World Series Game 6 Recap: Cubs Slam Indians
Thanks to a Cleveland fielding miscue and some tater power from the Chicago offense, the Cubs routed the Indians, 9-3, in Game 6, forcing a decisive Game 7 tonight in Cleveland.
Imagine it. The Cubs, looking for their first World Series victory since 1908. The Indians, looking for their first title since 1948. The two franchises with the longest droughts in baseball -- after 162 games and three rounds of tense postseason baseball -- meet tonight in Cleveland, with just one game left to determine who will be the baseball champions of the universe for 2016.
Game 6 may not have been close, but it sure was memorable, and the Cubs did something no team has done in a while. They were the first road team to win a Game 6 on the road while facing elimination since these very same Indians did it in 1997 against the Florida Marlins. The Marlins went on to win Game 7 in dramatic fashion, however, beating Cleveland in extra innings after Indians closer Jose Mesa blew a ninth inning save.
Cleveland hopes they can play the role that they were victimized by 19 years ago while Chicago is looking to become the first team to win the World Series after trailing 3-1 since the Kansas City Royals in 1985.
When breaking down two teams ahead of an important series like this, a lot is made of how the offenses will measure up against the starting pitching and who has the edge in the bullpen. But defense is not talked about as much. Perhaps that's because defensive metrics have yet to catch on in the same way many of the offensive and pitching sabermetric stats have.
But defense is obviously a hugely important part of the game, which we saw in the first inning of Game 6. First, Indians starter Josh Tomlin served up a two-out, two-strike solo home run to likely National League MVP Kris Bryant, giving Chicago a quick 1-0 lead.
Hey, no harm there, Bryant does that to a lot of pitchers. But what happened next set the tone for the entire game. Anthony Rizzo and Ben Zobrist both followed with singles, putting runners at first and third with two outs. Addison Russell, who is suddenly red-hot in the World Series (more on him in a moment), hit what appeared to be a lazy fly ball to right field to end the inning.
Instead, Cleveland outfielders Tyler Naquin and Lonnie Chisenhall had some kind of miscommunication in right-center field, allowing the ball to fall for a hit and two runs to score, suddenly giving Chicago a 3-0 lead.
During the regular season, Chisenhall was a good defensive outfielder, with a Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) of +3 in right field. Last year, he was +11 out there. However, the rookie Naquin was a -18 DRS in center field this season, fourth-worst in baseball. Both players took the blame for the blunder, and Indians manager Terry Francona explained what happened after the game.
"Lonnie went hard after it, as he should, but it's Naquin's ball," Francona said. "He was playing on that side, and he's the center fielder. And I think at the end there, as Lonnie was kind of pulling off, Naquin was yelling, 'It's yours. You got it.' It's pretty loud anyway.
"We kind of told Nake, especially playing on that side, that's his ball. Just take charge and take it. He kind of made it hard on Lonnie, because you've got to go hard until you hear something. That was an unfortunate play, because we thought we were out of the inning."
How big of a play was it? As soon as it became 3-0, Fangraphs' win probability index said the Indians had just a 23.1% chance of winning the game at that point.
In regular season, tms to take at least a 3-run lead after top 1st were 102-21 this season. Cubs were 7-0 when leading in those situations
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 2, 2016
Cubs Bats Erupt
It certainly appeared as if the Cubs were playing tight at home in the previous three contests, scoring just five runs in those three games. In the three games played in Cleveland, Chicago has scored 14 runs, and that includes getting blanked in Game 1. The nine runs scored by the Cubs last night were the most by a team in an elimination game since the Detroit Tigers put up 13 in the 1968 Fall Classic.
Bryant was one of the big heroes in Game 1, with his solo homer in the first. He tallied four hits in all, becoming just the second player in MLB history to get four hits with a homer in an elimination game, joining Willie Stargell, who did the same thing in Game 7 of the 1979 World Series.
In addition to his bloop double in the first, Russell basically ended things with a third-inning grand slam that put Chicago up 7-0.
At that point, Fangraphs says Chicago had a 96.4% chance of winning the game. Russell's six RBI's tied him for the most in a single World Series game, along with Albert Pujols in Game 3 of the 2011, Hideki Matsui in Game 6 of 2009 and Bobby Richardson in Game 3 of 1960. He also became the second-youngest player to hit a grand slam in the World Series. Only Mickey Mantle has him beat, and he is the first Cub to ever hit a bases-loaded tater in the Fall Classic.
And finally, Rizzo continued his hot hitting in the postseason with a capper in the ninth inning that helped put to bed any dreams of a comeback by Cleveland.
Rizzo's blast was his fifth career postseason dinger, tying him with Kyle Schwarber for the most in Cubs history.
Jake and Aroldis
The Cubs got what they needed from Jake Arrieta, who went 5 2/3 innings and gave up 2 runs on 3 hits with 3 walks and 9 strikeouts. It was a performance that got the job done.
Jake Arrieta is the 1st @Cubs pitcher to win multiple starts in a single World Series since Lon Warneke in 1935 pic.twitter.com/7eSjczRgWr
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 2, 2016
Manager Joe Maddon had him on a bit of a short leash, pulling Arrieta in the sixth inning in favor of Mike Montgomery. Then, in what seemed an odd move at the time, Maddon brought in his closer, Aroldis Chapman, with two outs in the 7th inning and the Cubs holding a 7-2 lead.
Chapman got Chicago out of a little jam, then came back out to pitch the 8th. Even stranger, after Rizzo's homer in the top of the 9th, Chapman went back out to face one more batter in the bottom of the 9th inning, even with the Cubs at 99.9% to win the game. Afterwards, Maddon said Rizzo's homer was sudden, and Pedro Strop hadn't had enough time to warm up to enter the game in the 9th inning. But it's strange someone wouldn't have been ready for the 9th inning regardless.
After all, Chapman threw 42 pitches in securing the final 9 outs of Game 5 two nights before. And he will almost certainly be needed in Game 7 tonight. How much fuel will he have left in his rocket left arm?
Game 7 Preview
And so now, the storylines are set.
Five teams have come back from a 3-1 deficit to win the title, as the Cubs are tying to do, since the World Series officially moved to a 2-3-2 format in 1925. And six teams have come back from a 3-2 hole to win Games 6 and 7 on the road.
It'll be Kyle Hendricks and his National League-leading 2.13 ERA opposing Cleveland's most dependable and electric starter, the man who has become a star in the postseason, Corey Kluber, who will be pitching for the second straight outing on three days' rest. Just as a reminder, it seemed to work out well in Game 4 when he pitched six innings of one-run ball.
It'll be Maddon against Francona, two of the game's best matching wits, thinking three to four innings ahead.
It'll be two fan bases, both starved for a title, sweating blood with each and every pitch. Every fly ball, every grounder, every homer that clears the fence will cause the greatest of elation or anxiety.
The two best words in sports are "Game 7." Baseball has one tonight, and the stakes could not be bigger. One of these teams is going to end decades of frustration. One of these teams will see that frustration linger, after coming ever so close to seeing it end.
No matter what happens, Game 7 will go down as a classic.