NL Central champs have long odds, but improbable rally isn't out of the question
By Richard Justice
CHICAGO -- All the Chicago Cubs have going for them now is another night of one of the great atmospheres in the history of baseball. Wrigley Field delivered an absolutely electric environment again on Saturday night, and these are moments players remember forever.
Now the Cubs are down to their final one in a magical season in which they won 103 games and got to their first World Series in 71 years. If a team has to be trying to win an elimination game, there couldn't be a better place to try and win one.
"We're going to come in tomorrow and say the same thing we always say -- gotta win, gotta have this one," first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "No looking past that. We'll figure it out after that. Our backs are against the wall, but we'll come out and play."
The Cubs have cleared every hurdle, first in winning the National League Central by 17 1/2 games and then getting past the Giants and Dodgers in the postseason to play in their first World Series in 71 years.
In this World Series, the Cubs have run into a brick wall of great pitching, scoring seven runs in four games and hitting .204. Cleveland's 1.50 ERA in the World Series has fueled a 10-2 sprint though the postseason.
So for the first time this season, the Cubs have absorbed a few blows. What now? Team meeting? Extra batting practice?
Instead of doing more, at this point, the Cubs simply need to take a deep breath and hope the Indians finally leave a pitch or two in the strike zone.
Maddon won't even remind his players that they had 16 regular-season winning streaks of at least three games, which is what they need right now. All Maddon would like is a win on Sunday and then to take a flight to Cleveland for a pleasant off-day on Monday.
"We get to celebrate Halloween appropriately at that point," he said. "We just need that offensive epiphany somehow to get us pushing in the right direction."
That was the message around the Cubs' clubhouse. They praised the Indians for a string of quality pitching performances, but they still realize things could flip in an instant.
"We're down, but you could get back up just as easily," third baseman Kris Bryant said. "That's what makes this game great. It's a seven-game series. We're not out until we're out."
Baseball's best managers through the years have taken the same approach Maddon is taking on Sunday. They tell their players to focus on process. That is, execute the pitch they're about to throw. Make the defensive play. Have sound at-bats. From such small things, great accomplishments can flow.
"As much as you want to say one game at a time, we know the task," Bryant said. "We've got to win 'em all. But, yeah, we've got to win the first one to get to the next one. We'll take that attitude, but we know we've got to win out. We've won three games plenty of times this season and in the playoffs. It can be easily done."
In the other clubhouse, the Indians are thinking the same thing. They like being up 3-1. The Tribe is in a good spot. Of 46 teams that have had a 3-1 lead, 40 of them have gone on to win the World Series.
But there's still a game left, and that last one can be the toughest one to get.
"It's going to be the toughest win we need to get all year," Indians pitcher Corey Kluber said. "Being one win away, nobody remembers that. It's getting that win that's important."
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.