The fans in the outdoor Midwestern baseball stadium could barely believe their eyes as they watched the games unfold. Their favorite team had not won the World Series since long before they were born, but now it was playing like a champion on the sport’s biggest stage. The faithful, too excited to remain seated, shouted and leaped and hugged each other with glee, as the ballplayers they identified as their own hit superbly in the clutch while frustrating the opposing batters with one masterful pitching performance after another.
This doesn’t describe the crowds who paid thousands of dollars to watch the Cubs’ three World Series games at Wrigley Field over the weekend. No, these were the crowds who paid a whole lot less than that to attend viewing parties at Progressive Field in Cleveland, where they looked up at the giant video screen atop the left-field stands and saw the Tribe take two of the three games in Chicago. It is now possible – even probable – for the Indians to win the World Series at home for the first time since 1920, when their opponent was called the Brooklyn Robins. It would be only the third championship for a franchise whose history dates all the way back to 1901. That’s two years before the first World Series was even played.
A total of 67,218 attended the watch parties at the Indians’ home park for Games 3, 4 and 5, the team said. Some paid as little as $5 for the privilege, and the proceeds will go to various charities.
Meanwhile, in Chicago, throngs were following the action not only inside the Friendly Confines but outside it. Streets in the Wrigleyville neighborhood were closed to vehicular traffic, and with extra commuter trains put into service on the CTA Red Line, city officials were urging fans to take mass transit. Those who didn’t must have walked a long way to get back to their cars, considering that Wrigley – built in 1914 – doesn’t have its own parking lot. With the Cubs in their first Series since the year World War II ended, the Windy City has gone a little bonkers. If Cleveland had swept all three games at Wrigley, even I, an Indians fan, would have felt sorry for the thousands upon thousands who crammed into and around the ancient ballpark with the ivy-covered outfield walls.
The Series is drawing huge television audiences, too: 18.5 million viewers on average through the first five games, according to Variety. The preliminary Nielsen numbers for Game 5 were 25 percent better than in 2015, despite the fact that last year’s Game 5 was an elimination game for the New York Mets. Sunday night’s game also drew a whole lot more (21.54 million versus 17.21 million) than the simultaneous Dallas Cowboys-Philadelphia Eagles matchup – even though the football game was a battle for first place that went to overtime.
Here’s a recap of what all those baseball watchers saw:
Game 3 – Indians 1, Cubs 0: As if winning a championship weren’t enough to earn a place in my sports fan’s heart forever, these Indians are just plain easy to like. Take, for example, Josh Tomlin, who was moved up to No. 2 in the rotation only because of injuries to two other starters.
Of all the players on the team, Tomlin might have drawn the toughest assignment, facing major-league earned-run average leader Kyle Hendricks with the series tied 1-1. But the Indians’ right-hander outpitched his more accomplished opponent, throwing 4 2/3 innings of shutout ball to help Cleveland retake the series lead. And from his wheelchair, in the “Not-So-Friendly” Confines, surrounded by mobs of Cubs crazies eager to see his son lose, Jerry Tomlin saw Josh pitch in person for the first time since being paralyzed from the chest down in August because of a rare blood-vessel issue near his spinal cord. “It was probably one of the more emotional starts I’ve ever had in my entire life,” said Tomlin, who turned 32 on October 19. “ … I did the best I could for him.”
Tomlin gave up 36 home runs this season, but only one since September 1, a span of eight starts. Teams scoring first have won 14 straight games in these playoffs, and Cleveland set a record by pitching its fifth shutout of this postseason. The Indians also became the first club to post two shutouts in a World Series since the 1966 Baltimore Orioles.
Game 3 marked the first time in World Series history that two starting pitchers went less than five innings even though neither had given up a run. And through three games, the Cubs are hitting just .154 with runners on base.
Game 4 – Indians 7, Cubs 2: Before Carlos Santana went deep, the last player to hit a World Series home run at Wrigley Field was Hank Greenberg in 1945 – and the last first baseman to hit one was Lou Gehrig in 1932. More important than its historical value, however, was its timing: Santana’s leadoff shot hushed the crowd, moments after the Cubs had taken the lead for only the second time in the series. John Lackey, despite all his experience under postseason pressure, could not get past one batter without relinquishing the advantage.
Amazing. As soon as the riled-up Wrigley faithful have something to boost their hopes – a first-inning lead, and some hits against 2014 Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber – the Indians jump ahead in their very next at-bat. Kluber, pulling one foul by a few feet with two out and two on, almost got a hit down the third-base line. The Cubs might have preferred that to what did happen. On a 3-2 pitch, he barely got his bat on the ball and pushed a bouncer toward third. Kris Bryant charged in and threw on the run. Not only did Kluber beat the throw, but it was too wide for first baseman Anthony Rizzo to hold it. With runners going on the pitch, Lonnie Chisenhall was able to score the go-ahead run from second easily. The throwing error was the second of the inning for Bryant, the young star expected to win the National League MVP award.
All the breaks seem to be going the Indians’ way now. After the umpire’s call on a close 2-2 pitch goes against Lackey, Francisco Lindor lashes a single to center to drive home Jason Kipnis, making the score 3-1. This was after Kipnis’ double to open the third, the second straight inning the Indians led off with an extra-base hit to right field.
In the sixth, the Indians scored another tack-on run off reliever Mike Montgomery, even though they didn’t look smooth doing it. Lindor walked on a 3-2 pitch. Santana hit a comebacker that took the glove off the pitcher’s hand. Montgomery retrieved it but, off balance, threw wildly to first. Santana foolishly made a turn, and both he and first baseman Rizzo ended up flopping around in the dirt as Santana nearly got caught off the bag. Rather than sacrifice, Jose Ramirez hit what could have been a double-play ball; Ramirez beat the relay, so it wound up being a productive out. With runners on the corners, Chisenhall also failed to put a bunt down, and Lindor was nearly caught off the bag at third when the safety squeeze was not executed. Then Chisenhall hit a sacrifice fly to center and the run wound up scoring anyway.
Now Cleveland was ahead 4-1, and three runs seemed like an impossible mountain to climb against Kluber. In a span covering the fifth and sixth innings, the overanxious Cubs swung at 11 of 12 pitches. That exercise in futility helped Kluber become the first pitcher to start and win Games 1 and 4 of a World Series since Jose Rijo of the Cincinnati Reds in 1990. The Indians’ ace went six innings, striking out six and walking one to continue what has been a dominant October. Kluber’s 0.89 ERA is the second-best playoff mark in baseball history among pitchers with at least 30 innings in one postseason.
Kipnis made the night seem too good to be true from a Cleveland standpoint when he drilled a three-run shot in the seventh. The last player to hit a three-run homer in a Series game at Wrigley had been Babe Ruth – his famous “called shot,” in 1932. As a kid, Kipnis had been a Cubs fan; he is from the suburb of Northbrook, Ill., where one of his neighbors was another Cubs fan who made the home fans unhappy during a postseason game at Wrigley Field: Steve Bartman.
Though Cleveland’s 7-1 lead made his presence seem hardly necessary, Andrew Miller did enter the game. He set a record for most strikeouts by a relief pitcher in a single postseason, but also gave up Dexter Fowler’s solo shot in the eighth. That whimper of protest – the Cubs’ first home run of the series – ensured that Miller’s ERA for these playoffs will not be 0.00.
Game 5 – Cubs 3, Indians 2: When Ramirez opened the scoring with a solo home run in the second inning, I remarked that these games in Chicago were beyond my wildest dreams. The Cubs rebounded soon thereafter, however, and just like Cleveland in the 1995 World Series against Atlanta, they won Game 5 to avoid the ignominy of having their opponent clinch the championship as their disappointed home fans watched in horror.
The Indians made Chicago sweat, though. The Cubs scored all three of their runs in the third inning, posting another succession of zeroes the rest of the way. In what some observers perceived as a panic move, Chicago manager Joe Maddon inserted closer Aroldis Chapman with one out in the seventh inning. The left-hander from Cuba whose fastball consistently exceeds 100 mph did the job, but the Indians will have two more chances to clinch the series – in Cleveland.
Posted October 31, 2016
Sources: The Associated Press, Cleveland Indians Media Guide (2002), Cleveland.com (Plain Dealer website), espn.com, Fox Sports, mlb.com, Chicago Tribune.