Few sentences sounds as strange as that, given the last 100-plus years of title-less baseball played by Chicago’s National League franchise. Given, too, the last 68 seasons since the Indians’ last World Series championship, and this city’s own inability to produce sports titles (until this year, at least), few words might be more appropriate.
In a World Series where the Cubs once trailed three games to one and appeared all but dead, their 9-3 Game 6 victory set up what will be the most joyous or painful night in either franchise’s history.
Right now the Cubs are playing better as they teeter on elimination than the Indians did with the series in their grasp. That is not surprising. This was supposed to be their year as they played in their first World Series since 1945, with a chance to capture their first title since 1908. Tuesday, Jake Arrieta held Cleveland to just two runs over nearly six innings while striking out nine. Addison Russell tied a World Series record with six runs batted in by hitting a two-run double in the first and a grand slam home run in the third.
But even with everything going right for the Cubs their manager, Joe Maddon, had to be extra sure of the victory. And that may have been a fatal mistake.
He hiked to the mound in the seventh inning of a game Chicago already led 7-2 and called for the team’s top reliever Aroldis Chapman and his 103mph fastball to get the final seven outs. The move came just two days after Chapman mowed through the Indians for the last eight outs of Game 5. Chapman got out of the seventh and through the eighth but had to be pulled after a leadoff walk in the ninth during which his sizzling fastball dropped into double digits.
“The game could have been lost right there,” Maddon said, defending his decision to use Chapman in the seventh. “He’s by far our most dynamic relief pitcher. I talked to him before the game ... he was aware of the scenario.”
It sets up a potentially-troubling quandry for Chicago heading into Game 7: will Chapman have anything left in arguably the most important game in Cubs history? Especially because the blowout allowed Cleveland to save their super-reliever Andrew Miller. “I’m going to keep going until I can’t,” Chapman said in Spanish through an interpreter.
But that’s a problem for Wednesday night. Game 6 was about another team’s unfolding postseason nightmare.
Maybe the 38,116 Indians fans who filled the stands here knew the fate that awaited their team. Cleveland has not met with prosperity well these last several decades. Even as the record said the Indians led this series 3-2 and were but a win from the championship, fans seemed to speak of the title in hushed terms, as if it was too improbable to comprehend. Nothing seemed right. Maybe it was the unseasonable temperatures that lingered in the 70s through the day and into the night. By late afternoon a gentle mob of hopeful baseball fans surged through the downtown streets filling bars where Major League, the film about a fictional team of Indians heroes, played on an endless loop.
The Indians fans filed into the park wearing jerseys bearing the surnames of Cleveland aspirations from a past of broken dreams: Grady Sizemore, Gaylord Perry, Rocky Colavito and Albert Belle. They roared when their unlikeliest of World Series achievers took the field and howled as the giant left field scoreboard declared this was “CLEVELAND AGAINST THE WORLD.”
Then three batters into the game the world struck back when the Cubs’ Kris Bryant smashed a home run over the wall in left field for a 1-0 lead
The world continued their assault with singles from Rizzo and Ben Zobrist, bringing up Russell who hit a lazy fly ball that looked an easy out for right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall. But he either heard or saw center fielder Tyler Naquin racing toward him and ducked out of the way. Naquin – trying to avoid Chisenhall – also flinched and the ball plunked between them in one of those only-in-Cleveland moments, as two more runs scored and the once happy crowd fell silent.
Naquin later said he couldn’t hear Chisenhall over the roar of the crowd and blamed himself for the botched play. “I’m the center fielder I got to take charge out there,” he said glumly as he stood in the quiet Indians clubhouse, knowing it was a play that may ultimately cost Cleveland the World Series.
And after Russell hit his grand slam at the top of the third to make the score 7-0, a few Indians fans gathered their things and slowly headed to the streets outside. They could still see into the stadium, its lights gleaming in the balmy Ohio night, but at least this way they didn’t have to confront the crumbling belief in a title that seemed too good to be true.
There is, however, always Game 7.
This article was written by Les Carpenter at Progressive Field, Cleveland, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 2nd November 2016 03.40 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010