for, in many cases, decades.  Entire lifetimes have been spent waiting for one moment, which finally came in the form of a slow grounder to third at 11:46 p.m. central time on November 2, 2016.

It was these fans who celebrated night and day in Wrigleyville and throughout Chicago after the title.  On November 4, two days after Game 7, an estimated five million people packed the route for the Cubs victory celebration, making it the seventh-largest gathering in human history, joining a list of most-attended events mainly reserved for religious pilgrimages and funerals of world leaders.

The event featured a parade from Wrigley Field down Michigan Avenue, culminating with a victory rally at Grant Park.  This “only when pigs fly” event occurred eight years to the day after another such event at Grant Park:  the victory speech of a black man, Barack Obama, elected as President of the United States.

But the impact was felt beyond just the coast of Lake Michigan, but from coast to coast of the United States.  The Cubs have a nationwide fanbase, thanks in large part to the many years their games were broadcast on WGN, and fans across the country celebrated.  It was the first title in the lifetime of nearly all of the Cubs’ numerous fans, with two known exceptions:  108-year-olds Mabel Ball of Illinois, who passed away just days after her Cubs win the World Series, and Hazel Nilson of New Hampshire.

Members of every World Series-winning team make appearances around the talk show circuit over the following days, but the Cubs collectively fulfilled more obligations than usual, with everything from Ellen to Saturday Night Live, where Rizzo, Ross and Fowler appeared with lifelong Cubs fan and former cast member Bill Murray in a barber shop quartet-style rendition of Steve Goodman’s “Go Cubs Go,” a team anthem that is played at Wrigley Field after victories and was heard throughout the country in the days following the World Series.

After 108 years of waiting, the Cubs and their fans got to celebrate.  A Cubs World Series title is one of the sports stories of a lifetime, and honoring one of these individuals or even the fans as the face of the triumph would be unfair to everyone else who participated in a historic championship run.  So after their phenomenal run to history, the Cubs are communally the Sportsmen of the Year.

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World Series Recap: Red Sox def. Cardinals, 4-2

The 2004 World Series Trophy in City Hall Plaz...

The Commissioner’s Trophy (File) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the 3rd time in the last 10 baseball seasons, the team celebrating a World Series title is the Boston Red Sox, who defeated the St. Louis Cardinals in 6 games to win their 8th championship.  This title was historic, since it was the first one clinched at Fenway Park in Boston since 1918 (their titles in 2004 and 2007 were both clinched on their opponent’s field).  This was an odd series that included a lot of big hits, some big calls, and one Big Papi.  This was the 4th World Series meeting between the Red Sox and Cardinals, after the Cardinals won in 1946 and 1967, and the Red Sox won in 2004.  Let’s look at each game of this World Series.

Game 1:  Red Sox 8, Cardinals 1.  The Red Sox wasted no time making a statement in Game 1.  In the top of the 1st, with the bases loaded, Mike Napoli hit a 3-run double to make the score 3-0.  That occurred in the at-bat after a controversial sequence that included a Pete Kozma error, first incorrectly called as an out, before a conference of the umpires led to an overturned call.  In the 2nd, Dustin Pedroia singled, making it 4-0.  David Ortiz hit a fly ball to deep right, and Carlos Beltran made a tough catch to save a grand slam, but David Ross scored on the sacrifice, making the score 5-0 Boston.  Adam Wainwright settled down after that, but the damage was done.  David Ortiz added a 2-run homer in the 7th to make the score 7-0, and in the 8th, 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts added a run on a sacrifice fly that scored Daniel Nava, making the score 8-0.  Jon Lester threw 7 2/3 scoreless innings for the Red Sox, and the Cardinals scored their only run on a Matt Holliday solo homer off Ryan Dempster in the top of the 9th, once the game was practically out of reach.  The Red Sox had dominated Game 1, and had a 1-0 lead (this was their 9th consecutive win in World Series play, tied for 4th all-time).

