By Shane Nicholson
Well, this is it. A Game 7 of a World Series with the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians each throwing their best pitcher over the course of the 2016 season, both sides vying to tear down decades of pain and misery.
For baseball fans anywhere, it’s a fairytale ending to a brilliant postseason. For Cubs’ fans it will be hours of hell until, one way or another, this season comes to a close.
Kyle Hendricks takes the hill for Chicago, rocking up with a 1.31 ERA in 20.2 innings of spectacular work in these playoffs. The Dartmouth grad tossed 4.1 scoreless innings in his Game 3 start, a game Chicago dropped at Wrigley 1-0 to the Indians and starter Josh Tomlin, the pitcher who took the brunt of the beating doled out by the Cubs’ lineup in Game 6.
Cleveland, as expected since the dawn of this World Series, will go back to Corey Kluber, asking their staff ace to provide another five-or-so innings of Cy Young Award-level work before handing it off to well-rested Andrew Miller in the middle innings. If Kluber succeeds, he becomes the second Cleveland pitcher to start and win three games in a single World Series, the first being Stan Coveleski in the 1920 contest. He would also become the bane of existence to fans of the Northside nine.
4-1 in the Postseason.
— Cleveland Indians (@Indians) November 2, 2016
But this was known quantity: unless the Cubs could beat Trevor Bauer and Tomlin in all four of their starts they would eventually have to pass Kluber on their way to ending the 108-year hoodoo. The silent Chicago bats of Game 3 made that inevitable; Kluber’s six innings of one-run ball in Game 4 guaranteed it would have to come in the decider.
Hendricks has seen this stage, or at least similar. His gem in Game 6 of the NLCS helped propel the Cubs past Clayton Kershaw and the Los Angeles Dodgers. But the key that night was the elite hitters in the Cubs’ lineup fulfilling their promise.
Joe Maddon is returning tonight with the same batting order that gave Chicago a decisive 9-3 victory in Tuesday’s must-win Game 6: Dexter Fowler in his familiar top of the order role, with designated hitter Kyle Schwarber back in the two-spot. That wrinkle proved effective enough in Tuesday’s win, with Schwarber collecting a leadoff walk ahead of Addison Russell’s grand slam that blew the affair wide open.
There are simply no easy outs from 2-thru-6 in the Chicago lineup, because after Schwarber comes Kris Bryant, who has suddenly rediscovered the swing of an MVP over the last two games. Anthony Rizzo follows, fresh off an insurance two-run home run in the ninth inning Tuesday that threatened Lake Eire. Ben Zobrist, Chicago’s most consistent bat throughout the series, comes fifth and the resurgent record-setting Russell sixth.
— Chicago Cubs (@Cubs) November 2, 2016
The formula is simple: if Hendricks lives up to his playoff potential and the core of the Chicago lineup provides the support, fans of the most-maligned team in American sports will have a championship to celebrate. If the plan fails, then the second- most-maligned fanbase will see its own streak of futility evaporate. For the neutral, either or even neither would suffice, though any drawn out or extra innings affair would seem mutually cruel to supporters of both the Cubs and Indians.
And so we await the final word on the 2016 major league season as the minutes tick down to the 38th Game 7 in the history of the Fall Classic. For those tuned in on The Score – waiting for that call from the superb Pat Hughes, one that generations past and present could be forgiven for thinking they might never hear – the want for those final words tonight is simple: “Cubs win!”
If the bats show up again tonight, what’s left of that wait should be painless.
Game 7 of the World Series is tonight, first pitch at 7:00 p.m. on FOX39 and WSCR AM670. Television coverage begins at 6 p.m.