By Larry Fine
CLEVELAND (Reuters) – On Sunday, the Cubs had one foot in the World Series grave, but with their Game Five 3-2 win in Chicago the Fall Classic shifts to Cleveland on Tuesday and it is game on for Major League Baseball’s championship.
Indians fans in “Believeland” are happy to have their team back for Game Six leading the best-of-seven series 3-2 and poised to launch a championship celebration marking the end of the American League team’s 68-year Fall Classic drought.
While they were away in the Windy City, over 67,000 attended watch parties at the Indians’ Progressive Field stadium, paying $5 a head to watch on the giant video screen with proceeds going to local charities.
Yet the Cubs, whose own title drought stretches four decades beyond Cleveland’s, hope to gain momentum from their 2016 farewell game at old Wrigley Field and complete a comeback.
“I like to believe we’re going to catch or gain some momentum from this game going back over there,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said after Chicago’s do-or-die Game Five win.
“I’ve never been looking forward to wanting to play the seventh game of a World Series more in my life.”
Six of the 46 previous World Series teams that fell behind 3-1 came back to win the championship, with the last one accomplishing the feat being the Kansas City Royals over the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985.
But this comeback would be even more difficult since the Cubbies have to claim the final two games on the road – last done by the Pittsburgh Pirates against the Baltimore Orioles in 1979.
Cleveland’s unflappable manager Terry Francona, who won two World Series sweeps while steering the Boston Red Sox and has a remarkable 11-2 record in Fall Classic games, does not suffer from complacency and has his own way of battling the nerves.
Francona revealed over the weekend that when he had trouble sleeping the night before Game Five, despite holding a 3-1 lead, he ate $44 worth of ice cream ordered from his hotel’s room service to calm himself.
The Cubs, who led the majors with 103 regular season wins, comfort themselves with the fact that they have won three games in a row 18 times, including three straight to vanquish the Los Angeles Dodgers in the League Championship Series.
The Indians have lost three in a row seven times this past season.
Pitching may prove the difference.
Cleveland are set to start Josh Tomlin on Tuesday and ace Corey Kluber, who has already won a pair of Series games, on short rest again in a possible Game Seven. They are a combined 6-1 with a 1.18 ERA in the postseason.
Chicago counter with reigning Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta in Game Six with a fully rested Kyle Hendricks, the NL ERA leader, ready for a Game Seven.
(Editing by Mark Lamport-Stokes)