Showing no panic, Cubs shift pressure onto Cleveland and force must-see Game 7

Showing no panic, Cubs shift pressure onto Cleveland and force must-see Game 7

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Just like that, the Indians unraveled on Tuesday night at Progressive Field, looking a lot like those outdated perceptions of the Cubbies and bringing back memories of their franchise’s tortured history.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.

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“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.”

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

Anthony Rizzo joins Cubs All-Decade Team behind efforts on and off field

With the 2010s coming to a close, NBC Sports Chicago is unveiling its Cubs All-Decade Team, highlighting the players who made the biggest impacts on the organization from 2010-19.

You saw this one coming, right?

As the Cubs’ longest tenure player, Anthony Rizzo was a shoo-in for this group. He hasn’t relinquished his starting first baseman job since making his Cubs debut in June 2012. The guy’s longevity alone is impressive.

But besides that, Rizzo has been a model of consistency during his time on the North Side. Since 2012, he’s hit 217 home runs (averaging 27 per season) and hit 32 three times from 2014-17. The lone exception? 2015, when he hit 31. So close…

As a Cub, Rizzo is a .277/.376/.496 hitter with a 132 OPS+. He produces at a high clip each season, whether he’s hitting third, cleanup or leadoff, all while simultaneously playing stellar defense. The 30-year-old is a three-time Gold Glove Award winner (2016, 2018-19).

Rizzo is the guy who comes up huge in key moments but will be there to address the media after tough losses. He’s the de facto captain of the Cubs, the guy who suffered a nasty ankle sprain in September that could have ended his regular season. Instead, he returned four days later for a key series against the rival Cardinals, as the Cubs were fighting to keep their October dreams alive.

When he’s not leading his team on the field, Rizzo is giving back to the community off of it. He’s one of the most charitable athletes in the world and recently raised $1.3 million for children’s cancer research at his “8th annual Walk-off for Cancer” in his home state of Florida.

Rizzo was the first building block of the Cubs core which snapped their infamous 108-year championship drought, but he’ll be remembered for more than that. He’s a leader on and off the field, the clear choice for starting first baseman on our Cubs All-Decade Team.

Also considered: Derrek Lee, Bryan LaHair

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but price tag could stymie trade talks

Nationals 'love' Kris Bryant but price tag could stymie trade talks

With Anthony Rendon officially joining the Angels, the Nationals have a vacancy at third base.

Washington has options to replace Rendon; Josh Donaldson is still available in free agency, and Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant could potentially be had via trade.

The Nationals have reportedly inquired with the Cubs about Bryant, and while they “love” the 27-year-old, their focus is on Donaldson, according to MLB Network’s Jon Heyman. The Cubs would likely seek center fielder Victor Robles in a deal, a holdup on Washington's end, Heyman said.

From the Cubs perspective, it would make all the sense in the world to ask for Robles. He’s 22 years old, plays excellent defense (22 DRS in 2019, No. 1 in MLB by center fielders) and is only scratching the surface as a big-leaguer. Robles is projected to be a star, but Bryant already is one. If the Nationals want Bryant badly enough, they’ll have to sacrifice talent in a deal.

On the other hand, it’s easy to understand why Washington would be unwilling to trade Robles, who's under team control through 2024. Bryant will hit free agency after 2021, but if he wins his ongoing grievance case, he'll hit the open market after next season.

Nonetheless, if the Nationals do engage in Bryant trade talks, you can bet the Cubs will at least ask for Robles in return. A trade could be worked out without him, but for a Cubs team searching for better center field production, you've got to wonder who could be more enticing than Robles.

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