Wednesday, May 23, 2018
Tampa Bay Rays

Loose, resilient Indians face their ultimate test in raucous Wrigley

CHICAGO — The humor involved in the figurative passing of the microphone in pre-Game 3 World Series interviews Thursday at Wrigley Field was a window inside the loose Indians clubhouse.

"Get your Texas-to-English dictionary ready," Tribe manager Terry Francona said, ceding the seat in front of the media to Friday night's starter, right-hander Josh Tomlin.

When first baseman/designated hitter Mike Napoli approached for his turn, he grabbed the wireless mic used in the audience for a final question.

"Josh, who is better at cribbage, you or Mike Napoli?" Napoli asked.

"That's me, of course, you know that," Tomlin said laughing.

Northeast Ohioans might have been distraught by the Tribe's 5-1 loss to the Cubs on Wednesday night at Progressive Field that evened the series 1-1. But the Indians seemed as relaxed and jovial as ever.

As usual, Francona set the tone, joking about the big, new international 767 the Indians flew in on after the game, even though Napoli said the weather made it a "knuckleball" experience. The plane, which the Indians also took home from Toronto after the American League Championship Series, has seats that recline to make a bed.

"I wanted the guy just to fly around for a while," Francona said, drawing laughter.

One member of the traveling party said the plane was so nice Francona probably wished they'd been heading to Los Angeles, but the Cubs eliminated the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.

All jokes aside, resilience has been a trademark of the Indians all season. Friday night in Wrigley Field will be the stiffest test.

After their only previous playoff setback, a 5-1 loss at Toronto in Game 4 of the ALCS, they came back with a 3-0 victory in Game 5 at Rogers Centre behind rookie left-hander Ryan Merritt.

But this will be a different animal. The Cubs are hosting their first World Series game since 1945 and seeking their first championship since 1908. Wrigley will be raucous and electric, just like the neighborhood, where The Cubby Bear lounge is charging a $100 cover, just like it did for the NLCS.

"I think it will be a tremendous atmosphere. I thought the one in Cleveland was, too. I think it's good for baseball," Francona said. "I don't think there's going to be a ton of people cheering for us. But that's where the feeling in the clubhouse comes in because it is going to be us against the world tomorrow, but us is pretty good. We have a good feeling. Everybody in there protects everybody else and takes care of everybody else."

Tribe president Chris Antonetti said the last time the Indians set foot in a similar atmosphere they fared pretty well. That was on Oct. 10, when the Indians won Game 3 of the ALDS at Fenway Park 4-3 over the Red Sox, with Tomlin getting the decision.

Some Indians pitchers didn't seem to need Francona's "us against the world" theme.

"I try not to get too involved in the outside pressure of what people are against us or for us," Tomlin said. "I don't really get involved in all that stuff."

Closer Cody Allen said he felt the same way.

"It's us versus the Cubs. That's a good team out there," Allen said. "We can't focus on trying to beat everyone else in the stadium — we've got to try and beat those guys."

But there was a sense among the Indians that they can feed off the Wrigley energy, too. Napoli seemed the most juiced for the historic night.

"Going into this, watching the National League play, I wanted to play against the Cubs because I knew the atmosphere would be unbelievable," Napoli said. "Early in my career I got to come here and (there is) just so much history. It's a park you want to come to and play.

"We played in some pretty crazy places getting to this point. Personally, I love it. It's just something that gets you going, even though you're in a visiting park. How loud they get, it's to the point where you can't even think.

"It's just a cool moment to take in and be a part of. I know it's going to be crazy, and I'm looking forward to it."

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