Like Johnny Bench’s hand to a catcher’s mitt, so Joe Maddon fit the Chicago Cubs. At least for about 4.9 years. He took us on a magical ride from the biggest joke of a professional sports franchise to the summit of all of baseball. I do not know how many men could have skippered the Cubs to a championship and four straight playoff appearances. But only one man did it. So today we pay tribute to him with this Cubs fan’s favorite moments from the Joe Maddon era.
I will give 16 moments for two reasons. One, that was the year of the World Series title. And two, a round number would not suit Maddon or his managing style. He did the impossible by marching to the beat of a different drummer and being as unorthodox as possible at times. Did he drive us crazy with some decisions, like how he used Chapman in the World Series? Or bringing in Lester with men on base in Game 7? Yes. But in the end, it was far more than the Xs and Os that will cause my heart to flood with joy at the mention of his name the rest of my life. He was special, a legend of legends. And his teams gave us hundreds of special moments. Here are my 16 favorites, in no particular order:
Ben Zobrist’s Bunt, Game 4, 2016 NLCS vs. L.A. Dodgers
If I had to rank them, this would probably be my favorite. Not because of the magnitude or significance, but because on Facebook I posted that this dribbler could be what sparked the Cubs to actually win the whole thing. They’d gone 21 innings–the equivalent of 2.25 games–without scoring. That night, they scored four in that inning, 10 for the game and 23 over the next three series-clinching wins. All after that perfectly executed, simple bunt.
David Bote’s 9th Inning Walk-Off Grand Slam, 2018 Regular Season vs. Washington
It was a Sunday night and my wife and I were leaving for vacation the next day. I shouldn’t even have been awake because our flight was early. And the Cubs were putrid offensively through eight innings, down 3-0. But we watch sports in part because amazing things happen. And that night, one of the most majestic regular-season wins you’ll ever see took place in Wrigley. Bote hit a no-doubter off the bat with the bases loaded and sent the players and fans into euphoric oblivion.
Krist Bryant’s Championship-Clinching Put Out and Grin, Game 7, 2016 World Series vs. Cleveland
The last out or hit for a championship is clearly going to be on a list like this but this one was made extra special by the fact that Kris Bryant was so sure he was going to make the easy defensive play, he couldn’t stop himself from smiling as he made it. FOX’s cameras catching it will forever be etched in my mind.
Jorge Soler’s 6th Inning HR off of Adam Wainwright, Game 3, 2015 NLDS vs. St. Louis
Kris Bryant’s dinger the previous inning to break a 2-2 tie was a candidate for this list, but this HR was more special to me for a couple of reasons. One, Wainwright is a horse and especially in the playoffs and him coming in felt like a door slam with Coughlin on 2nd and the Cubs clinging to a 1-run lead in a tied series. Secondly, the Cards had just knocked unhittable Arrieta out of the game, meaning our best weapon was neutralized and the rest of the game was a huge question mark as to how it would turn out. Combine that with it being Soler of all people who put the Cubs up 7-4, and you have a fantastic memory for a lifetime. The Cubs won that night and the next game to advance to their first NLCS since 2003.
Dexter Fowler’s Lead Off HR, Game 7, 2016 World Series vs. Cleveland
Kluber had owned us in his first two starts in this series, giving up one solitary manufactured run in 11 innings. But in the fourth pitch of the game, Fowler let it be known that tonight would be different. Our third time seeing him spelled doom for him, as he gave up four huge early runs and didn’t make it out of the 5th inning. All of those runs were needed. None was bigger than Fowler’s opening salvo.
Wilson Contreras 9th Inning 2-Run Tying Single + Javier Baez’s 9th Inning Go-Ahead RBI, Game 4, 2016 NLDS vs. San Fransisco
I’m packaging these two together because they belong together. SF had won three of the previous six World Series and had a championship-every-even-year streak going. The Cubs were notorious for blowing series leads in the playoffs. So with the Giants having cut the series deficit to 2-1 the prior game and leading by three runs in the 9th in this game, any Cub fan could feel the panic set in. But our offense would not be denied. A parade of SF relievers couldn’t stop us from tying and taking the lead.
