CLEVELAND – Game 7, any Game 7, is a splendid and memorable occasion unless yours is the team that backed into it from a three-games-to-one lead, that has for four days endeavored to avoid this very trial, that invited everybody downtown for the Believeland party Tuesday night and then explained it was postponed a day, and by then would pray it not be more accurately Bereaveland.
Game 7 honors the dreamers. The poets. It sustains the nearly vanquished. It is the small dim light in the distance that is hope, that is the oncoming locomotive, depending on how one happened upon this place at this time, in this case Progressive Field late on Wednesday night.
Into this particular Game 7 come the Chicago Cubs, representing the Cubs of 1909 and every year since, from seasons lost incapably to seasons lost unluckily, just lots of seasons, now one win away from a championship for the first time since 1945, a year they lost Game 7. And so come the Cleveland Indians. They too bear the burden of unrewarded generations, only a couple fewer than the Cubs. They too are this close for the first time in 19 years, when they lost Game 7.
This World Series bundled the sport’s two franchises that have demanded the most from their believers. That is, the most patience, the deepest senses of humor, the broadest views, the greatest aptitudes for forgiveness and, of course, the longest life spans. The Cubs since 1908. The Indians from 40 years after that. And now, on a Wednesday night here, barring the macabre, which is not to be summarily dismissed, one of them will raise a banner. One of them will never be forgotten. One of them will finally have arrived at next year. The other? Well, there are plenty of next years still out there, and one of those will have to be theirs. They’ll have to believe that. They’ll have no choice.
We arrive at Game 7 because the Cubs found the game that drove them to 103 wins, just in time to play into November. They beat the Indians, 9-3, Tuesday night in Game 6, two days after beating the Indians, 3-2, in Game 5. They have pitched just enough and hit enough to sustain themselves an hour at a time, which is how the precipice of elimination must feel. We arrive at Game 7 because the Indians were unable to close out in Game 5 or 6, first narrowly and then in a landslide that found them hanging the pivotal curveball, that found them unable to catch the routine fly ball, that found them staring into the bleachers of their own ballpark, wishing that baseball would not have flown quite so far.
“They played better than us today,” Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said after the Indians had tried to play back from 3-0 after one inning, 7-0 after three, and 9-2 after 8½.
Rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin and third baseman-turned-right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall let a ball drop between them in the first inning. It cost the Indians two runs, along with the mood of the evening, which was celebratory until Naquin and Chisenhall were left to scramble after that ball. Two innings after that, Indians starter Josh Tomlin loaded the bases with one out, gave way to right-hander Dan Otero, and three pitches later watched as Addison Russell
“A tough night,” Indians manager Terry Francona called it. “You can, however, get philosophical or whatever. Have sayings. What it comes down to is, I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s a really important game tomorrow. And we’ll be excited to play. You learn from your mistakes and then move on quickly. And we’ll do that. It will be exciting to come to the ballpark tomorrow. Shoot, I might just wear my uniform home.”
Five hours before he’d know for sure and 26 hours before he’d get the baseball for his second World Series start, Cubs right-hander Kyle Hendricks began a sentence, “So when we get there tomorrow …,” like it was done, a sure thing.
Then the Cubs put those balls in play, and Indians outfielders grew shadow shy, so by the fourth inning of Game 6 there seemed to be no avoiding a Game 7. Hendricks, on regular rest, will oppose Indians right-hander Corey Kluber, pitching a second consecutive time on short rest. Hendricks’ postseason ERA is 1.31. Kluber’s is 0.89.
It comes to that, along with a thousand other things that could go right, and another thousand that could go wrong, the only difference being the Cubs have been playing for Game 7 since Saturday, which is about when the Indians started playing to avoid it.
The time spent on the verge of winning a World Series championship, Indians first baseman Mike Napoli said, has passed, “Slowly. I mean, it’s a lot of time waiting around and stuff, in the clubhouse, out there. It’s part of it. It’s what it’s all about.”
Addison Russell hammers a grand slam to center field off Dan Otero in the 3rd, pushing the Cubs’ lead to seven runs
“Better,” he said, “than sitting at home.”
Still, he added, “We gave ourselves opportunities to close it out. Now it all comes down to tomorrow.”
All things considered, the Indians’ clubhouse was alive with anticipation. Lindor chuckled as he struggled to find the armholes in his sweater. “Getting dressed is hard,” he said. Chisenhall grinned when the first question put to him was along the lines of, what the heck happened on that fly ball? “Straight to the point,” he said. And Napoli, whose sleep disorder was corrected by surgery, when asked if he’d sleep Tuesday night: “Probably not. That’s usual this time of year. And I’m used to it anyway.”
Game 7 will honor one of them. In the long view, both, probably. But only one of them will celebrate. Only one of them will bury its past. And it will not matter how it arrived, whether by three-games-to-one up, or from three-games-to-one down, because near the end it was three-three. And that left only one more day.
“One more win, man,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said.
“We get to play in a Game 7 tomorrow,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said.
They all do. Everybody does. Somebody gets the win, all that comes with it. And somebody gets the train.