The Cubs now need one of the most dramatic comebacks in World Series history
Otherwise, it will be 'maybe next year' again for the Cubs
CHICAGO -- Wrigley Field fell silent. The Cleveland Indians celebrated a second straight win Saturday night, this one a 7-2 thumping, on the Chicago Cubs' home turf. And the idea of the Cubs ending their 108-year-old championship drought faded as surely as the postseason mastery of Corey Kluber continued to grow.
For the Indians, now up 3-1 in this series, they find themselves in firm control and a mere win away from claiming their first World Series crown since 1948.
For the Cubs, the reality is this: To complete one of the most dramatic turnarounds in sports, they will have to complete one of the dramatic comebacks in World Series history.
It has been no small thing trying to turn a franchise riddled with a culture of losing and futility into a force. Lovable Losers? "Losers" hasn't properly captured the century-plus of painful underachievement and heartache for Cubs fans.
So credit Theo Epstein, the team's president of baseball operations, and Joe Maddon, his hand-picked manager, for having created an organization, and having put together a group of players, who have gotten this far.
The Chicago Cubs winning the World Series would be one of the great accomplishments, ever, in sports. It would be one of its most startling and incredible moments. And it sure looks like all that -- yet again -- will have to wait.
Now it falls on Jon Lester to try to stop the bleeding Sunday in Game 5 of the World Series, to keep what would still be a very small silver of hope alive.
For starters, the Cubs cannot afford another off game -- another bout of sloppy defense, another stretch of making a habit of leaving runners in scoring position, another night where Cleveland's bats pound them into humble submission.
It's pretty simple. Start playing like the best team in baseball, win three straight games, or the dream ends so tantalizingly close to completion.
History does not offer much confidence that the Cubs, of all teams, can get it done.
Including League Championship Series and the World Series, 81 teams in baseball history have faced a 3-1 series deficit. The number of those teams that prevailed? Twelve. That's 15 percent.
But the pressure and difficulty and focus it takes ratchet up as the prize gets closer. An LCS is one thing. The World Series is something else entirely.
When you narrow down to just the World Series, only five teams have ever successfully staged a 3-1 series comeback. The last to do it was the 1985 Kansas City Royals in their I-70 series against the St. Louis Cardinals. And only three teams -- the 1958 Yankees, 1968 Tigers and 1979 Pirates -- did so while winning the final two games on the road, which the Cubs would have to do this time around.
The 1925 Pirates also managed to win after being down 3-1 in the World Series.
Perhaps this is the way it was supposed to be. The Cubs do not have the sole claim in this series to playing for something more than the incredible achievement of being the best in the world. Cleveland, too, is experiencing a remarkable renaissance -- its baseball team, yes, but also its city and its fans. They, like Chicago, are playing for a fan base who whose lifetimes of baseball disappointment would make this so much sweeter. Even beautiful.
But they also showed that, in sports, nothing is certain until it's over. Even a 3-1 series lead. In leading the Cavs to that comeback, LeBron James didn't just deliver to the city of Cleveland the joy that comes with being a championship city. He showed us that the biggest droughts -- like Cleveland's, like Chicago's -- sometimes have to come the hard way.
The very, very hard way.
And the Cubs, like the Cavs, aren't technically dead. Not yet. Lester against Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer in Sunday's Game 5 should, in a vacuum, be a big advantage for Chicago. Lester can give the Cubs life. Jake Arrieta, if there is a Game 6 in Cleveland, is a co-ace who should at least be able to keep the Cubs in a game.
And if there's a Game 7? With Kluber yet again taking the mound on short rest and sporting a swelling resume for postseason excellence? With how hard it is to win three games in a row against a team as good as Cleveland? With Chicago's history of loss, letdowns and missed opportunities?
That doesn't instill a lot of confidence if, like me, you love the Chicago Cubs.
But the city of Cleveland knows better than most: a 3-1 deficit is awful, and dispiriting and not easy to overcome. But it's also a chance to taste greatness in one of the greatest, and rarest, ways possible.
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