Tonight the Cleveland Indians will host the Chicago Cubs in Game 7 of the World Series, the 37th winner-take-all game in World Series history.
But as big as the game is on the surface, when you look at the storylines and subplots accompanying the Indians and Cubs into Game 7, this game becomes possibly–and I don’t think I’m overstating this–the biggest baseball game of this century to date.
Both teams have long-standing championship droughts, with the Cubs lacking a title since 1908, and the Indians last crown coming in 1948. One of those historic and well-documented droughts will end in the rain of confetti about three hours after tonight’s 8:00 ET first pitch.
The Cubs are seeking to become just the sixth team in World Series history to win after trailing the series 3-1, and the first since the 1985 Kansas City Royals. The North Siders would be the first team to pull off such a comeback with the last two games on the road since the 1968 Detroit Tigers.
Both starting pitchers are contenders for this year’s Cy Young Award in their respective league. Kyle Hendricks (16-8, 2.13 ERA), the NL ERA leader in the regular season with the Cubs, has a 1.31 postseason ERA, and no runs allowed in his last two starts. Corey Kluber, who won Games 1 and 4 for Cleveland, won the AL Cy Young in 2014 and could win it again (18-9, 3.14 ERA). Kluber has a staggering 0.89 ERA in five postseason starts, and is trying to become the first pitcher since Mickey Lolich in 1968 to start and win three games in a World Series. Cleveland also has bullpen stalwarts Andrew Miller and Cody Allen rested and ready for potentially extended action tonight.
The Cubs explosive offense struck for nine runs in Game 6 last night, as Addison Russell became the fourth player with a 6-RBI game in the World Series (the first on a team facing elimination), and the second youngest player to hit a World Series grand slam (behind only Mickey Mantle). Each of the three-through-six hitters in the Cubs order (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Russell) had multiple hits.
The Indians offense has only scored 3.3 runs per game in the Series, but has a six- and seven-run game to their credit. Last night, Jason Kipnis (3-for-5) was the only player with multiple hits, but Francisco Lindor has been solid the entire series (8-for-22, 2 RBI).
Managers Joe Maddon (Cubs) and Terry Francona (Indians) have both made some bold strategical moves in the series, as both are among the best tacticians in the game. Francona won two World Series titles with the Red Sox (2004, ’07), and is a sure-fire future Hall of Famer, while Maddon could be headed for Cooperstown as well. This is Francona’s first World Series Game 7 in any capacity, while Maddon participated in Game 7 as bench coach for the 2002 Angels, who beat the Giants.
The pair are familiar with each other from their time managing in the AL East, with Maddon in Tampa Bay (2006-14) and Francona in Boston (2004-11). They have also faced off twice in winner-take-all games: in the 2008 ALCS, the Red Sox trailed 3-1 and forced Game 7 before Maddon’s Rays won the pennant, and in the 2013 AL Wild Card Game, the Rays beat the Indians, in their first year under Francona.
While tonight’s game–the 178th of the season for the Cubs and the 176th for the Indians–is the third Game 7 of a World Series in the last six seasons, it is just the fifth in this century (2001, 2002, 2011, 2014).
Game 7’s have produced some of the great moments in baseball history, from Bill Mazeroski’s homer in 1960, to the Morris-Smoltz pitcher’s duel in 1991, to Luis Gonzalez’s bloop single to win in 2001, to Madison Bumgarner’s five-inning save in 2014.
Whoever wins tonight, it will be a historic game for baseball, as a drought of either 39,466 or 24,859 days will come to an end.
And if the biggest game of the century is half as good as the hype it is getting, we are all in for a treat.
112th World Series
Game 1: Cleveland 6, Chicago 0
W: Kluber, L: Lester
Cleveland leads 1-0
Game 2: Chicago 5, Cleveland 1
W: Arrieta, L: Bauer
Series tied 1-1
Game 3: Cleveland 1, Chicago 0
W: Miller, L: Edwards, S: Allen
Cleveland leads 2-1
Game 4: Cleveland 7, Chicago 2
W: Kluber, L: Lackey
Cleveland leads 3-1
Game 5: Chicago 3, Cleveland 2
W: Lester, L: Bauer, S: Chapman
Cleveland leads 3-2
Game 6: Chicago 9, Cleveland 3
W: Arrieta, L: Tomlin
Series tied 3-3
Game 7: Tonight, 8:00 pm ET, FOX