CLEVELAND -- After the Chicago Cubs edged the Cleveland Indians in a Game 5 nail-biter on Sunday, Kris Bryant said, "I feel like we play our best with our backs up against the wall." Boy, was he right.
The Cubs exploded out of the gate in Game 6 behind a grand slam and record-tying six RBIs from Addison Russell to beat the Indians 9-3 and force a seventh and deciding game in the World Series. Bryant started the onslaught with a monster solo homer, and the Cubs' bats backed 5⅔ solid innings from Jake Arrieta and a sterling performance from the bullpen.
Two days into November, we can't go any further. One way or another, after Wednesday, one city's agony will be over, while another's will grow worse by another year.
Before a raucous Progressive Field crowd that vibrated with each pitch, Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin zipped through the first two Cubs batters and had Bryant down 0-2. Of Bryant's first 41 homers this season (regular and postseason), only one came on an 0-2 count, and that was back on May 7. Although Tomlin's 36 homers allowed were the third-most in the majors, none of them came on an 0-2 count, and he had allowed just one homer since the beginning of September.
And so, of course, Bryant launched an inside curve 426 feet into the left-field bleachers, sucking the air out of the ballpark. From there, Anthony Rizzo singled sharply, and Ben Zobrist drove him to third with another single. Russell stroked a ball into the right-center gap that center fielder Tyler Naquin appeared to have a play on, but right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall cut in front of him. The ball dropped and rolled behind Naquin, and both runners scored. The play was ruled a double, and Russell was credited with two RBIs.
Russell was just getting started. The Cubs loaded the bases against Tomlin with one out in the third, which ended his night after 2⅓ innings. Dan Otero was brought in to face Russell. After jumping ahead 2-0, Russell jumped on a sinker and shot it 435 feet to left-center for a grand slam. According to ESPN Stats & Info, it was the second-longest home run of Russell's career.
The grand slam rewrote the World Series history book. Russell's six RBIs tied the Fall Classic record also held by Albert Pujols (2011), Hideki Matsui (2009) and Bobby Richardson (1960). It was the first World Series grand slam since Paul Konerko in Chicago's last World Series championship run -- the White Sox's 2005 title. It was the first Series grand slam in an elimination game since Minnesota's Kent Hrbek hit one in 1987. On top of all that, the half-dozen RBIs were two more than Russell had ever had in a big-league game.
Russell wasn't the only Cub setting records at the plate: Bryant's four hits tied Stan Hack's club mark for a World Series game, set in 1945. Bryant's ninth-inning single set the plate for Rizzo's two-run homer to right, which provided the Cubs with two more insurance runs.
The Cubs' initial 7-0 lead took most of the drama out of the game and took the Indians' vaunted bullpen out of the equation. Cleveland got an RBI single from Mike Napoli in the fourth and loaded the bases that inning, but Arrieta fanned Naquin to extinguish the threat.
Arrieta breezed through the early innings, holding Cleveland hitless through three. He struggled a bit through the middle innings but got a longer leash than most starting pitchers get in the postseason these days, and he lasted until he walked Chisenhall with two outs in the sixth. Arrieta finished with nine strikeouts, tied for the second-most by a Cubs pitcher in the World Series.
Mike Montgomery came on to get the next three outs for the Cubs, but after a walk and a two-out single by Kipnis, his third hit of the game, Joe Maddon summoned closer Aroldis Chapman. It was the second straight game in which Maddon brought Chapman in for the seventh, and just as he did in Game 5, Chapman responded to the challenge.
Francisco Lindor rolled one to first, and Rizzo flipped to Chapman covering the bag. Lindor was called safe initially, but the play was quickly overturned on replay. The play was a minor vindication for Chapman, who drew some flak for not covering first on a play in Game 5.
With the victory, the Cubs are one win from becoming the sixth team to rally from a 3-1 deficit in the World Series and the first since the 1985 Kansas City Royals. They could become the first team since the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates to go on the road down 3-2 and win Games 6 and 7. By winning Tuesday, they became just the second of eight such teams since 1980 to force a Game 7.
The storylines in Game 7 will write themselves in what will be one of the most anticipated ballgames in recent memory. The Cubs haven't won a World Series since 1908. The Indians haven't won since 1948. That's 108 years versus 68 years.
With one more rotation of the baseball world, the love of one long-suffering fan base will at last be requited. For the other, it will be another in an endless string of broken hearts.
This, folks, is why they call it the Fall Classic.