CHICAGO — There was a fervent, celebratory air Friday in Chicago, not as the first pitch approached, but as the sun rose. It is permissible and even encouraged, because so many people in and around Wrigley Field had never seen a World Series game in the old yard. Nor had their parents.
But there is a problem with such a situation, one that’s not solved by the lines to get into burger joints. The problem is this: the Chicago Cubs still have to play these World Series games, and that can turn that early-morning joy into pit-of-the-stomach dread.
Those two emotions teetered in the 102-year-old stands late Friday night. The Cleveland Indians led, 1-0, in the bottom of the ninth. Dread that it might end. The Cubs put one runner on, then got him to scoring position, then got the kind of bounce they’ve been awaiting for 108 years. Joy at the possibility of winning, of leading the series.
Until proven otherwise, though, these are still the Cubs. So when Cleveland closer Cody Allen pumped a 94-mph fastball past Chicago second baseman Javier Baez with runners on second and third to secure a fascinating 1-0 victory for the Indians, dread enveloped Wrigley again. The Indians now have a 2-1 lead in the series, and if the Cubs are to win their first championship since 1908, they’ll have to go back to Cleveland to do it.
“That was as close a ballgame as you’re ever going to find,” Cleveland Manager Terry Francona said. “And we found a way to manage to win that game. We say it all the time: We want to be one run better. That’s about as true to form as you’re going to get.”
The third game was by far the crispest in this series, tense as October should be. But it also featured Francona, this postseason’s best manager, outmaneuvering his counterpart, Joe Maddon of the Cubs.
These weren’t the kind of gaffes that have haunted the Cubs for a century, and nothing supernatural appeared to be involved. But the game’s only run was provided by Cleveland veteran Coco Crisp. The opposing pitcher: reliever Carl Edwards Jr. Crisp was Edwards’s eighth hitter, and when he arrived at the plate as a pinch hitter in the seventh, Edwards had just allowed a single, a wild pitch and a walk to put runners at the corners with one out.
Maddon saw it as a choice between having Edwards face Crisp, a switch-hitter, or bringing in lefty Mike Montgomery to face the right-handed-hitting Brandon Guyer.
“Just talking it through, you like that matchup,” Maddon said of Edwards against Crisp. “That’s it. We liked it. It’s one or the other. You need to pick your poison right there. It just didn’t work out. But that’s what we knew.”
What Crisp knew: How to handle such a moment. He turns 37 next week, and this was the 39th postseason game of his career. He got a first-pitch fastball from Edwards, and he smacked it to right, a no-doubt hit that scored pinch runner Michael Martinez from third.
“He’s done that all year,” Francona said.
And it led to Francona doing something he has done all postseason: Getting his best players into the spots that mattered most.
When the game began, there was no way either manager could have predicted it would end with just one run. The three flags on each foul pole — one for each player in franchise history who has had his number retired — blew stiff and straight out of the yard. None of the players represented — Ernie Banks, Billy Williams, Ron Santo, Ferguson Jenkins, Ryne Sandberg and Greg Maddux — ever played in a World Series game here. But they all know what those stiff flags meant, seven decades ago and Friday night: death to pitchers who can’t keep the ball down.
“We were out there, and the balls were flying all over the place,” Crisp said. “I even hit a few out.”
Yet here was the reality for Josh Tomlin of the Indians and Kyle Hendricks of the Cubs: neither allowed a run, and neither completed the fifth. It was not the strategy in 1945, when Wrigley last hosted a World Series game. It is the unassailable postseason strategy of the 21st century.
“That’s just the situation we’re in right now,” Tomlin said. “It’s the World Series. There’s no more series after this. You got to do everything you can to win today.”
When Maddon went to get Hendricks, the bases were loaded with one out. Maddon’s choice: Justin Grimm. In a situation in which the Cubs desperately needed a double play, Maddon summoned a pitcher who hadn’t induced one all year.
And yet, Grimm got one. Wrigley about lost it.
Maddon’s next move was to turn to Edwards, who hadn’t been scored upon in the postseason, but wasn’t a primary setup man for the Cubs all year. He worked a clean sixth, but then ran into the mess in the seventh, the mess in which Crisp provided the game’s only run.
“Whatever I can do,” Crisp said.
Francona also faced a scoreless situation, but replaced Tomlin with Andrew Miller, the postseason’s living, breathing monster. Miller got the last out of the fifth — a line drive to right by Miguel Montero — and struck out the side in the sixth. Francona then turned the game over to Bryan Shaw for the next five outs, and sent Allen out to finish it off.
“That was agonizing,” Francona said.
But what about from the other side? Or the stands? Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo opened the bottom of the ninth with a single and was replaced by pinch runner Chris Coghlan. After Allen struck out Ben Zobrist, rookie catcher Willson Contreras hitting a bouncer to third. It might have been a game-ending double-play ball, but Coghlan was moving on the pitch.
Was this a century of misfortune turning back to the Cubs? That notion was reinforced when Jason Heyward hit a spinning chopper to first, and Mike Napoli couldn’t field it cleanly. Runners at the corners became second and third with two outs when Heyward stole a base.
That brought up the dynamic Baez.
“That’s one of those situations you think about throughout the season or throughout spring training or even as a kid,” Allen said. “You play that at-bat over in your mind a few times.”
In Chicago, they have waited for that World Series at-bat for over a century. Now, they will wait another day. The advantage, now, belongs to Francona, to the Indians. What mood Chicago wakes up in Saturday remains to be seen.