Cubs Stayin’ Alive with two straight wins
What the Cubs are doing can best be described as a megarally. Joe Maddon told his team the oldest baseball cliche: “We just need 3 one game winning streak to be World Champions.” But what the Cubs really needed was to win Game 4, in whatever manner possible, in order to keep forcing Cleveland to play more baseball. The Cubs need to build momentum by winning each game by an ever widening margin so that by the time a decisive Game 7 is played, they would have the mental edge over this tough Cleveland team.
The model for this is the 2004 Boston Red Sox, the only team to come back from an 0-3 deficit to win the best of 7 Series. After winning Game 4, the Red Sox margins increased with each game played (won Game 5 by 1, Game 6 by 2, Game 7 by 7).
The more Cleveland has to play, the more it plays into the strength of the Cubs pitching staff, since it is generally regarded as much deeper than Cleveland’s. After Lester out pitched Trevor Bauer in Game 5 and the Cubs eeked out a tense 3-2 victory, that set up the favorable Arrieta versus Tomlin matchup.
The megarally began in the 4th inning, with the Cubs already down one run. Kris Bryant homered to lead off the inning. Rizzo doubled, and Ben Zobrist singled to get the Wrigley Field faithful cooking. Addison Russell got an infield hit, and the slruggling Baez laid down a perfectly paced bunt down the third-base line. With the Cubs up 2-1, David Ross got a sac fly to make it 3-1. For the first time in this World Series, Wrigley Field was energized by baseball as much as the city had been by expectation.
Cleveland cut the lead to 3-2 on a single by Franciso Lindor. In the seventh, Maddon summoned Chapman to get an 8 out save. Chapman threw 42 pitches, 26 for strikes, and 19 over 100 mph, a new postseason record. The most important being a 101.3 mph fastball that struck out the dangerous Lindor with a runner on third threatening to tie the game.
With the W flag flying at Wrigley, the patrons at Murphys bleachers going wild, Chicago was headed for Cleveland for Game 6, very much alive and kicking.
Back at Cleveland for Game 6 and that meant the reappearance of Kyle Schwarber in the lineup. In the first inning, the megarally continued to build momentum. Kris Bryant homered. With the two men on, Russell hit a routine fly ball to right field. Two Cleveland outfielders converged on the ball and it dropped in between them. Rizzo and Zobrist scored and Russell headed to third on a Jason Kipnis throwing error.
This is what the Cubs needed badly, to score first and hand their ace Arrieta a nice lead before having to throw one pitch. (Arrieta pitched 5 2/3 innings allowing only 3 hits with nine strike outs for his second victory of the World Series.)
The Cubs assured there would be little drama tonight in the second inning when Addison Russell smacked a hanging slider for a grand slam. He became the second youngest player to hit one since Mickey Mantle did in 1953. Russell, who had been struggling, also had 6 RBIs to tie a World Series record.
It is important to note that the rally was started by Kyle Schwarber, who worked a walk off of Tomlin to continue his amazing World Series performance. Although he only went 1-4 in the game, the walk set the tone. The middle of the lineup (Bryant, Rizzo, Zobrist, and Russell) were 11-19, a combined .578. It will be the irony of ironies if Schwarber turns out to be the ace factor, able to play in 4 games instead of 3 because Cleveland had the home field advantage.
The only controversy in this game was Maddon’s decision to bring in his closer Chapman in the seventh inning to record a 7 out save. Lindor hit a ground ball to Rizzo and Chapman did not forget to cover the base this time as he had in Game 4. LIndor was eventually called out on replay but Chapman appeared to hurt his knee on the play.
In the eighth inning, the Cubs got out of the inning when Baez took a low flip from Russell to turn a 6-4-3 double play, another one of his many defensive gems of the playoffs. But in the ninth, Chapman walked the first batter he faced and the Joe Maddon removed him after he had thrown 20 pitches. Wny Chapman was still in the game with a 7 game cushion (thanks to Rizzo’s two-run homer in the top of the inning) was puzzling to many observers. With the victory all but assured, it seemed like a risky move to have him throw so many pitches with a huge lead.
After the game, Maddon was asked about this and he responded: “Chapman is a young tough guy. I don’t think there’ll be any problem with him going again tomorrow night if needed.”
I think the manager did the right thing. You do everything possible to make sure the game doesn’t unravel, to make sure that you get to Game 7.
The Cubs have momentum. By winning this game so decisively, they also now have belief.
By the time Game 7 is played, a winner take all game will happen for the 38th time in WS history. The Cubs will have waited 39,466 days for a title; the Indians, 24,859. My prediction is that the Cleveland streak will continue.