'Dream' series continues as local product Jason Kipnis homers in Indians' win over Cubs

'Dream' series continues as local product Jason Kipnis homers in Indians' win over Cubs

One of Jason Kipnis’ most conflicted friends, a diehard Cubs fan, couldn’t help but celebrate his buddy’s big October triumph on Saturday night.

Shortly after the conclusion of Game 4, a contest Kipnis put out of reach with a piercing, late three-run homer, the second baseman’s childhood pal attempted to disrupt his postgame interview by repeatedly yelling “Kip, you’re a legend.”

A Glenbrook North High School product, Kipnis said the interaction perfectly encapsulates what has been an overwhelmingly positive response from family and friends as he battles the team he once rooted for in his first World Series appearance. Courtesy of Kipnis’ blast and a stellar outing by Corey Kluber, the Cleveland Indians are only one win away from a title after they downed the Cubs 7-2 in front of 41,706 at Wrigley Field. The Cubs and Indians play Game 5 at 7:08 p.m. on Sunday night.

“That’s one of my best friends,” Kipnis said. “That guy’s an idiot. That tells you what kind of friends I’ve got. They’ve been here the whole time and they’re making it that more fun and easier for me.

“You can't draw this up. Everyone makes that situation -- T-ball or whiffle ball in the backyard -- and I just got to live it. You can imagine what kind of high I'm feeling right now.”

You can’t imagine how conflicted Sean Wallis must feel right now.

He has season tickets down the right-field line and considers himself a huge Cubs fan. The company he works for is affiliated with Cubs owner Tom Ricketts.

But Wallis — the senior point guard for Glenbrook North’s 2005 state championship varsity basketball team — has played sports with Kipnis since they were 8. He’s followed his career from high school to Arizona State to the minor leagues, where he also once disrupted a postgame interview at Triple-A Columbus.

This is a scenario none of Kipnis nor his friends and family could ever have imagined. Yet here it is playing out in front of all of them at Wrigley Field as the Cubs make their first World Series appearance since 1945. And on Saturday, Kipnis made his biggest contribution of the postseason, going 3-for-5 with a double, two runs and three RBIs.

“It’s crazy,” Wallis said. “It’s unbelievable.”

“No one ever could have imagined this happening. We joked about it during the course of the year -- Who would you root for in a Cubs-Indians World Series? But no one ever imagined this type of outcome.”

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Earlier in the week, Kipnis talked at length about his love of all things Cubs. His favorite players were Ryne Sandberg, Mark Grace and Sammy Sosa. He doesn’t think his former neighbor, Steve Bartman, deserves any of the flack he’s received from Cubs fans all these years. And he can’t believe that his first foray into the World Series is up against the Cubs’ first appearance in the Fall Classic in 71 years.

But Kipnis said he had “zero conflict” extending the Cubs’ World Series title drought another year. Even though that victory might crush the dreams of his friends and family, Kipnis said nobody has given him any grief.

“To be put into a situation like this and actually have something happen like that is, for lack of a better term, it's a dream come true,” Kipnis said.

It’s a pretty cool moment for his friends, too.

Just ask Wallis.

His team could be headed home for yet another disappointing winter. But it might sting just a little less if it involves his friend.

“No matter what was going to happen it was going to be an enjoyable series,” Wallis said. “If the Indians are going to win, I wouldn’t have it any other way that it’s him that is hitting the big homer and getting the double in the first inning.

“It’s incredible. For him to play in a World Series is unbelievable. But for him to get to do it here and play as well as he has is remarkable.”

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

How Ian Happ got his groove back at the plate

There's a legit case to be made that Ian Happ has been the Cubs' second-best hitter in 2018.

Yes, really.

Happ ranks second on the Cubs in OPS (.895), behind only Kris Bryant (.995) among regulars, though a recent hot streak has buoyed that overall bottom line for Happ.

Still, it's been a pretty incredible hot streak and it's propelled Happ back to where he began the season — at the top of the Cubs order. 

Happ has walked 10 times in the last 6 games and hammered out 3 homers in that span, including one on top of the Schwarboard in right field as a pinch-hitter Tuesday night.

Even more jaw-dropping: He's only struck out 5 times in the last 9 games after a dreadful start to the season in that regard.

"It was just a matter of time until things clicked a little bit," Happ said. "That's why we play 162 games and it's a game of adjustments. At the end of the day, it all evens out.

"Look at the back of Tony [Rizzo's] baseball card — it's the same thing every single year. That's how this thing goes. You're gonna have your ups and your downs and I'm just trying to be as consistent as I can. If I can level it out a little bit and be more consistent over a period of time, that'll be better for our team."

So yes, Happ is on the upswing right now and he'll inevitably have more slumps where he strikes out too much and looks lost at the plate.

Such is life for a 23-year-old who is still a week away from his 162nd career MLB game.

The league had adjusted to Happ and he had to adjust back, which he'd been working hard doing behind the scenes.

"I just try to get him to primarily slow things down," Joe Maddon said. "Try to get him back into left-center. And I did not want to heap a whole lot of at-bats on him. When you're not going good, if you heap too many at-bats on somebody, all of a sudden, that's really hard to dig out of that hole.

"So a lot of conversations — a lot of conversations — but nothing complicated. I like to go the simple side of things. I wanted him to try not to lift the ball intentionally, really organize his strike zone."

Maddon believes Happ had lost sight of his strike zone organization, chasing too many pitches out of the zone — particularly the high fastball.

Now, the Cubs manager sees Happ using his hands more and less of his arms in his swing, working a more precise, compact path to the ball.

The Happ experiment at leadoff was a disaster to begin the year — .186 AVG, .573 OPS and 22 strikeouts in 10 starts there — but all the same tools and rationale exist for why Maddon likes the switch-hitting utiliy player in that spot.

And that's why Happ was leading off Wednesday with both Ben Zobrist and Albert Almora Jr. getting the night off.

"We're gonna find out [if he can stick at leadoff]," Maddon said. "I just thought he's looked better. He's coming off a nice streak on the road trip. [Tuesday night], pinch-hitting. I know the home run's great and of course that's nice.

"But how he got to the pitch that he hit out, to me, was the important thing. Got the two strikes, took the two borderline pitches and then all of a sudden, [the pitcher] came in with a little bit more and he didn't miss it.

"That's the big thing about hitting well, too — when you see your pitch, you don't either take it or foul it off. You don't miss it. He didn't miss it."

Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?


Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast: Who has more fun on the diamond, Javier Baez or Yolmer Sanchez?

Ozzie Guillen and David DeJesus join Leila Rahimi on Wednesday's podcast. After Tuesday's game-winning hit and second self-inflicted Gatorade bath the guys wonder if anyone has more fun on the field than Yolmer Sanchez. Jim DeShaies joins the conversation and brings Javy Baez to the table.

Plus, Manny Mania continues to swirl in Chicago. Finally, what should be the White Sox plan for calling up their top prospects?

Listen to the full Baseball Night in Chicago Podcast right here: