It comes down to one game. For members of one beleaguered fan base, the taste of World Series glory awaits. For another, the bitter pill of “wait ‘til next year” will have to do.
The Cleveland Indians host the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series Wednesday. Each team has the chance to either erase a championship drought or prolong their fans’ agony. For Cleveland, it’s been 68 years since the Indians won the World Series; for the Cubs, it’s an epic 108 years – a streak of futility that has spawned legends of cursed billy goats and black cats that have conspired to upend Chicago’s title ambitions.
After the Cubs’in Cleveland, fans gathered outside Chicago’s Wrigley Field to celebrate and hope for a repeat performance in the decisive contest.
“Anything can happen,” Cubs fan Joe Debald of Michigan City, Indiana, told the Chicago Sun-Times while joining other fans outside the historic stadium.
“I’ve been living and dying with every pitch,” said Peter McCleery, a 58-year-old writer and Cubs fan since 1970 who watched the game with his brother about 300 miles away in the Mississippi River city of Quincy, Illinois.
“It’s been a dream so far. I hope we can beat them,” he said.
In Cleveland, elated Cubs fans who watched the game at Progressive Field unfurled “W’’ flags marking the Chicago win and stayed long after as Indians fans left after Game 6.
One of those fans was Greg Ellis, a 29-year-old Cubs fan who made the trip to Ohio for both games.
“I’m basically putting my bank account at zero,” Ellis told the Chicago Tribune. “But I’ll figure it out later.”
Cubs fan Jim Fischer, 72, was in Cleveland, too - after his son bought tickets at $900 each.
“I don’t want any more of this ‘next year’ stuff,” he said. “This has got to be the year.”
For Cleveland fans, there’s the chance to cement the new nickname for their oft-maligned hometown: Believeland.
On the verge of the city’s second championship in a year (after the LeBron James-led Cavaliers won the NBA title in the spring), Cleveland appears to have put its painful past behind it. But this resurrection isn’t just happening in the realm of sports. Not so long ago, this city was down for the count.
In the late 1970s, Cleveland became the first major city to default on its financial obligations since the Great Depression. Cleveland became the poster child for the declining Rust Belt.
Richie Piiparinen teaches Population Dynamics at Cleveland State University.
“We rose with industry and we died with industry,” Piiparinen says. “Psychically, we lost our identity.”
To save itself, the city was reborn as a world class center of medicine. Downtown now beckons with clean streets, stores and restaurants. The city isn’t all the way back, but an Indians victory would keep the good vibes going.
On the field, Cleveland ace Corey Kluber pitches against Kyle Hendricks, the major league ERA leader. Kluber has a chance to become the first pitcher to win three World Series starts since Detroit’s Mickey Lolich in 1968.
“The game has changed,” the 76-year-old Lolich said Tuesday. “It’s a totally different game than what we played back in our days. It just doesn’t happen.”
Addison Russell hit a grand slam and tied a Series record with six RBIs in Chicago’s 9-3 win Tuesday night that forced this captivating matchup to the limit.
Chicago is trying to become the first club to overcome a 3-1 Series deficit since the 1985 Kansas City Royals and the first to do it by winning Games 6 and 7 on the road since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates.
Now it’s one night, winner take all.
“It’s a kid’s dream,” Russell said.
Even after losing two straight, the Indians remain confident.
“No one says Game 3 or 5. This is what you want,” said shortstop Francisco Lindor, who leads the Indians with a .364 Series average.
Kluber is 4-1 with a 0.89 ERA in four postseason starts, starting with 16 consecutive scoreless innings against Boston in the Division Series and Toronto in the AL Championship Series.
“That’s our guy. That’s our stud,” Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis said.
A 30-year-old right-hander, Kluber started on three days’ rest for the first time in his big league career in Game 4 against the Blue Jays. He left after five innings with the Indians trailing 2-1 in a 5-1 defeat, then threw 88 pitches over six innings as Cleveland beat the Cubs 6-0 last Tuesday in the Series opener.
He came back on three days’ rest in Game 4, needing 81 pitches for six innings of one-run, five-hit ball in a 7-2 win that gave Cleveland a 3-1 lead.
“Obviously, he’s a special guy,” Hendricks said. “You can just see it, the way he takes to the mound. He’s always locked in.”
Nine pitchers have won three starts in a single Series, none since Lolich went 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 21 strikeouts while tossing three complete games against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Good players, good pitchers, can do special things. He’s in that category,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It was kind of an easy decision after talking to him.”
The 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, Kluber was 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA this season as Cleveland won the AL Central for the first time since 2007. His win in the All-Star Game at San Diego in July gave the American League home-field advantage in the Series.
“I never connected those dots at that point in time,” he said.
Already, he is the first pitcher to win Games 1 and 4 in the Series since Cincinnati’s Jose Rijo in 1990. In addition to Lolich, the only others to win three Series starts were Charles “Deacon” Phillippe of Pittsburgh and Bill Dinneen of the Boston Americans (1903), the New York Giants’ Christy Mathewson (1905), the Philadelphia Athletics’ Jack Coombs (1910), Pittsburgh’s Babe Adams (1909), Cleveland’s Stan Coveleski (1920), Milwaukee’s Lew Burdette (1957) and Bob Gibson (1967).
Hendricks, a 28-year-old right-hander, went 16-8 and didn’t get a decision in his Game 3 Series start, when he allowed six hits in 4 1/3 scoreless innings of a 1-0 loss.
“This is the ultimate dream,” he said. “When you’re out in your backyard as a kid, playing Little League at the field with your friends, this is the moment you dream about: Game 7, 3-2, two outs, something like that, bottom of the ninth. But it’s always Game 7 of the World Series.”
Behind the starters, Chicago closer Aroldis Chapman has thrown 62 pitches in the last three days. Cleveland’s Andrew Miller hasn’t pitched since Saturday and closer Cody Allen has been rested since Sunday.
“We’re all ready to go,” Miller said. “Hopefully we’re fresh.”
A possible complicating factor? Late-inning rain.
Unseasonably warm temperatures in the upper 60s or low 70s are forecast for Wednesday night. The chance of rain increases from 19 percent at 8 p.m. to 49 to 55 percent at 11 p.m., according to AccuWeather.
AccuWeather senior meteorologist Brian Wimer said in a statement: “While a brief shower cannot be ruled out during Wednesday evening, if Game 7 runs late or goes into extra innings, then the chance of drenching rain will increase.”