Allow me to show my nerd side for a few minutes. I went onto YouTube looking for a song that would inspire to write something. I was successful in finding inspiration, but not from a song. The MLB channel was showing a replay of Game 7 of the 2016 World Series so I just had to check it out. That game is the single greatest game I’ve ever seen in any sport and it featured some of the most incredible plays. I want to talk about one of those plays, but it is not one that gets remembered often. In my opinion, it is the most important play in Cubs history, and I’m going to explain why.
Let me set the scene for you. This is game 7 of the World Series between the Cubs and the Indians. The last time the Cubs won a championship was in 1908 and the last time the Indians won was in 1948 – the two longest droughts in baseball at the time. The winner ends that drought.
The Cubs took an early lead and looked to be in control after the first few innings, but some questionable managerial decisions allowed the Indians to sneak back into the game. In the 8th inning, it was 6-3 Cubs. They got two quick outs, but then the wheels fell off. A few batters got on base and then Rajai Davis hit a game tying 3-run home run off Cubs star closer Aroldis Chapman. With the game tied at 6 and Cleveland erupting, the game went into the 9th inning where the Cubs failed to score despite a great chance in the top of the inning and the Indians went down 1-2-3 (the most heart-pounding three outs of my life, moreso than the next inning).
The game was set to go to the 10th inning when the rain came. They had to bring out a tarp and cover the field, so fans waited 17 minutes for play to resume. When the 10th inning started, Kyle Schwarber led off against Bryan Shaw.
Here is a little background on Schwarber: he is a big power hitter known for his pop, but not for his speed. In fact, these seven World Series games in October were the first games he had played since April 8th when he tore his ACL running after a ball. So when Schwarber led off the inning with a single into right field, there was no way that he was going to be running. He was the go ahead run on first base, so they needed a faster runner.
Enter Albert Almora, the hero of this story.
Almora was a rookie in 2016. He didn’t make many starts because they had other players in front of him, but he made the playoff roster because of his speed and his baseball smarts. Both came into play here.
The batter was Kris Bryant. With Almora on first base, Bryant worked a 2-2 count then swung at a cutter and hit it deep to right-center. A few more feet and it would have left the yard, but alas, it was not meant to be. Rajai Davis caught the ball on the warning track for the first out of the inning. That should have been all that happened.
But Albert Almora was paying attention and knew what he needed to do: he tagged up. Now most baserunners in that situation would have gotten close to second base because if the ball drops for a hit, the baserunner needs to be in the best possible position to score. On top of that, it is very rare to see a player tag up when they are on first base, partly because of what I just mentioned, but also because second base is the easiest one to throw to for an outfielder. Tagging up from first to second is one of the riskier baserunning moves you can make. But that is what Almora did.
Once Almora realized that Davis was going to catch the ball, he sprinted back to first base. As soon as Davis caught it, Almora took off for second and he slid in untouched. So now instead of having the tying run on first base with one out, the Cubs had the tying run on second with one out. The greatest play in Cubs history.
How you ask?
The next batter was Anthony Rizzo, one of the most feared hitters in the Cubs lineup. With a runner on first and one out, the Indians would pitch to him hoping to get him to ground into a double play and end the inning. The pitcher was Bryan Shaw, who featured one of the best cutters in the game that year. Cutters force a lot of ground balls because of their movement. It would not have been an ideal situation for the Cubs.
Instead, with a runner on second, the Indians don’t have the option for a double play. They cannot conventionally end the inning in one swing, so they need to make a decision: face the dangerous Anthony Rizzo with no chance for a double play, or they could walk Rizzo and put him on first, which would set up the double play they are looking for against the next batter, Ben Zobrist. The choice is quite obvious: walk Rizzo and go for the double play against Zobrist.
Hopefully you know what happens next. Zobrist hacks at a 1-2 cutter and puts it down the left field line for a double. Almora scores. Rizzo goes to third. Cubs lead 7-6. After another intentional walk, Miguel Montero steps up and singles into left field. Rizzo scores. Cubs lead 8-6. All three hits in the inning are ground balls.
The Indians would score one run in the bottom of the 10th to make it 8-7, but Mike Montgomery would get the ground out to Kris Bryant at 3rd to give the Cubs their first World Series in 108 years. That’s right: Anthony Rizzo, the guy the Indians needed to walk, scored the winning run. Without Albert Almora, the Cubs drought might still exist.
So what is there to learn from this? A phrase we would say back in college was “Own it.” Own the task you have been given. In whatever it is, work at it with all of your heart. Be aware of your surroundings and your job. Take seriously even the smallest of chances you are given. Who knows the impact that small task can make.
Thank you for letting me nerd out. I promise to return to normal tomorrow.