Baseball: Cubs v Indians - Which curse will be lifted?

By Martin Samuel

Cleveland Indian fans react during the side's game six loss. Photo / AP
Cleveland Indian fans react during the side's game six loss. Photo / AP

They call the World Series the Fall Classic in America. And this one truly is. The Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs go the distance at Progressive Field tonight. Game seven, tied three all.

When the dust settles, one curse will be lifted and another will remain. Between them, these teams account for 176 years of World Series failure. To be fair, more than a century of that - 108 years - is down to the Cubs. But momentum is with them now. Baseball is a sport that mainlines statistics and nine of the last 11 teams to win game six square the series 3-3, have had the impetus to land the clinching game seven.

But there is a bump in the road, and his name is Corey Kluber. He is Cleveland's best pitcher, their No 1 guy, and in action tonight in front of raucous, partisan crowd, still in shock that the Cubs have pulled level from 3-1 down. The Indians have been awaiting Kluber's return after two storming, victorious, performances in the earlier games. Now, here he comes.

Some are already placing this among the greatest Series in living memory. The Cubs narrative is a huge part of that. So much longing, so much disappointment, so many tales of woe. Cursed by a goat, cursed by a fan, the Cubs always find a way to lose.

Except the last two nights. Just as it looked as if the title would slip from their grasp, the Cubs started winning again. They pulled the Series back to 3-2 on Monday at Wrigley Field, and then boarded a puddle jumper to Cleveland to record an emphatic win on the road.

The highlight was a 435 feet grand slam home run - a home run struck with the bases loaded, meaning a score of four runs - launched through centerfield by Addison Russell. It took the score to 7-0 and left Cleveland no way back.

Whether the Indians will have got over that by tonight remains to be seen, although coach Terry Francona has kept his best relief pitchers, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen, fresh in support of Kluber. So much is riding on Cleveland's main man.

If the Indians win he will join a list of just 13 men who have pitched three successful games in a World Series - the last being Randy Johnson for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. So far, Kluber has allowed just one run in 12 innings, and struck out 15 Cubs batters. In a sport obsessed with numbers, it is these figures that give the Indians faith.

The Cubs can counter with good math of their own, however. Kyle Hendricks has not given up a run in 15 innings - the best record of any starting pitcher going into a World Series game seven decider.

They will also be counting on the momentum typical of sixth game winners. Even so, it would be a spectacular comeback. The last team to win a World Series from 3-1 down was the Kansas City Royals in 1985, and the last to do so with the final two games on the road was the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979.

Maybe the road is helping the Cubs, though, with the desperate longing at Wrigley Field last weekend palpable. Joe Maddon, the Cubs coach, aware of the fervour in the city, tried to calm matters down by allowing his players to stay at home to be with their families on Halloween. They boarded a late flight to Cleveland, half the team still in costume or make-up.

Yet the road is where the Cubs have been most relaxed. Of their games won so far, two of three have been in Cleveland. Were the Cubs to win a third away game to take the Series tonight, they would be the first team to do so since the New York Yankees swept the Atlanta Braves at the Fulton County Stadium in 1996.

Indeed, there is so much history going down in the 2016 Series, it will almost require its own wing in the records department of Major League Baseball.

"If you're a fan this is the best outcome you could possibly hope for," said Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo. "The Indians not winning since 1948, us since 1908 - it's going to be good. History's going to be written, one way or another, and we'll be a part of it forever."

"The history of the situation - it's been 108 years," said Ben Zobrist, a key recruitment by the Cubs brilliant general manager Theo Epstein, who will surely soon enter Baseball's Hall of Fame, having already ended the Curse of the Bambino and won two titles at the Boston Red Sox.

"So if we're going to come back and win, then having been down 3-1 is the best way to do it. Historical."

Even Francona, who has already won the World Series with the Boston Red Sox, acknowledged tonight's game as something special.

"It will be exciting just coming to the ballpark," he said. "I was thinking I might wear my uniform home. Then I thought I might get ice cream on it, so maybe not."

For one team it will be the greatest night, for the other the cruellest. One will lay a curse to rest, the other will feel they are destined to carry it to the grave. For 176 reasons, this is a Fall Classic to live long in the memory.

- Daily Mail

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