It’s baseball season.
Pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training for a few teams on Monday, and most report today. All of them have one goal in mind: playing (and winning) in October.
Sure, the 2017 postseason is a long way off, and while many (including me) will try to predict who will reach the playoffs, there are always surprise teams, especially in baseball.
Whoever makes the playoffs will have a tough act to follow, after so many great moments in the 2016 postseason, culminating with the first Chicago Cubs World Series title in 108 years.
As we look ahead to the 2017 season, here’s a look back on the best moments from last October (and early November):
5. The Cubs comeback to win NLDS
After the Cubs led the best-of-5 NLDS 2-0, the San Francisco Giants came back to win Game 3 in extra innings and stay alive.
In Game 4, the Cubs trailed 5-2 after eight innings, and Giants starter Matt Moore looked unstoppable. However, Moore due to a high pitch count Moore had to come out after the eighth, handing the game over to the shaky Giants bullpen. A pair of Giants relievers allowed four Cubs to score, including a game-tying 2-RBI single by Willson Contreras and a go-ahead RBI single by Javier Baez.
When Aroldis Chapman got the save, the Cubs had completed the largest ninth-inning comeback in a series-clinching game in MLB history, and ended the Giants run of “even year” dominance (they won the World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014).
4. Two Blue Jays walkoff clinchers
The Toronto Blue Jays reached the ALCS, doing so on the strength of walk-off wins to clinch both the AL Wild Card Game and the ALDS.
In the Wild Card Game, with lights-out Orioles closer Zach Britton still in the bullpen in the 11th inning, Edwin Encarnacion hit a 3-run homer off Ubaldo Jimenez, giving the Blue Jays a 5-2 win to advance to the ALDS.
In Game 3 of the ALDS, with Toronto leading the series 2-0, a Russell Martin grounder seemed poised to send the 6-6 game to the 11th. But after a bad throw pulled Texas Rangers 1B Mitch Moreland off the base, Josh Donaldson broke for the plate, beating the throw to score, winning the game and the series.
This play had some additional procedural drama, as the Rangers appealed that there had been obstruction at second base on Encarnacion. When the play was reviewed and upheld, the top-seeded Rangers had been swept, and the Blue Jays were in their second straight ALCS.
3. Indians shutout wins pennant
The Cleveland Indians progressed through the playoffs on the strength of their incredible pitching. After ousting the Boston Red Sox in the ALDS to end David Ortiz’s career, the Indians took a 3-0 lead in the ALCS against Toronto.
The Blue Jays won Game 4, and many favored Toronto to win Game 5, as Cleveland turned to rookie Ryan Merritt, who had just one regular season start.
Merritt, who inherited a 1-0 lead after a run scored on an error in the top of the first, went 4.2 scoreless innings (falling one out short of qualifying for the win), and the Indians bullpen finished the job (one inning by Bryan Shaw, 2.2 innings by Andrew Miller, one inning by Cody Allen).
All told, it was a six-hit shutout of a potent Blue Jays lineup, as Cleveland clinched their first pennant in 19 years. They would eventually fall just short in the World Series, and enter 2017 seeking their first title since 1948.
2. Kershaw saves Game 5
The winner-take-all Game 5 of the NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and Washington Nationals was the longest nine-inning game in MLB postseason history–and was well worth the time investment to watch.
Starters Max Scherzer (WAS) and Rich Hill (LAD) both pitched well, allowing a single run. Scherzer’s run was a game-tying homer in the seventh by Joc Pederson.
That only began the wild seventh–after Scherzer was relieved, Carlos Ruiz gave the Dodgers a lead with an RBI single, and Justin Turner stretched it to 4-1 with a 2-RBI double. In the bottom half, Chris Heisey hit a 2-run pinch-hit homer to make it 4-3.
After the homer, Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen entered with no outs in the seventh. He stranded the bases loaded in the seventh, and another runner in the eighth.
With two on and one out in the ninth, Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw entered the game on one day rest.
Kershaw got Daniel Murphy to pop up, then struck out Wilmer Difo to end the game, earning his first major league save to clinch a postseason series (and his first save at any level since 2006 in rookie ball).
1. Cubs win first World Series since 1908 in Game 7 for the ages
After six thrilling games, the 112th World Series between the Indians and Cubs was tied at 3-3. The Indians had led the Series 3-1, but the Cubs had come back to force Game 7.
Before Game 7, I called it baseball’s “game of the century” thus far, fully expecting that it would not live up to that lofty level of hype. And yet, the game far surpassed it, legitimately becoming the greatest baseball game played in the 21st century.
Game 7 had everything. Dexter Fowler led off the game with a home run, and Javier Baez and David Ross added solo homers for the Cubs, with Ross’s coming in the final at-bat of his career. Cubs starter Jon Lester came in in relief, giving up one earned run in three innings.
The Cubs committed three errors, and two Indians scored on a wild pitch, the first such play in a World Series game since 1911. Cubs leads of 5-1 and 6-3 evaporated almost instantly in the eighth, with Rajai Davis tying the game with a 2-run homer.
It became the first Game 7 to go to extra innings since 1997 (which the Indians lost to the Florida Marlins), and that was put on hold for 17 minutes by a passing shower (the first World Series rain delay since 2008).
Ben Zobrist’s RBI double put the Cubs ahead, and Miguel Montero added an RBI that turned out to be a big insurance run. In the bottom of the 10th, Davis singled to pull to within 8-7, before Mike Montgomery came in to pitch and took just two pitches to record his first professional save, a final out that will be replayed forever.
A story that many veteran writers called the best story they had ever covered–the Cubs finally winning the World Series–was an appropriate end to an insane 2016 MLB postseason. After Cubs fans waited 108 years,