After 4,890 major league games in 2016, we'll get game No. 4,891 -- the 38th winner-take-all game in World Series history. The Chicago Cubs pounded the Cleveland Indians 9-3 on Tuesday to force Game 7. Rest assured, it will be dramatic.
1. There will be a Game 7! This is good news for everyone except Indians fans, White Sox fans and Cardinals fans -- not because we're rooting against Cleveland but because we get one more day of baseball. The ultimate drama in sports is Game 7 of the World Series, with the long grind of a baseball season coming down to one game, in which one pitch, one blooper or one error can determine the champ. The fact that this one includes two title-starved franchises only adds to the theater. From 2003 to 2010, we went eight years without a Game 7, the longest such stretch in World Series history. Now we've had three in six seasons, and that's exciting for the sport. The TV ratings in this World Series have already been way up -- Game 5 was the most-watched non-clinching game since 2004 -- and with the increased viewership that comes the longer a series goes, this will surpass the ratings the seven-game NBA Finals generated in June. I suspect Game 7 will be the most-watched World Series game since the Red Sox clinched in 2004 or maybe since Game 7 in 2001.
Sometimes we get a classic pitching matchup in Game 7, as when Roger Clemens faced Curt Schilling in 2001, and sometimes we get Jeremy Guthrie or Matt Harrison starting. This is one of the better ones, with National League ERA leader Kyle Hendricks facing Indians postseason hero Corey Kluber. Maybe they aren't big names on a national level, but both have a shot to win the Cy Young Award in their respective leagues this season.
Does the Game 6 winner have a momentum edge? Of the 15 World Series to go the distance since 1969, the Game 6 winner did win 10 times:
The Indians can turn to 2014, when the Giants lost 10-0 in Game 6 but then beat the Royals in Game 7, thanks to Madison Bumgarner's stellar relief effort. The Giants won that one on the road to snap a nine-game win streak for the home team in Game 7s. The Cubs, meanwhile, are trying to become the first team since the 1979 Pirates to win Games 6 and 7 on the road. It all adds up to great drama and, no matter who wins, a historic conclusion.
2. Addison Russell has a grand game. It was already 3-0 when Russell greeted Indians reliever Dan Otero with a grand slam in the third inning by crushing a 2-0 fastball 435 feet into the left-center stands. It was the first grand slam in World Series play since Paul Konerko of the White Sox in 2005, and it gave Russell six RBIs in the game, which tied a World Series record held by Albert Pujols, Hideki Matsui and Bobby Richardson. Replacing Josh Tomlin didn't work, but it's hard to debate the decision, as Tomlin wasn't fooling anyone.
Most dramatic World Series HR to disappear down an exit ramp since . . . when? I'll take Barry Bonds in 2002 in Anaheim.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) November 2, 2016
3. Terry Francona no longer batting 1.000 in the postseason. As Jayson Stark reported, Francona agonized over whom to start in center field: struggling rookie Tyler Naquin or veteran Rajai Davis. Naquin was 4-for-21 in the postseason with 12 strikeouts, repeatedly swinging and missing at fastballs. But Davis hadn't done much, either: 3-for-27, though he'd gone 2-for-4 in Game 5 (not that one-game samples should determine the next game's lineup). Two other issues to consider: (1) Naquin is a bad center fielder, with minus-17 Defensive Runs Saved that ranked fourth-worst among MLB outfielders (and he wasn't even a full-time player); (2) Davis will get a stolen base if he gets on, and base stealers were 23-for-26 against Jake Arrieta.
Anyway, Francona went with Naquin, hoping he could run into something while also sticking with his regular platoon arrangement that has Naquin starting against right-handers. Well, after Kris Bryant homered off an 0-2 curveball from Tomlin -- low and in and probably a pitch Bryant was sitting on, given all the curveballs Tomlin has been throwing -- the game turned three batters later on, a horrible miscommunication in the outfield. Russell came up after Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist singled. Note first that Naquin backed off Zobrist's hit in the gap and let Lonnie Chisenhall field the ball. It seemed like a weird play as it happened, as I didn't understand Naquin's route. Not that he was going to catch it, but he didn't angle in to cut it off sooner. It was a very hesitant, passive angle.
Anyway, Russell then hit a soft fly ball into right-center -- clearly Naquin's ball to call for. That's Baseball 101: The center fielder takes charge. Instead, Naquin again backed away from the play as Chisenhall cut in front of him ... and missed the ball. It landed at Naquin's feet as two runs scored. I have no idea what Chisenhall was doing, other than maybe he saw Naquin backing off and charged in. Bottom line: This was a Little League play in Game 6 of the World Series, and it cost the Indians two runs.
... and a bloop. pic.twitter.com/1v0jDpRJo8— MLB (@MLB) November 2, 2016
4. Maddon goes to Aroldis Chapman, and Twitter has a hiccup. Let's put it this way: We armchair managers are difficult to please. We want managers to bring in their ace relievers earlier, but when Maddon brought Chapman in with two outs in the seventh, the response wasn't kind. The two sides of this argument: (1) There were two runners on, Francisco Lindor was up, and a three-run jack gives life to the Indians, so bring in Chapman, lock it up and get to Game 7; (2) It wasn't a high-leverage situation, the Cubs have other good relievers, Chapman threw 42 pitches in Game 5, and you have another game to play on Wednesday, so why burn Chapman when you don't have to?
Maddon's explanation: "That was the part of the order he had to get, and we didn't want the game to get away from us there." I'll buy that. Hector Rondon hasn't been effective since coming off the disabled list in September, and Pedro Strop's strikeout rate has been down since he came off the DL. Maddon has pretty clearly lost confidence in those two guys, which thins the ranks of the Cubs' bullpen to a certain extent. We've also become so conditioned to worrying about reliever usage that if anything seems extreme, we automatically go, "What?!?!"
I didn't love bringing in Chapman, but I didn't hate it. If anything, Maddon probably should have soaked a couple more outs from Arrieta, instead of yanking him when it was 7-2 in the sixth with two outs and a runner on. After Rizzo hit a two-run bomb in the ninth, Maddon was able to pull Chapman after a leadoff walk in the ninth, so he ended up throwing 20 pitches. That Rizzo home run might have saved Chapman 15 pitches or so. Keep that mind for Game 7.
Wonder if Maddon had G5 of the 2008 ALCS -- a game where Rays blew 7-0, 7th-inning lead vs Sox -- on his mind in going to Chapman in the 7th— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) November 2, 2016
5. There will be a Game 7! Some things to expect:
(1) Maddon rolls out the same lineup, with Kyle Schwarber batting second (though his lack of speed is something to watch if it crops up).
(2) It seems pretty clear Maddon will trust only four pitchers: Hendricks, Mike Montgomery, Chapman and Jon Lester. I think it's almost certain now that we'll see Lester, unless Hendricks has a game like he did against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series, when he pitched into the eighth.
(3) You have to think Naquin will be on the bench, even with a right-hander on the mound. He went 0-for-2 with two more strikeouts.
(4) Francona will want to use three pitchers: Kluber, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen. Kluber is trying to become the first pitcher since Mickey Lolich in 1968 to start and win three games in the World Series.
Play ball, kids.