Game 2:  Cardinals 4, Red Sox 2.  Game 2 featured a pitcher’s duel between John Lackey and Michael Wacha, and the game was scoreless through the first 3 innings.  The first run of the game scored on an RBI groundout, as Yadier Molina’s grounder to 2nd scored Matt Holliday, giving the Cardinals their first lead of the series.  When Michael Wacha threw a scoreless 4th, he became just the 4th pitcher in MLB history to allow 1 run or less in his first 25 postseason innings, joining Christy Mathewson (who didn’t allow a run), Babe Ruth (1 run) and Don Sutton (1 run); not bad company.  Both pitchers continued to dazzle until the bottom of the 6th.  In that inning, after a Dustin Pedroia 1-out walk, David Ortiz hit a Michael Wacha changeup the other way, elevating it enough to clear the Green Monster in left.  The homer gave the Red Sox a 2-1 lead.  The Red Sox needed a shutdown inning in the top of the 7th, but the Cardinals did not cooperate.  A Matt Carpenter sacrifice fly tied the game at 2-2 when Pete Kozma scored, before a throwing error on the play allowed Jon Jay to score, giving the Cardinals a 3-2 lead.  The next batter, Carlos Beltran, hit a single that scored Daniel Descalso and the Cardinals had a 4-2 lead.  Carlos Martinez and Trevor Rosenthal got the final 9 outs, and the series was tied.

Game 3:  Cardinals 5, Red Sox 4.  Game 3 will long be remembered for a certain controversial call in the 9th inning (I’ll get there in a minute), but first let’s look at what was otherwise an excellent baseball game.  The Cardinals began the scoring in the bottom of the 1st, after Joe Kelly’s perfect inning in the top half, with RBI singles by Matt Holliday and Yadier Molina.  Nobody got past 2nd for either side until the bottom of the 4th, when the Cardinals had the bases loaded with nobody out but failed to score.  In the top of the 5th, Xander Bogaerts scored when pinch-hitter Mike Carp grounded out, making the score 2-1 Cardinals.  In the top of the 6th, a Daniel Nava singled scored Shane Victorino, tying the game at 2-2.  In the bottom of the 7th, a Matt Holliday RBI double scored 2, giving the Cardinals a 4-2 lead.  In the top of the 8th, the Red Sox answered, with runs scoring on a Daniel Nava fielder’s choice groundout and a short single by Xander Bogaerts, tying the score at 4-4.  In the top of the 9th, Red Sox manager John Farrell made a managerial mistake that may have impaired the Red Sox chances.  Believing that the game may go into extra innings, he sent relief pitcher Brandon Workman to the plate, instead of opting to pinch-hit Mike Napoli, who was on the bench since there was no DH (the game was being played in a NL park, under NL rules).  This was Workman’s first MLB at-bat, and he struck out.  That situation was only compounded when Workman didn’t pitch an extended outing, throwing just 1/3 of an inning and being pulled after giving up a hit to Yadier Molina.  Koji Uehara relieved Workman, and gave up a double to Allen Craig setting the stage for Jon Jay.  Jay hit a liner to 2B Dustin Pedroia, who somehow picked it and threw it to the plate, cutting down Yadier Molina.  Craig broke for 3rd late, so C Jarrod Saltalamacchia saw a potential play at 3rd.  3B Will Middlebrooks had to dive for his throw, which eventually went down the left field line.  Middlebrooks ended up on the ground after the dive, and Craig inadvertently tripped over Middlebrooks’ legs/feet as he broke for the plate.  LF Daniel Nava got to the ball and threw home, appearing to throw out Craig, but umpire Jim Joyce had called obstruction on Middlebrooks, which awarded Craig the next base.  Since the next base happened to be home plate, the Cardinals had a run, and a 5-4 win, giving them a 2-1 series lead.

Yes, the play looked awkward; it was.  That’s the first time any postseason game (much less one in the World Series) has ever ended on obstruction, and the first time I’ve ever seen any game end on obstruction.  In fact, I think I’ve only seen obstruction 2 or 3 times in my life.  Jim Joyce took some heat from the media, something he’s unfortunately used to after he blew a call in 2010 on what would have been the final out of a perfect game by Armando Galarraga.  Like that situation, he handled this one with class and dignity, or in other words, the right way.  But in this case, unlike the call he so obviously missed 3 years ago, he got the call right.  Whether there was intent or not (and I have no evidence that there was intent), Will Middlebrooks tripped Allen Craig, impeding his path toward home plate.  I went back and timed a couple of things on that final play.  First, I timed how long it took the ball to get to home from the time it got past Middlebrooks and went up the line, which was 6.5 seconds.  Next, I timed how long it took Craig to get home once he got up from the trip, which is how long it would have taken him had he not tripped, and that was 4.5 seconds.  In other words, if the trip had not occurred, Craig would have beat the ball to the plate by 2 whole seconds.  As is, he would’ve been out by a wide margin in the event Joyce had not called obstruction.  Therefore, this was absolutely te right call, as Middlebrooks inadvertent trip of Craig cost him the next base, which he was awarded.  The fact that next base happened to be home plate was a big part of the reason for the ensuing controversy.

