CLEVELAND - This is what we wanted all along, right?
Well, we sure got our wish.
This riveting World Series with the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians deserves to go the distance, with a heart-stopping, nail-biting, nerve-racking final game of the season between the two teams with the longest combined championship droughts in history at 178 years.
One franchise will revel until February.
The other will be tortured for another grim winter.
The Cubs made it all possible Tuesday night by routing the Indians, 9-3, trying to become the first World Series team since the 1985 Kansas City Royals to overcome a 3-1 deficit.
Game 7, the greatest words in sports, is about to happen, with standing-room only tickets at Progressive Field already going for $2,000, and box seats selling for as much as $20,000 apiece on the secondary market.
“Can I sell mine?’’ Cubs catcher David Ross said. “I’m looking for a job after tomorrow.’’
Yes, the game could be that epic, destined to be replayed for generations.
“People trying to say it’s just another game,’’ Cubs pitcher John Lackey says, “they’re lying to you. It’s not a normal game. I’ve been there. You’re going to wake up and feel different for sure. You’re going to feel different emotions. You try to use those and channel them in the right direction.’’
Lackey, who won Game 7 in 2002 for the Los Angeles Angels as a 24-year-old rookie, says tonight will be a game everyone will forever cherish, but if you lose, all of the pleasure the Cubs and Indians have cherished all season, will be ruined.
“You’re not having fun when you’re out there competing,’’ Lackey said. “Winning is the only thing that matters. The end result is the only fun part.’’
This Game 7 certainly could be one of the most highly-anticipated games in baseball history. Corey Kluber, who could win his second Cy Young in three years, is making his third start of the Series for the Indians. Kyle Hendricks, who had the lowest ERA in the major leagues, is going for the Cubs.
“This is the ultimate dream,’’ Hendricks said. “When you’re out in your backyard as a kid, playing Little League at the field with our friends, this is the moment you dream of. Game 7, 3-2, two outs, bottom of the ninth.
“But it’s always Game 7 of the World Series.’’
Kluber will become only the seventh pitcher in the last 30 years, and the first American League pitcher since Jack Morris of the 1991 Minnesota Twins, to make three starts in a series. The winning pitcher in Game 1 and Game 4, he now will be vying to become the first starting pitcher to win three Series games since Mickey Lolich of the 1968 Detroit Tigers.
It’s the man the Indians want on the mound to win their first World Series title since 1948. Kluber has been virtually unhittable this postseason. He’s 4-1 with a 0.89 ERA in five starts, and 2-0 with an 0.75 ERA in the World Series, yielding a .205 batting average with 15 strikeouts in nine innings.
“That’s a good feeling,’’ Cleveland manager Terry Francona said, “and I know they love their guy too. You’ve got two really, really good pitchers. It’s an honor to even be a part of it.
“It will be exciting to come to the ballpark. Shoot, I might just wear my uniform home. I might get ice cream on it, though, so maybe I better not.’’
This will be only the second Game 7 in Cubs World Series history, the last in 1945, when they lost 9-3 to the Detroit Tigers. It has taken them 71 years just to get back.
“Obviously, with the history of this team,’’ Cubs reliever Mike Montgomery said, “what better way to do it than come back from a 3-1 deficit and win the World Series?
“This team has a flair for the dramatic.’’
The Indians have been here before in modern times. They forced a Game 7 in 1997, and were two outs away from winning the championship, until blowing the lead and falling to the Florida Marlins in 11 innings. They lost in six games in the 1995 World Series to the Atlanta Braves. And in 1954 they were swept by the New York Giants.
Now, here they are again, trying to fend off a winter of despair while momentum is driving the Cubs’ bandwagon.
The Cubs, trying to become the first World Series team since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates to overcome a 3-1 deficit by winning the final two games on the road, have been cruising since losing Game 4 at Wrigley Field. They have now led for 14 consecutive innings, shortly after Kris Bryant’s homer in the fourth inning of Game 5. And it was Bryant again who ignited the uprising with a two-out, two-strike first-inning homer in Game 6, becoming the first Cub to hit two homers in a World Series since Frank Demaree in 1935.
The beauty of the early homers, Bryant says, is simply to make sure that Indians relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen remain seated in the bullpen. Miller has not pitched now since Saturday.
“Obviously, you don’t want to let them get to Miller and Allen,’’ Bryant said. “They’re two of the best in the game. So that’s kind of been the game-plan the whole series. Try to get up early, so that they can’t use them when they’re [behind].’’
As for Game 6, well, the only intrigue after Addison Russell’s third-inning grand slam was Cubs manager Joe Maddon’s decision to summon closer Aroldis Chapman with a 7-2 lead, and two outs and two on in the seventh.
“I thought the game could have been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly,’’ Maddon said. “It was the meaty part of their batting order. If you don’t get through that, there is no tomorrow.’’
But come on, a five-run lead, and you don’t want to save him? Chapman even went out to start the ninth with a 9-2 lead, until being pulled after walking leadoff hitter Brandon Guyer.
Sorry, Maddon says, he just wasn’t about to take any chances.
“Listen, I’ve been at this ballpark when we were up by seven or nine [runs],’’ Maddon said, “and they came back in the last [inning]. Cleveland has this tendency, and this tradition, so I don’t want that to happen.’’
Maddon’s move perhaps revealed how little faith he has in the rest of his bullpen, which means that in Game 7, he could call upon ace Jon Lester and Lackey and Jon Lester in relief.
“We’re going to have an expensive bullpen for sure,’’ Ross said. “It’s going to be high-priced talent down there. They’re jacked. Their levels will be really high.
“Lack was already talking about it today, “Can’t wait. You let me know when I need to go down there.’’’
Anything, and everything, is possible for Game 7. We could see the entire Cubs’ rotation pitching in relief after Hendricks. We could see Miller and Cody Allen pitching more innings than Kluber and Hendricks combined, too.
“I can’t wait to see the anxiety level of the fans back home,’’ Ross said. “ “Game 7! Oh my God! How are we going to do it? Really, it will be like that for both sides.’’
Perhaps Anthony Rizzo, the heart and soul of the Cubs whose two-run Game 6 homer made removing Chapman simpler, said it best:
“If you’re a fan of baseball, this is the best night you could possibly home for,’’ he said. “A Game 7. The Indians not winning it since 1948. Us not winning it since 1908.
“History is going to be written one way or another.’’
Yep, just the way we wanted.
Bob Nightengale, USA Today