Aroldis Chapman goes above and beyond, and the Cubs stay alive

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Cubs reliever Aroldis Chapman celebrates after striking out the Indians’ Jose Ramirez to end Game 5. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The Cubs looked dead. If you had put a mirror to their mouths to check for respiration, all you would have seen was the reflection of blue lips.

They had lost two straight World Series games at Wrigley Field. Making contact with a baseball looked like the hardest math problem in the world, and none of the Cubs appeared to be on the verge of hitting or turning into Albert Einstein.

Then Sunday happened. And the Cubs are very much alive.

Well, certainly more alive than when Game 5 started. They pulled out a 3-2, Aroldis Chapman-fueled victory over the Indians at Wrigley, cutting the series lead to 3-2 with Games 6 and 7 to take place in Cleveland.

Stranger things have happened. At the moment, I can’t think of anything stranger than a team that hasn’t won a World Series in 107 years coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to change history. But I’m open to the possibility.

The Cubs certainly are. They’re also open to just about anything, this being Joe Maddon’s team. So with it do-or-die, in came Chapman, the team’s closer, with one out in the seventh inning and the Cubs clinging to that 3-2 lead. This is a pitcher who has made it clear that he just wants to pitch the ninth. He had grumbled this season when Maddon brought him in to pitch the eighth. So the seventh, with the temperature at a cool 50? Crazy?

Maddon had informed Chapman of the possibility Sunday afternoon.

“I told him, ‘I’m ready to go,’ ” Chapman said.

He struck out Jose Ramirez, then hit Brandon Guyer to give the Indians men on first and second. Chapman then got Roberto Perez to ground out, and everyone at Wrigley breathed again.

And so it went in the eighth. With Rajai Davis standing on third, thanks to a single and two stolen bases, Chapman struck out Francisco Lindor to end the threat. Wrigley, sitting on the launch pad, lifted off.

Then the ninth inning, fans up on their feet, no one with a thought of sitting. Chapman got Mike Napoli to ground out to short. Now Carlos Santana. Would Chapman have enough stamina? His second pitch to Santana was 100 m.p.h. Stamina: Sufficient. Santana flew out to right.

And finally Ramirez, who had homered off Jon Lester in the second inning. Chapman blew him away on three pitches

Count it: 2 2/3 innings, no runs, one hit and four strikeouts.

“That’s exactly the reason we got him,’’ third baseman Kris Bryant said of Chapman.

John Lackey calls the postseason “big-boy games.’’ Sunday was a biggest-boy game.

Lester, who gave up two runs in six innings, was one of them. So was Bryant, whose fourth-inning homer finally kicked the Cubs’ offense into gear after those miserable Games 3 and 4.

But the biggest boy of all was Chapman. Lackey is right. That’s what the playoffs are about. Chapman put aside whatever reservations he might have had about the extra workload, realizing that reputations are made in the postseason. If the Cubs win this series, what Chapman did Sunday will be the stuff of legend in Chicago.

So now World Series moves out of town. Jake Arrieta will pitch Game 6, and the Cubs will need a biggest-boy performance from him too. And should the Cubs win that game, they’ll have a Game 7 date with Indians pitcher Corey Kluber, who already has beaten them twice. Then it will be up to Cubs hitters to find a way. And it will be up to Kyle Hendricks to pitch the way he has all season. Like a biggest boy.

“Why not us?” Bryant said.

Good question, but that’s getting ahead of things. There’s a Game 6 to play. Amazing, after the Cubs had looked like goners.

Time for one more road trip. Cleveland has never looked so good.


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