Along Sheffield Avenue on the North Side of Chicago, hours before the Chicago Cubs survived against the Cleveland Indians in Game 5 of the World Series, Cubs fans chalked messages on the bricks of Wrigley Field. They said goodbye to the ballpark for the winter. They hoped to bid farewell to a century of inadequacy.
The notes went to parents and grandparents, to all those who departed during a 108-year championship drought. They scrawled messages of hope (“Cubs never quit”), real-life reproductions of hashtags (“#FlyTheW”) and reminders of the basics (“Let’s get some runs”).
In yellow chalk, one would-be strategist scratched the blueprint for the sort of comeback unseen in baseball since 1985, a team recovering from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series.
Lester … W.
Arrieta … W.
Hendricks … W.
equals World Series.
“Why not us?” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant asked late Sunday evening. “I feel like we play our best with our backs up against the wall. We went out there today, took care of business. Hopefully we can get out there and win Game 6, because you never know what can happen in a Game 7.”
Behind the left arm of Jon Lester, along with an eight-out save by closer Aroldis Chapman, the Cubs accomplished the first third of that mandate Sunday. The next two legs involve more complications. The Cubs still trail, 3-2, after dropping two of three at Wrigley Field over the weekend.
Chicago must use Jake Arrieta, who has been erratic at times this October, in Game 6 to get to Kyle Hendricks for Game 7. Cleveland will play at home, and can use Monday to refresh the arms of star relievers Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Corey Kluber, the team’s starter in Game 1 and Game 4, looms for Game 7.
“When you’re on the road, it’s you against the world, which is OK,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said. “But the biggest thing of all is when you’re the home team, you hit last so you get to use your bullpen differently, and that’s a huge advantage.”
The Indians worked out at Progressive Field on Monday afternoon. The Cubs delayed their flight to Cleveland until the evening. Arrieta planned to throw a light bullpen session before his team boarded its plane.
“We know we’ve got a challenge on our hands, but this isn’t a time of year where anything’s going to come easy,” Arrieta said before Game 5. “We’re going to have to earn it.”
Arrieta did his part in Game 2. He turned in 5 2/3 innings of one-run baseball. He did not give up a hit until the sixth inning. But his command has wavered at times during the final weeks of the season, which makes him more vulnerable than last season, when he won the National League Cy Young Award.
Arrieta will face Josh Tomlin, a right-hander with a fastball in the upper 80s who has a 1.76 earned-run average in the postseason despite his tepid arsenal. Like most of the Cleveland staff, he overloaded the Cubs with off-speed pitches in Game 3. The Cubs swung with abandon, and Tomlin finished with 4 2/3 scoreless innings. He threw only 58 pitches, which makes it easier for him to return to Game 6 on three days of rest.
“The body’s feeling good,” Tomlin said. “Everything’s feeling the same as it did last start, so hopefully that bodes well for me.”
The Indians can pull their starters so early because both Miller and Allen are willing to throw multiple innings at will. Allen logged 1 2/3 innings in Game 5, while Miller did not pitch. Both are expected to be used in lengthy outings if Cleveland gains a lead in Game 6. Miller could replicate the eight-out feat of Chapman, his former New York Yankees teammate.
Can Chapman repeat his performance? He prefers to log only one inning at a time, and likes Maddon to check with him before asking for extra duty.
“We’ve got to win,” outfielder Jason Heyward said. “We’ve got to win to keep playing. We want to be the team on the field that wins the last game. We’re happy with anybody that we’ve got going. We’re confident in everybody. Guys are going to be ready to do whatever it takes.”
The return to American League rules provides one benefit for the Cubs. Kyle Schwarber will be in their lineup. Six months removed from knee surgery, Schwarber was not cleared to play the outfield at Wrigley, and batted only once during the past three games. But he can serve as the designated hitter, having recorded three hits in the first two games.
With two games remaining, the Indians hold the edge. One win, and they'll snap a 68-year championship drought.
But if the Cubs capture both games, they'll end 108 years of suffering from their own franchise.