People poured into the streets surrounding Wrigley Field as Game 7 of the 2016 World Series proceeded long into the night. When reliever Aroldis Chapman blew a three-run lead in the eighth, Cubs fans groaned.
Anxiety increased as the game dragged on with a brief rain delay before the 10th inning. After that, Kyle Schwarber, who wasn’t even expected to play in the postseason after he suffered a so-called season-ending knee injury in April, led off with a single. Then, veterans Ben Zobrist and Miguel Montero came through with RBI hits to give the Cubs the lead.
When Kris Bryant connected with Anthony Rizzo for the final out of the game, the streets erupted.
After 108 years of heartbreak and mockery, the Cubs were World Series champions.
Some fans climbed light poles, others waved W flags and sang “Go Cubs Go” with their arms wrapped around strangers.
And as the party there continued into the wee hours of the morning, so too did the celebration nearly 350 miles east inside the visiting clubhouse at Progressive Field that night.
The scene in Cleveland looked like a college bar. Some players lifted the retiring David Ross on their shoulders as others sprayed beer and champagne around the plastic-encased room.
It was the party of the decade.
No, the century.
Bryant was named MVP that season. And the win cemented team president Theo Epstein’s place in baseball history as he helped two franchises break their curses. (Epstein also won a World Series title with the Red Sox in 2004, which snapped “Curse of the Bambino” that haunted Boston for 86 years.)
It was the start of something new and exciting on the North Side.
Rewind to the start of this decade, who would’ve saw this coming this coming when the team bottomed out in 2010 and 2011? Who even saw it coming this fast when Epstein brought new optimism when he was hired in October 2011 only to have the Cubs lose a combined 197 games in the following two seasons? And who knew Jake Arrieta was going to have a season of the ages in 2015?
After five consecutive fifth place finishes in their division, things changed after the 2014 season. The Cubs hired manager Joe Maddon and signed free-agent Jon Lester. Maddon took a last-place and took them to their first National League Championship Series since 2003.
And then, Cubs reached the pinnacle of their modern existence with that win, and it wasn’t a fluke. Their roster was loaded with All-Star talent and boasted a massive run differential of plus-256.
The Cubs were also so young. They were the youngest average age of position players on a championship team in almost 50 years.
And the rest was history?
What was history was the competitive window — and fast. And Cubs fans, who believed for decades that one championship would satisfy the hunger, grew discontent. Of course, they wanted more, everybody does. The Red Sox fans did until they got their next one in 2007.
And the Cubs also held themselves to a higher bar.
That belief was so strong that a 95-win season and playoff berth in 2018 was considered a disappointing season. In fact, after their season-ending loss that season, Albert Almora didn’t even try to sugarcoat his words when asked if the season was a success.
“No,” he said. “We lost.
“There’s a lot of positives,” he continued. “But it’s not a success unless we win.”
Unhappy with the results, the Cubs set out on a season of “reckoning” in 2019. And after the team missed the playoffs, they fired Maddon, who finished with the second-highest winning percentage (.582) of any manager in franchise history with at least 130 games and a franchise-record 19 postseason victories.
And Epstein tapped Ross to lead the Cubs into the next decade. At his introductory news conference in October, Ross made it clear that this was the start of a new era.
‘‘It’s not about 2016,’’ Ross said. ‘‘It’s an expectation of winning. It’s about winning championships. It’s about holding yourself accountable to the things you’ve found in winning...
‘‘Let’s hold each other to a high standard because I want to win a championship. I want to win multiple championships. I want to bring championships back to Chicago.’’
But as the Cubs go into the next decade, they don’t know if they’re coming and going.