'The Cubbies kicked ass in Cleveland' — and now they're back


CLEVELAND — It’s only appropriate that there’s rain in the forecast for Tuesday night in Cleveland. Yes, it has been the theme throughout baseball this month, but for the Chicago Cubs, rain in Cleveland means something very special. As the team returns to this city for the first time since winning Games 6 and 7 of the 2016 World Series, many involved in that historic championship say their thoughts will turn to baseball’s biggest enemy: rain.

“There will be a sense of nostalgia, just walking in there,” shortstop Addison Russell said over the weekend. “I’m going to try and find the spot in the weight room I was sitting at when J-Hey [Jason Heyward] was making his speech while it was raining outside. Sit down there and take everything in and think back — what was going on in my mind, where we were as a team, all those emotions that we rode. It’s all going to come back.”

At that time, Russell was a baby in terms of baseball age and experience. So were most of the Cubs. Although Heyward, then 27, wasn’t exactly a grizzled veteran, he had been around long enough to sense that his team needed something.

Not long before the rain commenced during Game 7, the Cubs had blown a 6-3 lead in the eighth inning. As the story goes, closer Aroldis Chapman was in tears, and the club was feeling the strain of the moment. After the ninth inning was played, with the game still tied 6-6, the skies opened, allowing Heyward time to gather his team in the visiting team’s weight room.

“If anything should live throughout Cubs lore, it would be that 17-minute rain delay followed by the boys getting together and coming out totally unaffected, ready for the moment,” manager Joe Maddon said. “It was really incredible to watch.”

Maddon passed the weight room, saw his players regrouping and knew pretty quickly that the Cubs would be all right. Heyward always has been reluctant to relive that moment, but he might not be able to avoid it the next couple of days, when the Cubs and Indians meet for a two-game series.

“It was an awesome moment,” Heyward said. “Stuff you never forget. It’ll be really easy to revisit the feelings.”

The feelings extend beyond the weight room meeting. Players had many memories when asked to consider what those two games in Cleveland meant.

“Even though I had that double in Game 7 [in the 10th inning], my favorite play that I think about is scoring from first and plowing the catcher [in Game 6] — on accident, kind of,” World Series MVP Ben Zobrist said. “It wasn’t really on accident, but that play epitomized the personal feeling I had of how we were going to break through this wall. That was the experience of physically doing it, in a way. And after that, it was like, ‘We’re going to win this whole thing.’”

Zobrist scored from first on a Russell double in the first inning of Game 6, giving the Cubs a 3-0 lead — and apparently the confidence they needed to fight on.

Even the usually even-keeled Kris Bryant thinks he might display some emotion when he takes his place at third base, where he fielded the grounder that was the last out of Game 7. Asked his feelings about going back to Cleveland, Bryant attempted to downplay it — but only for a second.

“Yeah, we did something cool there a couple years ago,” he said nonchalantly before cracking a smile.

“The biggest thing will just be walking in the clubhouse. That’s where we celebrated. A lot of our memories are from there. Playing video games before the biggest games of our lives, stuff like that. That’s what I’m thinking about most.”

Interestingly, the visiting clubhouse was mentioned more than one might think. Or perhaps it’s no surprise, as that’s where the bonding took place: behind closed doors, before game time, during a rain delay.

“It’s going to be really emotional when we walk in there and then onto the field, knowing that was the field we played the last game where you became world champs,” reliever Pedro Strop said. “That’s the most exciting World Series ever.”

Left fielder Kyle Schwarber also acknowledged that he will “feel something,” as his journey to Cleveland was as interesting as the games. Schwarber returned from a devastating knee injury, only to be the designated hitter in games in Cleveland. Doctors would not let him do anything but hit. And hit he did.

“I always think about the World Series,” Schwarber said. “I don’t know anyone who doesn’t think about the World Series. That was a heckuva time. Whenever you can relive that, it’s an addictive feeling. And I remember everything to a tee. I know every pitch that was thrown to me, things like that, where I was sitting in the weight room and in the dugout. It’s all very fresh.”

Zobrist said he “remembers it all” as well. It’s also fresh to Maddon, who said he felt like it was yesterday that the Cubs were there. He’ll take it all in just like his players.

“I’ll look at the weight room, and then I’ll sit up in my office, and I’ll think about looking at this [his iPad] with the weather report,” Maddon said. “It’s the same iPad I had at the time.”

Russell showed the most emotion about returning. As he recalled the memories, his smile grew bigger and bigger.

“I think back to all those big moments from the rain delay to getting that last out and the dog piling,” Russell said. “Then hoisting up David Ross. A whole bunch of memories come flying back. And one more thing. …

“The Cubbies kicked ass in Cleveland.”

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