CHICAGO — The Indians just won’t play along here.
They refuse to be props in the Cubs’ captivating quest to finally win that first elusive championship since 1908. Which, of course, makes this World Series more fascinating by the moment.
Are the mighty Cubs feeling the pressure of trying to break through against all of the cursed history that weighs on this franchise?
It’s tempting to say yes, considering they’ve been shut out twice in three games, and four times in their last eight going back to the NLCS. On Friday night it was soft-tossing Josh Tomlin and the Indians’ bullpen shutting them down 1-0 to take a 2-1 lead in the series.
And Joe Maddon offered reason to believe his team was over-anxious in this first World Series game at Wrigley Field in 71 years, saying their downfall was chasing pitches out of the strike zone.
“We got out of the zone way too much,’’ Maddon said. “A lot of our (eight) strikeouts were from chasing pitches. We’ve gotta do better than that.”
That sounds like a team playing tight, but Maddon insisted his players “weren’t overwhelmed by the situation,’’ referring to what felt like a day-long celebration, as fans filled the streets and jammed the bars around Wrigley Field six, seven, eight hours before game time.
Fair enough. Let’s not forget how the Cubs responded against the Dodgers, busting out for 23 runs to win the final three games of the series, and knocking out Clayton Kershaw early in the clincher.
As such it’s way too early to suggest they’re blowing this thing, and, perhaps more to the point, it wouldn’t be fair to Terry Francona’s Indians, who are now 9-2 in this post-season against three of the best offensive teams in baseball.
So although it’s still hard not to think of the Cubs as the better team in this matchup, with deeper starting pitching and a more dangerous offense, perhaps that’s ignoring the brilliance of the Indians’ pitching
At the very least it is better and deeper than anyone knew. No one gave them a shot without injured starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, and yet here, they are, with a remarkable team ERA of 1.65 through 11 post-season games.
With Corey Kluber, some other mostly no-name starters, and a bullpen that has been practically bulletproof, the Tribe has shut down the powerful offenses of the Red Sox and Blue Jays to get here, and now they’re doing it to the mighty Cubs as well.
On this night it was Tomlin frustrating them with his assortment of off-speed stuff, at least a couple of times around the lineup, and Francona sure as heck wasn’t going to give the Cubs a third look at his righthander.
Miller continued to prove he is the Indians’ X-factor.
(Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
As he has all of the post-season, he managed boldly, bringing in Andrew Miller, the X-factor, into the game with two outs in the fifth inning of a 0-0 game.
It felt like this time he may have jumped the gun with Miller, especially in a National League ballpark, knowing he might have to pinch-hit for him before he wanted to.
And indeed, that’s what happened, as Miller was due up in a big spot in the top of the seventh, after he’d worked 1 1/3 innings, chalking up three strikeouts.
Francona said he wasn’t necessarily planning on Miller going another inning, but it’s hard to believe he didn’t want his big lefty to get him to the eighth inning.
Still, he had no choice but to hit for him, and, wouldn’t you know it, Coco Crisp delivered the go-ahead run with a single in that spot.
It was a huge run, obviously, but it left the Indians’ pen to get nine outs without their most lethal weapon. And though Bryan Shaw got five outs and Cody Allen four, it did get hairy in the ninth, with the Cubs getting the tying and go-ahead runs into scoring position with two outs, before Allen struck out Javy Baez for the final out.
So apparently no matter the scenario, if Miller is involved it works out fine for the Indians. He has now pitched the most scoreless innings ever by a reliever in the post-season, his 15 bettering Goose Gossage’s 14 1/3 in 1981 and Mariano Rivera’s 13 1/3 in 1998.
And maybe everyone has this destiny thing all wrong: the Indians, after all, are trying to win a championship for the first time since 1948, the second-longest current drought in baseball.
And maybe it really is the year of all things Cleveland, with the Indians ready to back up the Cavaliers’ NBA championship, the first major sports title of any kind in that city since 1964.
At the very least, the Indians have assured themselves of taking this World Series back to Cleveland.
And on this day, they ruined the grandest of occasions in this city, as Chicagoans celebrated the first Cubs’ World Series since 1945 from morning ‘til night.
Can they ruin the Cubs’ season as well? At this point, it’s a lot harder to say they can’t, which makes this World Series all the more intriguing.
Source: NY Daily News Headlines Sports News