CLEVELAND -- They will call it Game 7.
We have seen Game 7s in a World Series before. But have we ever seen a Game 7 quite like this? Have we ever seen a championship game in any sport quite like this?
Try to wrap your mind around what will be on the line Wednesday, when 174 combined seasons of broken hearts and shattered dreams will hang in the Ohio night. For the Cubs, that comes to 107 consecutive championship-free seasons. For the Indians, that comes to 67 in a row.
And now here we are, a mere nine innings away. Nine innings from one drought ending and one continuing. Nine innings from setting one team's ghosts free, while the other's will be back to haunt again.
"It's storybook," Cubs catcher David Ross said after his team's 9-3 Game 6 win on Tuesday that forced this grand finale. "They'll make movies about this someday."
We're not sure who's in charge of calling Kevin Costner and Francis Ford Coppola. But if they're taking notes, here are some of the plotlines floating over this game:
• Obviously, there has never been a World Series Game 7 involving two teams that hadn't won a championship in a combined 176 years. But what's amazing is, we've seen nothing even close. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the combined droughts of these two teams are nearly double the previous record for any Game 7 -- which is the 90 title-free seasons of the 1975 Red Sox and Reds, who also played a seven-game World Series for the history books.
• For the Cubs, there is more than just the chance to stop answering questions about goats and 1908. They also are trying to become the fourth team ever to win a World Series in one of the most difficult ways possible -- by falling behind three games to one at home, and then having to win three in a row, including Games 6 and 7 on the road. Just the 1979 Pirates, 1968 Tigers and 1958 Yankees have ever pulled that off.
• The Indians, on the other hand, are trying to avoid multiple places in history that no team ever wants to reach. If they win, they can wrap their arms around the Cavs and bill their town as the City of Winners. But if they lose, they would become the first team to blow a 3-1 lead under any format in more than three decades, since the 1985 Cardinals got Don Denkingered by Kansas City. And no team has lost Games 6 and 7 of a World Series at home since the 1979 Orioles. So a loss, under these circumstances, would be every bit as painful as 1997 or 1995 or 1954.
• And then you have the two starting pitchers who will face each other in this game. Cleveland ace Corey Kluber will become the first man to start Games 1, 4 and 7 of a World Series since Curt Schilling did it for Arizona in 2001. But even more incredibly, he has a chance to become only the second pitcher in history to start and WIN Games 1, 4 and 7 of a best-of-seven World Series. The other? That would be the great Bob Gibson in 1967.
• But Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks has a cool claim to fame too. He carries a 15-inning scoreless streak into this game. Only two starters in World Series history have ever taken a shutout streak that long into a Game 7. Those two are Gibson in '67 and Lew Burdette in 1957. For the record, both Gibson and Burdette won those games.
• And finally, there is what this game represents for the sport of baseball. These aren't just any two teams. And their stories aren't just your ordinary stories. There has never been a team like the Cubs, that has inflicted its fans with more than a century of broken dreams. And there have been very few teams like the Indians, whose own drought would be the largest current title-less streak by any franchise in any sport that has spent the past 68 years in one city -- except for the slight catch that the team they're playing has them beat by 40 years. So this is not just a game with appeal to Cubs fans and Indians fans, plus a bunch of old guys in the Midwest who just like to reminisce about the good old days. This has a chance to be the most watched baseball game in many, many years.
So however this turns out, the storylines will be reverberating through the ages. But then, that's what a Game 7 is supposed to be. Just those two words -- Game 7 -- carry a certain magic.
"I remember [Madison] Bumgarner throwing all those innings [in 2014]," Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. "And I remember 1997. I was even at one of those games in Miami. It's fun. Any Game 7 is special. I was at a Game 7 when the Blackhawks won. It's just Game 7, man. It's must-watch, not just if you're a fan of baseball but if you're a fan of sports."
Across the room stood John Lackey. He's the only member of the Cubs whose team has played in a World Series Game 7. That was back in 2002, in Anaheim. And Lackey started (and won) that game as a 24-year-old rookie. It's safe to say he remembers it well.
"It's Game 7 of the World Series," Lackey said, raising his voice to try to hammer home the drama of those words. "So anyone who says it's just another game is lying."
All around him were teammates doing their best to spread that lie, saying they would try to treat it as just another game. But is it really? C'mon. How could it be?
"If you say that, it IS a lie," utility man Chris Coghlan said. "I think we say that as a way to try to normalize it for ourselves, so we don't get caught up in the same emotion that a fan does. But I think it's a lie when you try to dumb it down and act like it's really not that different. This is as much pressure as you can get. It's for the whole thing, with the whole season and 100 years all on the line. So you treat it as another game in how you prepare and how you think. But the reality is, it's not just another game. This is history. And that's what's exciting, because I think this team has always stepped up when the biggest moment presents itself."
Just 72 hours earlier, this was a team that appeared to be in serious trouble. But after a dramatic win Sunday in Game 5 and a 13-hit, nine-run offensive eruption Tuesday, the Cubs have turned this World Series upside-down -- with the thunder of Kris Bryant and Addison Russell, with the multi-inning dominance of Aroldis Chapman, with the "inspirational" pregame Rocky Balboa act by Rizzo.
But this is where our annoying fact-checkers step in to introduce a little perspective. First off, a note about Rocky. Yeah, he went the distance. But in the end, Apollo Creed was still the champion.
And now the baseball perspective. We regret to report to the Cubs that three of the past five teams that won a Game 6 on the road then turned around and lost in Game 7. So there's that. And not even climbing back from a three-games-to-one hole to force a Game 7 guarantees a happy ending. Two teams before these Cubs -- the 1967 Red Sox and the 1972 edition of the Big Red Machine -- did exactly that, only to lose in Game 7. So it happens.
There's also that little matter of trying to figure out a way to beat Kluber, a man with a ridiculous 0.89 postseason ERA who has allowed a total of one run against the Cubs in his first two starts. Kluber will be only the fourth pitcher in the past 15 years to start a World Series Game 7 on short rest, joining Schilling (2001), Lackey (2002) and Chris Carpenter (2011). Those other three all won their Game 7s. And isn't this where we're supposed to mention that Kluber is having a more dominating postseason than any of them?
"I think the adjustments we made against him last game, hopefully they'll make a difference," Rizzo said. "And he's on short rest. But with him, it doesn't really matter. He's a monster."
It's hard to argue that. But for a team that's out to slay 108 years' worth of monsters, maybe this is the way it's supposed to be. It would be wild enough to win a World Series after waiting around for more than a century. But to come from down 3-1, to win Games 6 and 7 in someone else's house, and beat a pitcher and an opponent with a chance to make history of their own . . . wow. Who writes those scripts?
"As a competitor, you don't want anything less," Coghlan said. "You want it as tall as you can stack it. And then you bask in the glory if, God willing, you win it and you look back and realize all the adversity you faced. For now, you have to stay in the moment. But as a competitor, you don't want anything else. I mean, bring it all. You wouldn't want it any other way. And let the best team win."
It's Game 7 of the World Series -- for only the sixth time since "the Jack Morris Game" in 1991. One team (the Indians) hasn't won a World Series in its hometown in 96 years. The other (guess who) hasn't won a World Series anywhere since Teddy Roosevelt was hanging out in the White House.
But in 24 hours, somebody's century of pain and suffering will be gone.
"Regardless of what happens," said the Cubs' Ben Zobrist, "one team is going to be shattered, and the other will be flying high. So it's special. It's an incredible moment for both teams, but also for fans. And not just fans in Cleveland and Chicago. This one is for everyone."