CLEVELAND – Just get back to Cleveland. Even at the lowest point of their season, the Cubs sensed the building World Series narrative would flip if they could force a Game 6. The Indians would suddenly feel a different pressure and weight of expectations.
Just like that, the Indians unraveled on Tuesday night at Progressive Field, looking a lot like those outdated perceptions of the Cubbies and bringing back memories of their franchise’s tortured history. With a dominant 9-3 victory that created little drama or suspense given the stakes, the Cubs forced a must-see Game 7.
It will be Corey Kluber vs. Kyle Hendricks on Wednesday night, the only guarantee being one championship drought (68 years) or the other (108 years) will end, turning Cleveland or Chicago into a mixture of Times Square on New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
“There’s no tomorrow after tomorrow,” Anthony Rizzo said. “You lose, you go home. You win, you’re a hero.”
As oblivious to history as these Cubs can sometimes seem to be, they also have an innate understanding of how ridiculously talented they are now. Down 3-2, there would be no need to panic, with time to go trick-or-treating with the kids built into the travel itinerary before a Halloween night flight out of O’Hare International Airport.
The longer this World Series went, the more the young Cubs could get acclimated to the overstimulation and slow down their at-bats. It meant a patient lineup would see more pitches and a get a better feel for Cleveland’s plan of attack.
It didn’t take long this time. A “Let’s go, Cubs!” chant broke out in the sellout crowd of 38,116 with two outs in the first inning when Kris Bryant launched Josh Tomlin’s 0-2 curveball 433 feet into the left-field seats. Rizzo and Ben Zobrist’s back-to-back singles off the finesse right-hander started the “TOM-LIN! TOM-LIN!” chants.
Addison Russell – who dressed up as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle for Halloween and made another splash on social media – then lifted a catchable flyball out toward right-center field. Lonnie Chisenhall cut over from right while Tyler Naquin charged in from center and the ball fell in between them. Hustling all the way from first base, Zobrist delivered the forearm shiver to Roberto Perez, knocking over the Cleveland catcher. Zobrist stood up screaming and smacked Rizzo’s hand.
“Look, it’s been 108 years since this organization has won,” Zobrist said. “If we’re going to come back and win (from) down 3-1, then what better way to do it?”
At some point, Cleveland’s thin pitching staff would make more mistakes. Future Hall of Fame manager Terry Francona couldn’t push the right bullpen button every single time within this matrix of decisions. The deeper, more talented team could impose its will.
With Tomlin in trouble in the third inning, Francona summoned reliable right-hander Dan Otero to face Russell, who took two pitches before crushing the next one over the wall in left-center field for a grand slam. The Cubs handed Jake Arrieta a 3-0 lead before he threw his first pitch, and the Cy Young Award winner had a 7-0 lead by the time he gave up his first hit leading off the fourth inning.
Arrieta earned his second World Series win by pitching into the sixth inning, and that’s another reason why the Cubs didn’t overreact, expecting Jon Lester to take care of business in Game 5 and positioning ERA leader Kyle Hendricks for Game 7.
“It kind of allows you to take a deep breath and say: ‘Hey, we’re still very much in this,’” Arrieta said. “When you look at the circumstances being down 3-1 – and having the guys that we did lined up – it makes us feel a little bit better about it. Whether our offense struggles or not in a particular game, we know that at any point in time, a guy like Addie can hit a grand slam.”
After handling some of the softer spots in the Cleveland pitching staff, the Cubs will now see Kluber for the third time in nine days, with Andrew Miller and Cody Allen reading and waiting to run in from the bullpen.
“We’ve overcome adversity all year,” catcher David Ross said. “Even going back to last year where it was all these things: ‘Could you do this? Could you do that?’ We answered most of those. And then the Mets beat us and you had to hear all about that for a full season, even when you win 103 games.
“It’s always something – I’ve learned that in the game. There’s always something to overcome. It’s always: ‘How are you going to do this? How are you going to do that?’ And this group has answered the bell. It’s in Game 7 of the World Series.”