Ben Zobrist explains what made the 2016 Cubs so special
Ben Zobrist will go down in Cubs lore forever with the biggest hit in franchise history.
But what stood out to him most about the team that ended a 108-year championship drought was the ability to battle through adversity.
The 2016 Cubs won 103 games and boasted a +252 run differential, so there really wasn’t a ton of opportunity for them to come back in games. They spent much of the year getting out to early leads and holding on to them throughout games.
But when they needed to pull off a rally, they did. That was never more true in Game 7, of course, but the Cubs’ best come-from-behind victory actually came in the National League Division Series.
Game 1 was a tense affair where Javy Báez’s solo homer off Johnny Cueto into the left field basket provided the only scoring. Game 2 was another Cubs win but in Game 3, the Giants rallied to extend the series.
In Game 4, the Giants built a 5-2 lead entering the 9th inning. The Cubs were staring down another loss, which would mean the series would head back to Chicago for a do-or-die game at Wrigley Field against the always-tough Cueto.
Except the team of destiny took things into its own hands with a 4-run rally in the top of the 9th. During the inning, Zobrist doubled home a run and later scored the tying tally on Willson Contreras’ single.
“We didn’t want to face Johnny, that’s for sure,” Zobrist said on a recent episode of the Cubs Weekly Podcast. “He was really nasty and threw off our rhythm quite a bit. We struggled winning that first game, Javy’s home run made it 1-0. So we obviously didn’t want to get there.
“But I think also that team late in that game, there was a special feeling. That ‘we never quit’ feeling. We actually have that on the ring. It’s right on the bottom here,” Zobrist said, holding up his World Series ring.
“That was the emblem because there was several times that year where we’d get late in the game and we’d come from behind and we’d find a way to keep battling, keep it where it was and overcome. It’s interesting that that happened in that game. That was a big moment in that. And then obviously in Game 7.”
That double in San Francisco actually represented only 1 of Zobrist’s 3 hits in the NLDS (.188 AVG). But he was absolutely on fire in the World Series, proving to be a thorn in Cleveland’s side (10-for-28, .357 AVG, .419 OBP).
Of course, the biggest hit came in the top of the 10th inning in Game 7, driving home Albert Almora Jr. with the game-winning run.
Zobrist broke down his mindset going into that at-bat during his interview on the Cubs Weekly Podcast:
“Honestly, I was so focused on what I knew I needed to do,” Zobrist said. “I didn’t want to allow the moment or allow what had happened right before me [affect me]. They had walked Rizzo to get to me, which is the right call, by the way.
“It is the right call. You always walk Anthony Rizzo if he has a chance to hurt you. And they were setting up the double play. I couldn’t allow my ego to get ahold of that. It was like, look, don’t try to do too much.”
Zobrist also explained his emotions after watching the ball trickle down the left-field line.
“When I hit the ball, I knew I hit it solid and at that angle — I didn’t get a lot of hits on that side of the field left-handed,” he said. “I knew if he was there and could backhand it, it was a double play because I hit it too hard for me to beat it out. But thankfully I saw the diving, outstretched glove and it zipped past him.
“Yeah, I really think I just blanked out. Everything right there was just muscle memory until the time I got to second base and then realizing what happened, it was just an incredible moment. Looking over at Rizzo, looking at the bench, it was just the most adrenaline I could have probably ever had.”
Check out the full interview with Zobrist on the Cubs Weekly Podcast.