For one franchise and fan base, tonight will mark end of an epic drought
By Joe Trezza
It's been 108 years since the Cubs hoisted the World Series trophy, and 68 years since the Indians were on top of the baseball world. The droughts have spanned generations, captivating millions along the way. One will finally -- mercifully -- end tonight at Progressive Field with the most exciting event in sports: Game 7, and an epic one at that.
Tonight in Cleveland, 176 years of combined anticipation will culminate when Corey Kluber takes the mound opposite Kyle Hendricks. One team will end the night as champions, along the way releasing its own brand of citywide catharsis, lifetimes in the making. The other will have to once again wait all offseason, cursing curses and knowing that erasing an unwanted legacy was just one measly, magnificent win away.
Indians: Fueled by the formula that propelled them to seven wins in their first eight postseason games, the Indians took three of the first four in this World Series. Kluber continued his dominant postseason by winning Games 1 and 4, while manager Terry Francona continued to deploy fireman Andrew Miller without mercy, to blazing results. Miller locked down 10 huge middle-inning outs across Games 3 and 4, both Cleveland wins. The Indians have won every game he's appeared in this postseason, and they have lost four of the five he hasn't.
Cubs: Down, 3-1, heading into Game 5 at Wrigley Field, the Cubs sent their local faithful off for the year with a tense, season-saving 3-2 win behind a marathon outing from closer Aroldis Chapman. Frigid conditions and a steady diet of breaking pitches had held the Cubs' lineup in check for much of the series, but it exploded for 13 hits back in Cleveland in Game 6, and Chicago forced tonight's winner-take-all match with a 9-3 win. The temperatures are supposed to stay warm. Will the Cubs' bats?
Indians: The Indians may be considered victims of the worst postseason luck, if it weren't for the Cubs. That doesn't mean Cleveland hasn't gone through its share of heartbreak in the years since its most recent title in 1948.
It's easy to remember Willie Mays' iconic over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series. But many forget it came against the Indians, who won a then-AL record 111 games that season. Mays' catch thwarted a late-game Indians rally in Game 1, and the Tribe was swept from there.
Cleveland wouldn't play in the World Series for another 41 years, until 1995, when it lost to the Braves in six games. Two years later, the Indians' superstar core faced the upstart Marlins. Up, 2-0, after six innings in Game 7, they were three outs away from a title when closer Jose Mesa took the mound in the ninth. Mesa blew the save and the Marlins won on a bases-loaded single by Edgar Renteria in the 11th, turning Cleveland from favorite into just the fifth team (at that point) to lose the final game of the World Series on a walk-off hit.
Seven years later, the Indians won 96 games and appeared poised for a deep postseason run. With the help of their native lakeside insect swarms, Cleveland dismantled the Yankees in the American League Division Series before jumping ahead, 3-1, on the Red Sox in the AL Championship Series. Then came an epic collapse, as the Tribe lost the final three games of the series by a combined score of 30-5 and ended its season in heartbreak once again.
Cubs: Where to start with the Cubs, perhaps the most tortured (and cursed?) franchise in professional sports? With the Billy Goat of course.
The Cubs were already 37 years removed from their most recent championship when a local bar owner wasn't allowed to bring his pet goat into Wrigley Field for Game 4 of the 1945 Fall Classic against Detroit. Legend has it the infuriated bar owner professed -- loudly and enthusiastically -- that the Cubs' days of winning were over. Related or not, they didn't appear in another World Series until this season.
Along the way, the Cubs have done a lot to warrant the belief that the "Curse of the Billy Goat" could be real. Their loaded 1969 team suffered one of the most dramatic collapses in baseball history down the stretch that season, losing 18 of their final 26 games to forfeit their best pennant chance in decades.
Nearly two decades later, Chicago's powerful 1984 team was done in by a seemingly innocent ground ball to first base. The Cubs' first postseason team in 39 years fell in five games to the Padres after going up, 2-0, in the National League Championship Series. With ace Rick Sutcliffe on the mound, the Cubs lost Game 5 after first baseman Leon Durham's error opened the flood gates to a San Diego rally. Chicago was eliminated a few innings later.
In 2003, another seemingly innocent play turned into a change of fate for Chicago. The Cubs had a 3-0 lead over the Marlins with six outs to go to their first World Series since 1945 when a fan interfered with Luis Castillo's foul ball in Game 6 of the NLCS. Castillo remained at bat, eventually walked, and the Marlins rallied for eight runs. They won Game 7 as well, crushing the hopes of Chicago's best team in a generation, and Steve Bartman went from anonymity to infamy.
ONE DROUGHT ENDS TONIGHT
All of which leads us to tonight, when one team will go from cursed to first. Both teams have aces on the mound, dynamic young hitters powering their lineups and fire-balling late-inning lefties ready to clean up any mess. They're not just going up against one another. They're battling their respective histories, as millions of collective souls hang on every pitch.
The Billie Goat. Willie Mays. Mesa. Bartman. Just one more win can erase all that. Just one game separates immortality and who knows how many more years until another chance.
Joe Trezza is a reporter for MLB.com based in New York. Follow him on Twitter at @joetrezz. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.