CLEVELAND – And so it comes down to one night. So close you can touch it and so far that it seems light years away. OK, 108 years away.
The Cubs, refusing to act like so many Cubs teams that have come before, jumped on the Indians in a 9-3, Game 6 victory Tuesday night, squeezing the World Series to the last drop. Addison Russell took late batting practice, knocking in six runs, four coming on a spirit-crushing grand slam.
A Game 7 involving the long-suffering Chicago Cubs and the long-suffering Cleveland Indians to decide which team finally gets sprung from its respective prison cell. Who thought up this ridiculous storyline? Someone with a sense of humor and a mean streak. When it’s all over, one team is not going to know what to do with itself, and the other is going to walk away crushed – again.
“It’s just correct and apt that we’d go seven games,’’ Cubs manager Joe Maddon said.
If Tuesday was any indication, it will be the Cubs who will be partying Wednesday night. On the other hand, forget Game 6. The Indians will pitch Corey Kluber, not Josh Tomlin, who might as well have thrown underhanded to the Cubs on Tuesday.
This was so ridiculously easy that you have to believe the Indians, who haven’t won a World Series since 1948, will be feeling most of the pressure Wednesday night at home. And the Cubs, a team that hasn’t won a World Series since 1908? They had the weight of the world on them after falling behind 3-1 in the series. It’s fair to ask whether their pressure-packed Game 5 victory at Wrigley Field changed everything for both teams. The Cubs have the look of a team that knows it has discovered the secret to life.
So Game 7. With everything on the line, in the most important game in Cubs history. Of course.
“It’s every kid’s dream,’’ said Russell, who, at 22, would know. “It all comes down to Game 7.’’
Whatever happens, feel free to feel blessed. Kluber, who won Games 1 and 4, vs. Kyle Hendricks, who had the lowest earned-run average in the majors this season. You can’t ask for better.
But let’s not blow past Game 6 in the rush to get to Game 7. By the time Cubs starter Jake Arrieta walked to the mound in the first, his team was up 3-0, thanks to Kris Bryant’s solo home run and some slapstick fielding by the Indians.
Tomlin was gone after 2 1/3 innings, replaced by Dan Otero, who gave up the grand slam to Russell. It was the first by a Cub in World Series history, not that there has been a lot of it. Russell’s six RBI tied the World Series record. The lead was 7-0.
Clearly, someone forgot to tell the Cubs they were the ones who were supposed to be on their heels.
“I love this team when our back is against the wall,’’ Bryant said. “We saw it two days ago, and we saw it (Tuesday).’’
With a 7-2 lead in the seventh, Maddon went to closer Aroldis Chapman, just as he had in Game 5. He saw the meat of the Indians’ order coming up, and he saw his baseball life flash before his eyes.
“To me, the game could have been lost right there,’’ Maddon said.
“At least Chapman had to pitch,’’ Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Maybe that helps us.’’
Or maybe it doesn’t.
“He’s a very strong young man,’’ Maddon said of the possibility of Chapman pitching in Game 7.
Anthony Rizzo’s two-run homer in the ninth fell somewhere between piling on and showing off. That’s how silly this was for a do-or-die game. The Cubs got a nice effort from Arrieta, who gave up two runs and struck out nine in 5 2/3 innings. Bryant had four hits, Rizzo three.
OK, forget about Game 6. That is so yesterday.
“(Wednesday) is a day that you kind of have to put it out on the table,’’ Russell said. “I wouldn’t even say the luckiest is going to win. It’s the people who come up in the big situations, the guys that make the routine plays and the guys that make the spectacular plays to avoid the big inning. I think that’s going to be the difference makers.’’
There was a large contingent of Cubs fans at Progressive Field on Tuesday night. Chants of “Let’s go, Cubs’’ rang out all night. So go, the Cubs did, right into Game 7.
Before the game, Hendricks talked about how he planned to approach Wednesday’s game, if it would be necessary. (It very much will be.)
“Approach it like any other game, simple thoughts, the same old thing,’’ he said.
Same old thing? A World Series Game 7 involving the Cubs? Right.