CHICAGO -- The visiting clubhouse at Wrigley Field is the size of a midtown Manhattan studio apartment, so the folks at Major League Baseball have made some accommodations to help the Cleveland Indians fulfill their World Series media responsibilities. After each game, several Cleveland players assemble on the field next to the first-base dugout, stand on platforms and conduct their interviews.
Late Saturday night, as the outfield flags flapped in the breeze and the Chicago Cubs' grounds crew spread a white tarpaulin in anticipation of an incoming rainstorm, the juxtaposition of reality and dreams was too obvious to ignore: The Indians were looking out at the very field where they might be celebrating the achievement of a lifetime Sunday night.
For the past few weeks, all the momentum and hype pointed toward the Cubs' breaking a giant historical barrier and capturing their first title in 108 years. But now a different drought is on the verge of extinction. The Indians are one win from their first championship since 1948, and it's enough to make a Chicago kid-turned-northern Ohio favorite all tingly with anticipation.
"I try not to think about it, but the thought is still creeping into my mind," said Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, a Northbrook, Illinois, native. "We still have a very tough victory to get. But the fact that we're up 3-1 and we're one win away, you can't ask for a much better position. We're close."
With a 7-2 victory Saturday, the Indians became the 47th team to go up 3-1 in a World Series. Of the previous 46, the team with the lead has won the title 40 times (or 87 percent) and captured Game 5 on 26 occasions (56.5 percent). The 1985 Kansas City Royals were the last team to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series, and they needed help from a momentous blown call by umpire Don Denkinger to overcome the St. Louis Cardinals.
Beyond the cold, hard numbers, the Indians have a proven affinity for celebrating on the road. They clinched the American League Central title with a win over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park, eliminated Boston in the Division Series at Fenway Park and locked up the AL pennant vs. the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre, so they're well-versed in the art of soiling somebody else's carpeting.
"No matter where it happens," outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall said, "it's going to be fun."
Wrigley Field poses certain challenges because of the pent-up insanity that has accompanied the Cubs' first World Series home games in 71 years. The list of celebrities in attendance for Game 4 included Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, actors Gary Sinise and Jim Belushi, and musicians Eddie Vedder, Billy Corgan and Chance the Rapper.
In the first Series game in Chicago, former Cubs pitcher Ryan Dempster fired up the crowd with a ceremonial pep talk followed by an exhortation of "Play Ball!" In Game 4, it was comedian Jeff Garlin's turn. Upstairs in the broadcast booth, Bill Murray sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on Friday night, while Vince Vaughn did the honors Saturday.
In both games, the atmosphere was rocking at the outset, but the Indians methodically tightened the vise and sucked the life from the crowd by outplaying the Cubs. Pitcher Josh Tomlin set the tone with a strong performance in a 1-0 victory Friday, and Corey Kluber did the same in a more decisive victory in Game 4.
"We're making that routine play when we need to make it," outfielder Rajai Davis said. "We're making that good pitch when we need to make that good pitch, and it's like we're taking their breath away. We're taking their voice, just by scoring runs and playing good defense."
Multiple themes have emerged in the first four games of the series. Cleveland's pitchers have held the Cubs to a total of seven runs and a .204/.273/.299 slash line -- continuing the run of dominance the Tribe displayed against the Red Sox and Blue Jays. And the old different-night, different-star routine continues unabated. Kipnis, who has been playing on a gimpy ankle and has struggled in the World Series, finally broke through with three hits and a three-run homer off reliever Travis Wood.
Manager Terry Francona continues to come up with an inspired move for every occasion. In Game 4, he gave Mike Napoli the night off and started Carlos Santana at first base. Naturally, Santana stepped to the plate and launched a full-count fastball from John Lackey into the right-field bleachers in his first plate appearance of the evening.
The Game 5 matchup of Jon Lester vs. Trevor Bauer looks like a decided advantage for the Cubs. But that's the same thing everyone was saying before the fifth game of the American League Championship Series, when untested rookie Ryan Merritt took on Toronto's Marco Estrada. All Merritt did was pitch 4 1/3 innings of shutout ball, and the Indians rolled over the Blue Jays 3-0 to win the pennant.
Regardless of the circumstances, the Indians will remain as loose as they can possibly be. True to custom, Kipnis' teammates picked him up and carried him through the dugout after his home run off Wood. And when reliever Andrew Miller gave up a solo shot to Dexter Fowler to break a 16-inning postseason scoreless streak, at least something good came of it; Miller had refrained from washing his jockstrap because he didn't want to jinx the streak, and Fowler's homer finally freed him to toss it on the pile.
"We all have weird stuff that we do, whether it's chewing two pieces of gum or jumping over the line," Miller said. "If things are going well, you try to stay with your routine. Hopefully this isn't a big story anymore. There comes a point where things have to get washed."
Miller, with his fastball-slider repertoire and freshly laundered uniform, could appear in a different role Sunday night. For most of October, Francona has called upon Cleveland's 6-foot-7 left-hander to handle the heavy lifting in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings and summoned Cody Allen to close things out in the ninth. But Francona revealed that he might flip-flop his two best relievers in Game 5.
So the question had to be asked: Has Miller allowed himself the luxury of dreaming about closing out the final game of a World Series? His response typifies everything that has made the 2016 Indians such a likably tight-knit team.
"I just dream about winning one more game," Miller said.