Behind-the-scenes stories from Rob Zastryzny on the night the Chicago Cubs won the World Series

Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images /

Rob Zastryzny was a member of the 2016 Chicago Cubs bullpen although he was not on the World Series roster. In a new episode of Da Windy City, he shared his memories of the night the Cubs finally ended their World Series drought.

When Chicago Cubs fans remember the 2016 World Series champions, names like Rizzo, Bryant and Lester come to mind. Rob Zastryzny’s name likely does not.

Yet Rob Z was a popular member of the team and now five years later, after battling through independent league baseball and a return to health last season in the Marlins system, Zastryzny hopes to get the call to return to the big leagues.

“I’m as optimistic as I’ve ever been with it,” Zastryny told Da Windy City podcast in a wide-ranging interview that includes behind the scene details of the 2016 World Series. “I had a fracture in my elbow since I was 13 and as long as it didn’t do anything we weren’t going do anything to it. When the Cubs drafted me they knew it was there. Dr. (Keith) Meister did my surgery. He was like it might feel different, but it also might feel a lot better. When I came back I was 93 to 95. It was the best I have ever felt in my life.”

Zastryzny was a lefty reliever when he made his Major League Baseball debut at Coors Field on Aug. 19, 2016, for the Cubs, who had the best record in the league at the time — 77-43. They were cruising to an NL Central Division championship with a real chance to end their World Series drought.

That night Zastryzny wiggled out of some nerves and a 10th-inning jam in a game the Cubs would eventually lose in 11. There would be eight total appearances in all for Rob Z, including a late September start against Pittsburgh.

Overall, Zastryzny proved himself capable, allowing only two earned runs and five walks in 16 innings, with 11 strikeouts. Most importantly, he had pitched well against the lefty-dominated Los Angeles Dodgers — 3 2/3 innings of one-hit scoreless baseball Aug. 27 at Dodger Stadium.

When the playoffs opened, Zastryzny was not on the roster in the National League Division Series against San Francisco. After Game 3 in San Francisco, Zastryzny was sent to the Cubs spring training facility in Arizona along with righty relievers Trevor Cahill and Jason Hammel to prepare for possibly being activated for the NLCS. One of those pitchers was likely to be activated for the NL Championship Series, depending on whether the Washington Nationals or Los Angeles Dodgers advanced. If it was the Dodgers, it was going to be Zastryzny.

It took five games for the Dodgers to advance past the Nationals and indeed Zastryzny got the call for the NLCS. The Cubs won the series in six games, but Zastryzny never appeared. The Cubs then made one roster change heading into the World Series as Kyle Schwarber had recovered from a serious knee injury suffered early in the regular season. The World Series hero-to-be took Zastryzny’s spot.

Rob Zastryzny had to watch as the Chicago Cubs made history

I was fortunate to get the assignment to join in the WGN Radio coverage in Cleveland for Games 6 and 7. Approximately 15,000 Cubs fans joined us at Progressive Field including the usual Cubs celebrities such as Bill Murray and John Cusack.

Game 7 would famously turn into one of the greatest games in World Series history. Cleveland came back from both 5-1 and 6-3 down with the Cubs eventually pulling out the 8-7 win in 10 innings after a well-timed 17-minute rain delay after the 9th.

The celebration in the Cubs clubhouse was filled with euphoria, relief from breaking the 108-year drought made even more glorious having fought back from 3-1 deficit in the series. This Cubs team did not follow the well-worn script of previous Cubs playoff teams, wilting in the biggest moments. (See 1984 and 2003).

After the game, I talked with most of the usual suspects and as the celebration calmed down, it was time to talk with many under-the-radar contributors. Rookie Albert Almora expressed relief he did not miss home plate with the go-ahead run as a pinch-runner after tagging up at first wisely on Kris Bryant’s fly to deep center in the 10th.

C.J. Edwards was proud he got the first two outs in the 10th inning. Mike Montgomery could not believe he got the final out and would be remembered forever in Cubs lore. Miguel Montero celebrated knocking in an insurance run that turned out to be the difference after MVP’s Ben Zobrist’s double down the left-field line.

Zastryzny on the other hand had not played in the series. He had done his best to contribute behind the scenes anyway he could, which included, among other things, “bringing David Ross coffee every now and then” — a very hard role to swallow for anyone who is competitive enough to make it to the major leagues.

There were many great accomplishments: his big league debut, the NLCS playoff roster, pitching well when he got the chance and even being in the room for Jayson Heyward’s speech during the rain delay that altered the Cubs mood and got them ready to win the World Series.

Zastryzny had a seat on the bench, would get a ring, but never the opportunity to take the mound in the World Series. What was going through his mind?

He was sitting by himself on the floor by his locker with Bud Light cans strewn about. I made my way over and asked if he could spare a couple of minutes and offered to join him down on the floor to not alter the mood. It turned out to be my favorite interview of the night and one I will always remember.

Photo Credit: Mark Carman
Photo Credit: Mark Carman /

We are now five years later and Zastryzny has not pitched in a big-league game since 2018. With good health in hand and his fingers crossed, he is hoping for a chance to earn a starting spot in someone’s rotation.

The Cubs are in need of pitching help. David Ross still drinks coffee. Maybe it is time to bring Zastryzny back for one more chance to pitch in the postseason wearing a Cubs jersey.