Jason Heyward’s speech spurs Cubs during World Series Game 7 rain delay

Jason Heyward celebrates after the Cubs won the World Series, beating the Cleveland Indians in Game 7.

CLEVELAND — As the Chicago Cubs trudged out of the dugout and back toward the locker room to wait out the rain delay, Jason Heyward herded his teammates into a tiny weight room.

There were no coaches, no front-office types. Just the players, all 25 of them crammed into a tiny room with bright, white walls, low ceilings and row upon row of gleaming weights.

The Cubs had blown a three-run lead, and momentum would be squarely in the Cleveland Indians’ favor when they returned for the 10th inning tied at 6. The 103 games they’d won during the regular season, the 3-1 deficit they’d erased, the century of futility and despair they were about to put to rest – all of it was slipping away.

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With his teammates surrounding him, Heyward began to speak. He’s a quiet man, Heyward, preferring to let the other veterans be the vocal leaders in the clubhouse. So when he does speak, his words have a gravity that commands full attention.

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“I just wanted them to remember how good they were, how good we are,” Heyward said as his teammates sprayed champagne around him following Chicago’s historic 8-7 win Wednesday night. “Know how proud of them I was and that I loved them. That I mean it from the bottom of my heart.”.

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Looking around the room, Heyward said that every single one of them had played a part in bringing the Cubs to this point. Whether it was soon-to-be NL MVP Kris Bryant, rookie Albert Almora or veteran backup catcher Miguel Montero, Heyward reminded them, the Cubs had gotten this far as a team.

They had everything they needed to win, Heyward said, so long as they believed in each other and played for one another.

“He spoke up and said this is about your teammates,” David Ross said. “He just said, `We’re the best team in baseball for a reason. Continue to play our game, support one another. These are your brothers here, fight for your brothers, lift them up, continue to stay positive. We’ve been doing this all year so continue to be us.’.

“It was a great message,” Ross said, “and well said.”.

By the time Heyward was finished speaking, several of the Cubs were in tears. Addison Russell freely admitted he was one of them, feeling a weight lift as Heyward encouraged the Cubs to be the team they’ve been all season rather than trying too hard to something new in the last game of the season.

“We all vented. We all felt we had to say things that were on our mind, just get it off our chest,” Russell said. “We reached new levels. Grown men talking about that stuff, it doesn’t happen. The fact we did it here in the World Series, I really respect everyone for that.”.

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As Heyward looked around the room, he could see the mood shift and sense a new determination in his teammates.

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They had won two games just to get to Game 7, Willson Contreras said. There had to have been a reason for that.

“Now we are here and we can do this,” Contreras said. “We’ve got this.”.

The rain shower was brief, only causing a delay of 17 minutes. But it was long enough for the Cubs to get their minds right.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen but I knew we were ready to do what we did,” Heyward said.

Kyle Schwarber, who didn’t even know he’d be playing in the World Series two weeks ago after blowing out his knee in April, led off the 10th with a single. Almora was brought in to run, and he took second base on Kris Bryant’s deep fly ball. Cleveland walked Anthony Rizzo, only to have Ben Zobrist make the Indians pay by doubling in the go-ahead run.

After Russell was walked intentionally, Montero gave the Cubs an insurance run with a single.

“It was,” Rizzo said, “the best rain delay of all time. It kind of settled us down, got us regrouped.”.

The Cubs still had to close out the bottom of the 10th and Cleveland clawed back one of the runs. But this was Chicago’s game to win, and they knew it.

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“We came back from 3-1 deficit against a really good pitching staff and a really good team,” ace Jon Lester said. “That’s a testament to these guys in this clubhouse.”.

Players often say titles are won when no one is watching, through the work they put in off the field and in the weight room. Never has that been more true.

Follow USA TODAY Sports columnist Nancy Armour on Twitter @nrarmour.

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