The sound of silence took over Wrigley Field for a moment late Friday night as Javier Baez swung through Cody Allen’s 94.3-mph chest-high fastball. The Cleveland Indians closer struck out Baez, who has delivered so many times for Cubs fans this October that the crowd of 41,703 anticipated another highlight-reel moment.
The organ music began once this ancient ballpark’s first World Series game in 71 years ended, Baez leaving two runners stranded as the Indians lined up to shake hands after a 1-0 win. The Cubs now have to figure out how to get out of this 2-1 hole in a best-of-seven series, starting with trying to solve Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber on Saturday night.
“We (or) I – cause I was one of ‘em – tried to speed up things today too much,” Baez said afterward at his locker. “We were kind of trying to do things before we did it. And we got to stop doing that and play our game.”
That’s how the Cubs spun the Indians ruining the Wrigleyville block party and changing the narrative for an event that saw Major League Baseball issue 2,100 credentials to media covering the biggest story in sports.
“I have a biased opinion, but we’re the best team in baseball,” reliever Justin Grimm said. “We’re going to bounce back tomorrow. Obviously, we’re going back to Cleveland, for sure. We’re going to be all right. And we’re going to get it done.”
Grimm stood in the clubhouse shirtless after inducing his first double play this year in the fifth inning, getting a groundball from Francisco Lindor and bailing the Cubs out of the bases-loaded jam Kyle Hendricks created with an uncharacteristic walk and hit-by-pitch.
It’s too simple to say the Cubs were distracted – and too insulting to a Cleveland team that features its own pitching/scouting infrastructure, a well-rounded core of position players, Andrew Miller creating all these possibilities for the bullpen and future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona pushing all the buttons.
It’s also impossible to ignore the helicopters buzzing above the North Side for hours, the mounted police lined up outside the iconic marquee, the mobile command centers near the old McDonald’s lot and all these people spilling out of the Wrigleyville bars.
“It’s like Times Square on New Year’s Eve out there,” team president Theo Epstein said.
“Driving down Clark today was quite an adventure,” manager Joe Maddon said. “You could make a video game out of that.”
Five years ago this week, Epstein took over baseball operations, promising October nights like this before systematically tearing it down to build up the best team in the game. Cubs fans sat through a 101-loss season in 2012 and two more fifth-place finishes before last year’s surprise breakthrough into the National League Championship Series.
Walking a few blocks from his Lakeview home to work on Friday, Epstein stopped for about 150 selfies.
“It’s just unbelievable,” Epstein said. “Everyone was in a great mood. You see them with their dads and granddads, extended family. Everyone’s sharing it. It just seems like well-earned joy for people.”
Before the game, the Cubs paraded about 170 scouts and player-development staffers around the field, recognizing their efforts in shaping a team stocked with homegrown players like Baez, Kris Bryant, Kyle Schwarber and Willson Contreras and young building blocks like Hendricks and Addison Russell.
Hall of Famer Billy Williams threw out the first pitch to bench coach Dave Martinez. The place filled up with former Cubs (Ryne Sandberg, Derrek Lee, Kerry Wood, Mark Prior), rock stars (Billy Corgan, Jack White), a “Mad Man” (Jon Hamm trolled Cubs fans by wearing a St. Louis Cardinals hat) and the A-list celebrity for the seventh-inning stretch (Bill Murray).
Even Schwarber walking up to the plate as an eighth-inning pinch-hitter with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony’s “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” blasting from the sound system couldn’t stop the Cubs from getting shut out for the fourth time in their last eight playoff games. Instead of driving another ball onto the video board, Schwarber’s broken-bat pop-up against Indians reliever Bryan Shaw landed safely in Lindor’s glove.
“We were so anxious to win this game,” Contreras said. “We were trying to do too much.”
That could be part of the explanation, but the Indians clearly aren’t just happy to be here. If it hasn’t already, all this euphoria will wear off as soon as Cleveland hands Kluber a lead on Saturday night and Miller starts warming up in the bullpen.
“This seems like a holiday,” Epstein said, “but we have three hard-fought wins ahead of us.”