Cubs offense wakes up and saves Joe Maddon from a storm of second-guessing

The Cubs' inconsistent offense woke up just in time to bail out manager Joe Maddon.

The Chicago Cubs are world champions for the first time in almost forever after a classic Game 7, and their beyond-the-limit World Series victory obviously was meant to be.

How else do you explain the way manager Joe Maddon survived a series of pitching moves over the final two games that would have put him in a harsh media spotlight if the on-again, off-again Cubs offense had not glossed everything over with 17 runs in Games 6 and 7?

Maddon's decision to push closer Aroldis Chapman past one inning again in Game 6 -- with the Cubs holding a commanding ninth-inning lead -- seemed to come back to haunt him when Chapman came back on Wednesday night and didn't get the last out of the eighth before the Cleveland Indians had erased a three-run lead.

There already had been talk that Chapman and Indians setup man Andrew Miller had been overused and overexposed, and both seemed unusually vulnerable in Game 7.

Maddon also would have had to explain why he removed starter Kyle Hendricks so early after other strong outing, only to see unaccustomed reliever Jon Lester bring home two runs with a wild-pitch to narrow a four-run lead in the fifth.

Hendricks had allowed just one earned run on four hits to that point and would have been out of the fifth inning if he had not been terribly squeezed by home plate umpire Sam Holbrook before walking Carlos Santana. He had thrown only 63 pitches.

Lester settled down to pitch very well after his shaky fifth and was cruising along when he allowed an infield hit with two outs in the eighth, bringing Maddon back to the mound. That pitching move was more understandable because Lester had thrown 55 pitches on very short rest, but Chapman no longer looked unhittable after pitching in four of the first six games of the Series and throwing 2 2/3 innings in Game 5.

He allowed three straight hits, including Rajai Davis's dramatic game-tying home run, but he did come back to pitch a scoreless ninth to allow the Cubs to regroup.

For awhile, it looked like a postseason that started with Orioles manager Buck Showalter getting harpooned by the national media for holding back closer Zach Britton in the American League wild-card game might end with Maddon getting ravaged for a whole string of pitching decisions in Cleveland the past two nights.

Maddon said after the game that everything went "perfectly" until the Davis home run. Well, not exactly, but it ended up being a perfect ending for long-suffering Cubs fans, who had to suffer a little longer before their team completed a terrific 3-1 series comeback to chase away all the ghosts of postseasons past.

The Cubs don't have to wait until next year, but their fans will have a lot to look forward to with a team that will again feature great starting pitching and some of the sport's best young players arrayed around the infield.

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