This was the first World Series game to end on an error since, ironically, the Red Sox lost Game 6 in 1986 on Bill Buckner’s infamous error.  Luckily for Middlebrooks he will, unlike Buckner, not be the scapegoat, since the Red Sox went on to win the series in this case.  In fact, the unusual celebration at home plate by a shocked Cardinals team (Adam Wainwright claimed he thought he’d seen “the worst call of all-time” when plate umpire Dana DeMuth called Craig safe, before realizing it was the result of the events at 3rd base) was the last such celebration they would have in the series.

Game 4:  Red Sox 4, Cardinals 2.  As bizarre as the ending to Game 3 was, Game 4 also had a strange ending, although this time, there was very little controversy.  The pitching matchup was between Lance Lynn of the Cardinals and Clay Buchholz of the Red Sox, who pitched through nagging injury.  In the bottom of the 3rd, Carlos Beltran singled, scoring Matt Carpenter and giving the Cardinals a 1-0 lead.  Lance Lynn was perfect through 4 innings, but in the top of the 5th, after a double and 2 walks loaded the bases, a Stephen Drew sacrifice fly allowed David Ortiz to score, tying the game at 1-1.  Just before the top of the 6th, David Ortiz appeared to give a motivational speech to his teammates in the dugout.  Whatever he said worked; Jonny Gomes (who had been put in the lineup only 75 minutes before first pitch due to Shane Victorino’s back issues) hit a 3-run homer giving the Red Sox a 4-1 lead.  This game had become a bullpen game for Boston, as Buchholz only lasted 4 innings.  Felix Doubront and John Lackey were among the relievers who pitched for the Red Sox, although both had been starters in the regular season and Lackey had started Game 2, and was scheduled to start Game 6.  A Matt Holliday RBI single made the score 4-2, but the Red Sox were still in control.  Advance to the bottom of the 9th, when closer Koji Uehara was in to pitch for the Red Sox.  Allen Craig hit a 1-out single, and was pinch-run for by Kolten Wong (Craig battled a foot injury all series, he actually had not played since September 4 before the series began).  That single game Allen Craig a World Series-record 4th pinch-hit of the series.  After Matt Carpenter popped out, Carlos Beltran came to the plate, but didn’t get a chance to hit; Wong was picked off by Uehara, ending the game, with the Red Sox winning 4-2, and tying the series at 2-2.  Like Game 3, this was the first postseason game in history to end on a pickoff (according to STATS, only 1 game ended on a pickoff during the 2013 regular season).

Game 5:  Red Sox 3, Cardinals 1.  Naturally, Game 5 was a big game, as the winner would be up 3-2 going back to Boston.  After the finishes of Games 3 and 4, people were wondering what oddity would occur in Game 5, but the game ended up being pretty pedestrian.  Game 5 was a pitching rematch of Game 1 between Jon Lester and Adam Wainwright.  The Red Sox hit Wainwright first, with David Ortiz doubling in Dustin Pedroia, giving the Red Sox a 1-0 lead.  After the pitchers exchanged a hand-full of scoreless half-innings, Matt Holliday tied the game at 1-1 on a solo homer in the 4th.  That was the first run Jon Lester had ever given up in World Series play, ending a streak of 16 1/3 scoreless innings to start his career, the 3rd longest in history behind Christy Mathewson and Jim Lonborg.  The pitchers continued to match scoreless innings until the top of the 7th.  After Daniel Nava struck out to lead off, Xander Bogaerts singled.  Stephen Drew came up to bat, and was behind 1-2, before taking 3 straight balls that were probably tempting to hit, and drawing a walk.  Immediately I remarked to some friends in the room that the Drew at-bat may have been one of the biggest of the series.  David Ross made that hypothesis possibly correct when he hit a ground-rule double down the left field line, scoring Bogaerts.  After Jon Lester grounded out, Jacoby Ellsbury singled, scoring Stephen Drew, and although David Ross was thrown out at home, the Red Sox now had a 3-1 lead.  Jon Lester was pulled after 7 2/3 innings, and Koji Uehara came in for the 4-out save.  When he retired his 4 hitters in order, the Red Sox were going back home with a 3-2 series lead.  By the way, Adam Wainwright became the first Cardinals pitcher with 10 strikeouts in a World Series game since Bob Gibson’s 5th such game in 1968, and the first with 10 strikeouts in a loss since Josh Beckett in 2003.

