CLEVELAND — Curses.
One of baseball's two longest World Series droughts, and all the lore, prose and mythology surrounding them, will be finished tonight, finally, and fittingly, in a seventh and decisive game.
Given how long these teams have gone without winning — the Cubs in their 108th season, the Indians their 68th — it just seems appropriate that the Series would drag out this way, a tug-of-war between opposing forces.
But someone has to win tonight.
"With these two teams, why wouldn't it come down to a Game 7,'' Cubs pitcher Jon Lester said. "You go 107 years, and it's 60-70 years for them, we can't tie. Somebody's got to win (tonight).''
The Cubs forced Game 7, and took the excitement and any suspense out of Game 6, with a 9-3 victory Tuesday that was pretty much decided by the third inning thanks primarily to shortstop Addison Russell, and his Series record-tying six RBIs, with an assist from the Indians.
Joe Maddon's Cubs would seem to have the edge, using the advantage of having four starters by sending a fully rested Kyle Hendricks to the mound against Indians ace Corey Kluber, who will be starting for the third time in the Series over nine days, in what will be the 38th decisive Game 7 in Series history.
"If you're a fan of baseball,'' Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "this is the best outcome that you could possibly hope for.''
Hopefully it will be more competitive than Game 6.
The Cubs got three in the first, on a homer by Kris Bryant (who would finish with four hits) then singles by Anthony Rizzo and former Rays star Ben Zobrist and an inexplicable mixup between centerfielder Tyler Naquin (who should have caught it) and rightfielder Lonnie Chisenhall that turned Russell's fly ball off starter Josh Tomlin into a two-run double, with Zobrist, saying he wasn't going to "be timid,'' crashing into catcher Roberto Perez.
"That was an unfortunate play,'' Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Because that we thought we were out of the inning with one, kind of regroup, and instead it's three and JT had to keep pitching.
Then the Cubs added four in the third as Russell greeted reliever Dan Otero, the former USF pitcher, with the first Series grand slam since 2005. A leadoff walk to Kyle Schwarber got them started, then singles by Rizzo and Zobrist ended the night for Tomlin, whose didn't handle the challenge of working on three days' rest very well, failing to command his curveball and unable to get through the third.
The Indians went to Otero, who pitched his 2007 senior season at USF and last week became the first Bull to play in the World Series. Tuesday, he threw two balls then a sinker that didn't sink, and Russell, the 22--year-old with a knack for the spotlight, took advantage.
"Thoughout the whole year, being part of the Cubs, you're put in the limelight,'' Russell said. "And early on you're forced to deliver whenever the game's kind of on the line. So having that practice throughout the whole season and then finally here comes the big moment in the postseason, in the World Series, it's just I wouldn't say it's bread and butter, but you definitely learn to control those feelings, so you're able to see the ball and able to think about pitch counts and all that stuff.''
The Indians had a chance to close the gap, getting one run and loading the bases in the fourth against Jake Arrieta, but Naquin, who had a rough night overall, went down swinging.
They got to within 7-2 and made it interesting enough in the seventh that Maddon — somewhat surprisingly —went to closer Aroldis Chapman then. He got them out of the inning thanks to a replay reversal on a play where he covered first (and seemed to turn his ankle but said he was fine), and he worked into the ninth, throwing 20 pitches total. Rizzo added a two-run homer in the ninth
"Tonight was a tough night,'' Francona said. "You can 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 (tonight). And we'll be really 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 (tonight).''
The Cubs have total confidence Hendricks, who had a majors-best 2.13 ERA and worked into the eighth of the pennant clincher against the Dodgers, but will have everyone available.
Kluber, the stoic Stetson product, said he hasn't felt much different starting on three days' rest rather than the usual four the first two times he did it this postseason, but this will be his first experience doing so in consecutive starts.
As much as he went into Tuesday's game hoping to not be working tonight, Kluber — who won the All-Star Game that gave the AL team homefield advantage — vowed to be ready.
The Cubs are trying to become the seventh of 47 teams down 3-1 to win a Series title, the first overall since the 1985 Royals (over the Cardinals) and first to win the final two on the road since the 1979 Pirates. They already are the first of the past 11 teams down 3-1 to even get to Game 7.
"When we set out on this journey, I'd like to have swept them in four,'' Cubs veteran catcher David Ross said "But being that it's come down to this, when you look back this is kind of fitting. For these two franchises, it's storybook. They will make movies about this.''
Before the Series started, Indians second baseman and Chicago area native Jason Kipnis was asked about the potential of either team being able to shake its past.
"If the curses are real, theirs seems to be to a stronger curse, I'm hoping theirs wins out then," Kipnis said. "If the baseball gods want to take it into their own hands, I think it's a serious thing for them to not allow that goat in. I don't know how the baseball gods can ever forgive them. That makes the Series cool. One of those curses comes to an end. Whether you're a Cubs fan or an Indians fan, if you're a baseball fan I think that's a special thing to see. Somebody should win."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]. Follow @TBTimes_Rays.