For the first time in the last 96 hours, Wrigleyville had something to cheer about other than just optimism and hope. While the Indians were looking at wrapping up the series tonight, the Cubs were desperately needing to send it back to Cleveland on Tuesday. One reporter called the atmosphere correctly:
Crowd at Wrigley not as crazy as the first two games. Cheers sound cautiously optimistic with a hint of terrified.
— Mark Feinsand (@FeinsandNYDN) October 31, 2016
For the last night of actual October baseball, the Cubs took that desperation and turned into what they call “flying the W”. Literally, the Cubs raise a flag with a W on it on the poles over the center field scoreboard when they win to alert the neighborhood of their victory. (As if the thousands of people celebrating in the streets wouldn’t tip them off to that tonight.)
But really, for the Cubs, it was a single inning that made all the difference. It wasn’t like it was a consistent dominance tonight. I’ve said before that I’m pretty sure the MVP of this series will be a pitcher, and that’s because every night there seems to be one standout pitcher after another.
Don’t get me wrong, both starters did a pretty good job overall. I mean, without the 4th inning, Cleveland’s starter Bauer would’ve wrapped up the win in a heartbeat. It was his only bad inning. It was also his last one. Up until that inning, Bauer was cruising through the Cubs’ roster. Bryant led-off with a big solo home run, followed up by Rizzo’s double. Zobrist’s single put runners on the corners, and Russell’s single scored Rizzo. All this before a single out was recorded that inning.
But the Cubs weren’t done. A sloppy 1-out bunt single still loaded the bases, and Zobrist then scored on Ross’ sacrifice fly. (By the way, that would be Ross’ last RBI at Wrigley, as he will be retiring at the end of this season.)
Technically, the Indians struck first against the Cubs’ starter Lester, with Ramirez’s 2-out solo shot in the 2nd. But once the Cubs took the lead in the 4th, the Indians couldn’t seem to find anything more until the 6th inning, Lester’s final inning of the night. Davis hit a 1-out single, stole 2nd, and then scored on Lindor’s 2-out single to double the Indians’ score.
And then it became a bullpen battery duel. And neither side was willing to surrender much ground. The Indians split their final 4 innings between 3 relievers, adding 7 more strikeouts to Bauer’s outstanding 7 (in his 4 innings, by the way) to bring the Indians’ total to 14 tonight. Meanwhile, the Cubs’ first reliever took 10 pitches to get through 2 batters, and Maddon went to what he considers a “sure thing” — Chapman. Yes, Chapman the closer was called on to make an 8-out save. And he did it, in 42 pitches with half of them his trademark nasty strikeouts.
Final score: 3-2 Cubs, Indians lead series 3-2.
So, two things about this. First, the series is headed back to Cleveland. Which means if the Indians do win this, they’ll be in front of their home crowd, always a better way to win. Second, we’ll be playing “November baseball”. Yes, Games 6 (and tentatively Game 7) are scheduled for November 1 (and 2). It kind of removes the specialness that was all the “Mr. November” hype back in 2001.
It’s interesting to get into some conversations about this series. It seems that people have very different ideas of what extent “rooting for the underdog” means. Some people, specifically those who feel the Indians were “robbed” of World Series victories in 1997 or 2003, feel like it’s the Indians who deserve this. And I can see that. They’ve been fairly consistent since Spring Training, staying at the top of their division and slowly building momentum to only break out once they hit the postseason.
Other people, especially the fair-weather Cubs fans (read: “hey, the Cubs are in the Series, let’s root for them even though I’ve not watched a single regular season game and have no idea who’s on the team” kind of fans), feel like the Cubs have been “robbed” of even a chance at the series for over a century and thus they should get the ring. Basically, they feel that they might not get another chance in this century and need to grab it now while it’s within reach. Of course, the truer Cubs fans believe this is the first of many postseason opportunities, and while they’d prefer their dynasty to start this season, they get that they may lose it.
And I get both those mentalities too. I mean, the Cubs haven’t really had much in the way of chances at the World Series, lastly in 1945. I think some fans are tired of rooting for their perpetual “lovable losers”. And I can get behind the belief that this is going to be one of many winning seasons for the Cubs because to me, this is the second consecutive season they’ve been this postseason good in recent years. I don’t think they’re as “loser-esque” as the stereotype suggests. I do think that we’ll be talking about the Cubs as a winning franchise for years to come (much like the Giants, the Blue Jays, even the Mets).
The reality is that one team will break their life-long championship drought and the other will regroup and try to do so next year. I don’t think either team is going to just disappear from the conversation anytime soon. I mean, this isn’t like the 2013-2014 Boston Red Sox teams. (Had to. I’m a Yankees fan, after all.)