Game 6:  Red Sox 6, Cardinals 1.  The Red Sox came into Game 6 with an opportunity to clinch a World Series at home for the first time since 1918.  In the 1st inning, neither John Lackey of the Red Sox or Michael Wacha of the Cardinals allowed a hit.  In the 2nd, both pitchers allowed two baserunners but did not allow a run.  After Lackey pitched a perfect top of the 3rd, Jacoby Ellsbury led off the bottom half with a single.  A Dustin Pedroia groundout advanced Ellsbury to 2nd (only after Pedroia hit a foul ball that missed being a homer by inches), and David Ortiz was walked intentionally.  After Mike Napoli struck out, Jonny Gomes was hit by a pitch, loading the bases for Shane Victorino.  In Victorino’s last at-bat with the bases loaded, he had hit a grand slam in Game 6 of the ALCS.  This time, he missed a homer by a few feet, but hit it off the Green Monster for a 3-RBI double, giving the Red Sox a 3-0 lead.  In the 4th, after a Stephen Drew solo homer made it 4-0, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino both added RBI singles, scoring 2 more and making the score 6-0.  Victorino’s hit came, once again, with the bases loaded, joining Billy Rogell in 1934 and Bobby Richardson in 1960 as the only players with 2 bases-loaded hits in a World Series game.  All 6 runs were charged to Wacha, after he had given up just 1 run coming into the World Series, and just 2 runs in Game 2 of the Series.  The rookie sensation had finally cracked, costing the Cardinals.  In their remaining 5 turns at bat, the Cardinals only had baserunners in 2 of them, and while a Carlos Beltran RBI single in the 7th made the score 6-1, and Allen Craig hit with the bases loaded in that same half-inning, it was the Red Sox night and the outcome of the game was never really in doubt.  Jon Lester went 6 2/3, and was relieved by Junichi Tazawa (1/3 inning), Brandon Workman (1 inning) and Koji Uehara (1 inning), who came in to pitch the 9th and retired the side, striking out Matt Carpenter for the final out, becoming the first Asian-born pitcher to record the final out of a World Series clincher.  The Red Sox had won the game 6-1, and the series 4-2, taking home another World Series championship.

David Ortiz was intentionally walked 3 times over the course of the game, and was unintentionally walked in the 1st, becoming the 7th player to draw 4 walks in a World Series game, and the 4th to be intentionally walked 3 times in a World Series game (Albert Pujols in 2011, Barry Bonds in 2002, Rudy York in 1946).  Ortiz was the series MVP, after hitting .688 with a .760 on-base percentage, becoming the 3rd oldest World Series MVP (37 years, 346 days), behind Willie Stargell in 1979 and Randy Johnson in 2001.  His .760 OBP was 2nd all-time behind Billy Hatcher (.800 in 1990).  He was the 2nd player in World Series history to reach base 3 times in 5 straight games, joining Barry Bonds in 2002 (although Bonds’ Giants didn’t win that Series).  Even with Ortiz’s success, the Red Sox hit just .211 for the series, which is the 2nd lowest average by a World Series winner since 1969, behind only the 1972 Orioles, who hit .209.  John Lackey became the 7th pitcher in history to win two World Series-clinching games, but the first to do it for 2 different teams, after he won Game 7 for the Angels in 2002 as a rookie.  The Cardinals did have 9 hits, meaning Lackey became just the 2nd pitcher to allow 9 hits and 1 run or less in a World Series clincher, joining Spud Chandler in 1943.

Red Sox fans could finally celebrate at fabled Fenway Park.  A few minutes after the game ended, as I absorbed the history unfolding on my TV, I said to everyone in the room that the curse (referring to the so-called Curse of the Bambino, often cited as a reason for the Red Sox World Series drought from 1918-2004) was now officially, completely over, since a title had now been clinched and celebrated on the field at Fenway Park.

This is the 3rd title for David Ortiz, the final holdover from the 2004 team that won the Red Sox first title in 86 years.  This was also manager John Farrell’s first title, in his first year with the Red Sox, after spending the previous two years with the Toronto Blue Jays.

Boston has the winter to celebrate.  As for the rest of us baseball fans, the countdown to spring training (which stands at about 15 weeks) now begins.