Sorry, Wrigleyville: Cleveland's come to crash your party

CHICAGO -- It was the party of a lifetime. Except somebody must have invited the Cleveland Indians.

In the streets of Wrigleyville, the beverages flowed at 8 in the morning. Scalpers peddled their $3,000 tickets. Bill Murray carefully studied the inspirational stylings of Daffy Duck. And at the park, 41,703 people burst through the gates of Wrigley, hearts pounding, tears flowing, families embracing.

It was a beautiful moment in baseball history, all right. Except somebody must have invited the Cleveland Indians.

Whatever script the rest of the world was sure it had handed them in this World Series, the Indians forgot to read it. Then they went out Friday night, flipped that script and took control of a World Series that way too many others had decided the Cubs had already won.

Well, guess what, America? After a shocking 1-0 victory at an emotional Wrigley Field on Friday, this is now the Indians' World Series to lose. They lead, two games to one. They have their ace, Corey Kluber, lined up to start Game 4. And they could lose the next two games and still get to bring this series back to Cleveland.

So all of a sudden, the Indians are in perfect position to do to the Cubs what they've been doing throughout this entire month of October, first to Red Sox Nation, then to an actual nation (i.e., Canada). Yes, they're poised once again to break millions of hearts.

"I love it," said Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, a man who grew up outside of Chicago, dreaming of playing in a World Series at Wrigley Field. "I hope we break all of them. I hope we break every single one of them. I hope I come home for Thanksgiving, Christmas, the offseason, and I just want to have a smile on my face when I look at all these Cubs fans."

Well, there's a long way to go and two more games to win before Kipnis and his buddies can start smiling. But here's how good a spot they're in:

According to the invaluable website Whowins.com, when the visiting team takes a 2-games-to-1 lead in the World Series, it wins that series 71.1 percent of the time (32 of 45). If we include all best-of-seven postseason series, that figure jumps to 76.1 percent (54 of 71).

So while we would never advise you to confuse those odds with, say, 100 percent, the Indians were well aware Friday night just how beautiful a thing it was to find themselves only two wins away from their franchise's first title in 68 years.

"It's better than three wins away," said the man who drove in the winning (and only) run in this game, Coco Crisp. "That's for sure."

There have been times this week when the Indians weren't too sure they were supposed to be any number of wins away, considering how little they've come up in the World Series conversation. And once the series headed for Chicago this weekend, for the first time since 1945, they kept watching TV, if only to make sure they hadn't been eliminated yet.

So after two days of taking in wall-to-wall Cubs coverage, they'd decided it was kind of fun to assume the role of "that other team" in this World Series.

"I'm surprised they're not calling us that, to be honest," Kipnis deadpanned. "There's so much Cubs talk, on ESPN and all that stuff, that we actually appreciate it. We like to go under the radar. We've been the underdogs the whole time -- in every series. That's fine by us. We'll just be that other team that won the World Series."

Asked whether they look at themselves as underrated or underappreciated, Kipnis replied, pointedly: "What do you think?"

"You haven't heard anything about us," he said. "We've probably got guys coming off the bench you don't even know the names of. So we like to just worry about ourselves and go play the game of baseball and compete. And that's all we're caring about right now."

But there's something else these Indians clearly don't care about -- and that's how they win. They've played 11 games in this postseason and scored 35 runs. But they're 9-2 in those 11 games -- thanks to a pitching staff that has now thrown five shutouts, the most by any team in a single postseason in history.

Three of those shutouts have come in games started by Kluber. But in the other two, the starters -- Josh Tomlin on Friday night and Ryan Merritt in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series -- didn't even make it through the fifth inning.

But game after game, their manager, Terry Francona, keeps proving he'll do whatever he has to do to win that night. And with every move that turns out right, his team seems to believe a little more that something is happening here that is bigger than them, bigger than Cleveland and bigger than America's rush to anoint the Cubs before they've actually won anything.

"I'm confident in anything he does," first baseman Mike Napoli said of his manager, "because it seems to work every time. No one questions anything in our dugout. Whenever he does something, everyone is for it."

So when Francona zigzagged through this dramatic night by hooking Tomlin for Andrew Miller with two outs in the fifth, then pinch hitting for Miller in the top of the seventh, then getting a game-winning broken-bat pinch hit out of Crisp -- a man who went 0-for-8 as a pinch hitter during the regular season -- it fit right into the crazy quilt of a remarkable October for both this manager and his resilient baseball team.

The Indians weren't supposed to beat the Red Sox in the division series -- and swept them. Then came the mighty Blue Jays in the ALCS -- and down went the Jays in five games. And now, this team couldn't be more comfortable with the prospect of crashing yet another party.

"I've said this before," Kipnis said. "But facing Big Papi in his farewell tour in Boston, the crowd got real loud there at the end, when he tried to pump them up. Then going to Toronto inside the dome, that's probably the loudest place in all the league. And now you have the entire city of Chicago, in their first World Series in a long time.

"We probably faced three of the louder crowds you can face," he said, "and three of the tougher competitions and tougher lineups. It just adds to the storyline. It just adds to the grit of this team and the competitiveness and drive that we've got going. And we're on a mission right now."

Now the mission continues in Game 4, with the Indians' pitching lined up perfectly. They have Kluber, one of this sport's most underrated studs, ready to start it. He is coming off a Game 1 in which he was forced to throw just 88 pitches. And his 0.74 October ERA has been almost Madison Bumgarner-esque.

Meanwhile, there will be no questions before this game about whether Miller will be able to come back for the second day in a row -- since the Indians were able to get him out of Game 3 after just 17 pitches.

"You know what? In all honesty, it helps," pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "It helps that he didn't throw 46 pitches. So he's going to be ready to go tomorrow [Saturday] night. And we're looking forward to Kluber being out there."

But here's the biggest secret of the Indians' sensational October. It may have seemed, from afar, as though their only hope to win was to somehow steal a win in this series in a game Kluber didn't start (which they've now done, of course). But that's actually all they've been doing through the entire postseason.

Their record in the seven games started by pitchers who aren't named Corey Kluber? That would be 6-1.

So those Cleveland Indians can't wait to get back to beautiful Wrigley Field on Saturday. They know the streets will be jumping, the refreshments will be flowing, the ticket prices will be soaring and the Cubs will still be the talk of the town -- and every town. But here's what else the Indians know:

"The pressure is on them," Kipnis said. "All you hear is everyone talking about the Cubs. And it just allows us to get ready for each ballgame because we don't have to worry about expectations or living up to certain things. We can just play the game of baseball."

So play it they will -- whether they're invited to the latest big October bash or not.