Column: Not all blown 3-1 leads are created equal

Chicago Cubs fans watch the post game celebration at Progressive Field after Game 7 of the Major League Baseball World Series against the Cleveland Indians Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016, in Cleveland. The Cubs won 8-7 in 10 innings to win the series 4-3. (Gene J. Puskar/AP Photo)

When Michael Martinez grounded out to short Wednesday night to end one of the greatest games of baseball ever played, I groaned with anguish. Not just because I didn’t want this incredible series to end, not just because I was selfishly hoping the most infamous curse in all of sports would continue, but because I knew what a Cubs victory would mean: memes.

This is, of course, not the first time in the past six months that a team has blown a three-games-to-one lead in the championship series. Back in June, the Cleveland Cavaliers stunned the Golden State Warriors, overcoming a 3-1 deficit to win the NBA Finals. The internet still hasn’t recovered. Visit any sports-related Facebook page, Twitter feed or Instagram photo and there will be countless reminders of the Warriors’ collapse. The Warriors’ Facebook page even went so far as to skip Day 31 in their countdown to the season opener, fully aware of the mockery that number would produce.

Undoubtedly, there will be comparisons between the two series. Without question, Cleveland will get absolutely roasted, now that they’re on the other side of the comeback. Certainly, there will be a new surge of an already-tired joke.

But in reality, these series were as distinct as it gets.

Let’s return to the 2016 NBA Finals. The Warriors entered the postseason on the heels of the greatest regular season of all time. They were overwhelming favorites to win it all, and had already defeated the Cavs twice earlier that season. When Steph Curry and Co. jumped out to a 3-1 lead, the series was over. The Warriors were simply the superior team.

The narrative of the 2016 World Series was entirely different. The Cubs, not the Indians, were the Warriors of this series. Chicago had the best record in baseball during the regular season, the only team to eclipse the 100-win mark. They were the preseason favorite, and by the time October rolled around, the Cubs remained the consensus pick to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy. So when the Indians established a 3-1 lead, the series was far from finished. It was not the favorite looking to close out a predictable win, it was the underdog trying to pull off the upset of their lives.

As phenomenal as LeBron James and Kyrie Irving were in the final three games of the series, their success was just as much about the Warriors crumbling. Draymond Green was suspended for Game Five, both a physical loss and a mental distraction for Golden State. Steph Curry’s play fell apart as he shot a combined 22-60 in the last three games and was consistently attacked on defense. Klay Thompson also struggled, shooting 5-20 from three in the last two games. In other words, the Warriors self-destructed before our eyes.

The Indians, on the other hand, were competitive to the final out. Two of the final three games were decided by one run. Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller, who were unhittable for most of the postseason, simply ran out of gas. And in Game Seven, when all hope appeared lost, down by four runs in the fifth, they battled back, tying the game on Rajai Davis’ home run to force extra innings. Like they did all season long, the Indians refused to quit.

And, to the Cubs credit, they were simply the stronger, deeper team. The starting pitcher combination of Arrieta, Lester and Hendricks outmatched the injury-ravaged Cleveland rotation. Chicago’s bats finally came to life in the final two games of the series, scoring nine and eight runs respectively behind Ben Zobrist, Anthony Rizzo and Kris Bryant.

The 2016 NBA Finals will always be remembered by the team which lost, and to an extent, rightfully so. The Warriors lost the series as much as the Cavaliers won it. The 2016 World Series, on the other hand, should instead focus on the winning team. The Indians played championship-caliber baseball throughout the entire series, but the Cubs, after 108 years, were quite simply the best team on the planet.

Let’s also remember the consequences of these series. NBA fans were more uncertain than anything else: how did the best regular season team of all time lose? The league and the media, which put so much effort into marketing and worshipping the Warriors, were embarrassed.

This World Series, on other hand, was the best possible thing to happen to baseball. For Chicago, it has rejuvenated one of the most dedicated fan bases in sports and ended the longest championship drought in American sports. The Indians have proved to the city of Cleveland—and the rest of the league—that their future is incredibly bright. Game Seven was an instant classic, with the largest television audience for a baseball game since 1991 and certainly will be talked about for a very long time.

So instead of creating unoriginal memes about the Cleveland Indians, we really should thank them, and the Cubs, for breathing much-needed life back into America’s favorite pastime.


Andrew Morrison is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at andrew.morrison@uconn.edu. He tweets at @asmor24.