Chapman’s Double Play Pitch, Game 6, 2016 NLCS vs. L.A. Dodgers
Not a huge moment as far as statistical magnitude. According to baseball reference.com, the Cubs were already at 99% to win the game before this pitch. But it was memorable for how symbolic it was. The Cubs were winning by five at this point with one away in the 8th inning of Game 6 of the NLCS, while up 3 games to 2 in the series. This was the identical situation as the Bartman game from 2003. And many Cubs fans, like me, knew it. A man was on first for the Dodgers. Hendricks had just been lifted after a masterpiece. And for Chapman to come in and not only get one out on that pitch, but two, to end the threat…it felt like Yin to 2003’s Yang.
Miggy’s 8th Inning Grand Slam, Game 1, 2016 NLCS vs. L.A. Dodgers
Cubs fans were amped up for this game, having completed the epic comeback versus SF and feeling like this was the year. It went back and forth until Miguel Montero blew it open in the bottom of the 8th with a Grand Salami.
Addison Russell’s 3rd Inning Grand Slam, Game 6, 2016 World Series vs. Cleveland
Down 3-1, the Cubs had just eeked out a win at home in Game 5 before going back to Cleveland with the daunting task of winning two road games for their first championship in 108 years. They opened up an early 3-0 lead before Russell basically ended Game 6 with one glorious bases-clearing swing of the bat.
Jake Arrieta Shuts Out the Pirates, Wild Card Game, 2015 Playoffs vs. Pittsburgh
Before this game, the Cubs had literally lost their last 9 playoff games and hadn’t made the postseason since 2008. And The Man was on the mound. Arrieta had put together a 20-start streak of annihilating opposing hitters as hadn’t been seen in MLB in decades. And he continued that dominance, not needing 3 of the 4 runs the Cubs would score that night to carry the team to the NLDS to face hated rival St. Louis.
Anthony Rizzo Is Heard Quoting Anchorman Mid-Game, Game 7, 2016 World Series
He apparently was in a glass case of emotion right then. But seriously, who does this in Game 7 when you play for a team that hadn’t won in well over a century?
Ben Zobrist Tells Cub Fans About Rizzo Playing and Quoting Rocky in the Clubhouse when down 3-1 in the World Series, 2016 Cubs Championship Parade.
This is extra special to me since Rocky is my favorite movie series of all time. Few things in history combine sports underdogs and inspiration as these films did. When the story of the 2016 Chicago Cubs is told, Will Ferrell and Sylvester Stallone need to be acknowledged.
Addison Russell Rips 2-RBI Double Off Max Scherzer, Game 5, 2017 NLDS vs. Washington
This series was back and forth and the Cubs chances in this winner-take-all game felt quite tenuous before this moment. The Cubs were down 4-3 in the fifth inning on the road and Washington had just brought in their ace Scherzer. He was the 2-time defending Cy Young and held us to one hit in his previous outing in the series. He quickly got out our two biggest bats, Bryant and Rizzo. Then Contreras and Zobrist both singled. And that set up a game-turning bullet down the 3rd baseline by Russell. A 1-run deficit instantly became a 1-run lead. A lead the Cubs never gave up.
Cubs Wear Onesies for Plane Ride Home From Los Angeles, 2016 Regular Season
This was just one of many things the team did like this that season, and something Maddon carried over from Tampa Bay. But when I saw the picture it gave me hope that this team would be loose and ready to slay the demons of many October chokes.
Aldoris Chapman Strikes Out the Side In 13 Pitches For the Save, Game 4, 2016 NLDS vs. San Fransisco
Contreras and Baez helped overcome the deficit in the top of the 9th, but we still had to get three more outs. And Chapman smoked all three guys like Costanza’s Jerk Store comeback.
Singing “Go Cubs Go” with thousands of people outside Wrigley after Clinching the 2016 NL Pennant
I could live to be 150 and never forget that moment. Because of work and family and the lateness of the hour, I was not able to be in Wrigley for the World Series clincher (which was in Cleveland anyway). But I gladly take the night we made it to the World Series at home for the first time in 71 years. Especially since I was there for the meltdown on a similar night in 2003.
It is saddening that the last few weeks of Maddon’s tenure was marked by a pre-2015 Cubs collapse that took them from jockeying for the division to far out of the playoffs. Because the rest was the time of our lives. It was filled with onesies, Rocky, magic bunts and edge-of-your-seat playoff victories. And most remarkably, included a championship. The man did the impossible. And for that, we should salute the Joe Maddon era.