Remembering October: World Series Game 1

October 25, 2016

World Series Game 1: Cubs vs. Indians at Progressive Field

For many years, I had one dream after another that the Cubs were in the World Series. It seems like each time I had the dream, they were playing a different team. (In one of my dreams, they were playing the Montreal Expos, which was weird because (A) they don’t exist anymore and (B) even if they did, they were both National League teams.) Almost every time I had the dream, the Cubs were trailing in the game they were playing, but I always woke up before the game was over.

Long before last season happened, I tried to identify some kind of meaning or hidden message in those dreams. Maybe they were foretelling what would happen someday. Or maybe there was nothing to it. But either way, that dream represented one of the biggest hopes I had since I was a child. Would I ever get to see it in person? On October 25, 2016, it finally happened.

In our culture, for many years, the Cubs playing in the World Series was a joke, something we could dream about but should not take seriously. Only true Cubs fans held on to the belief that it would someday happen. One of my friends from college texted me right before Game 1 started and joked that he wanted to watch the World Series and wondered why the Cubs game was on instead.

But nope, they were one and the same. When the opening tease showed the Cubs and Indians logos on the screen, setting up the viewers for Game 1, I took a picture of the TV screen and posted it on Facebook with the caption, “It’s actually happening!” I wanted to savor this moment forever.

Indians fans at Progressive Field were pumped to see their team play in the Fall Classic as well. It was their first appearance since their devastating loss to the Marlins (sound familiar?) in the 1997 World Series. Cleveland fans probably drew strength from the Cavaliers’ come-from-behind victory in the NBA Finals just a few months ago. The Indians haven’t won a World Series since 1948, giving them the second-longest drought in the majors. It may not have had the same luster a Cubs-Red Sox matchup we almost got in 2003 would have had, but it was still an intriguing matchup for all sports fans. One fanbase’s long nightmare would continue, and another’s would end.

Unfortunately, that opening tease ended up being the highlight of the night for Cubs fans. Corey Kluber, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, was the latest star hurler the Cubs would have to face. He quickly disposed of the Cubs’ hitters in the first, striking out Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant before getting Anthony Rizzo to pop out to end the inning. Right away, it looked like runs would be hard to come by. If there was any hope, it was that Jon Lester, solid throughout this postseason, again took the ball in this Game 1.

But Lester did not look good in the bottom of the first. After getting the first two batters out, he gave up a single to Francisco Lindor. He then had trouble finding the strike zone, issuing walks to Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana on just five pitches each. Jose Ramirez was next and hit a slow bouncer to third. Kris Bryant had no chance to make the play, and just like that a run was in. Lester was able to get two strikes on the next hitter, Brandon Guyer, but then threw a pitch that hit him in the leg, forcing in another run. Lester was visibly frustrated after giving up a couple cheap runs. David Ross got him out of the inning when he crashed into the backstop catching Lonnie Chisenhall’s pop-up.

The Cubs’ offense just couldn’t get anything going all night against Kluber. Ben Zobrist led off the second with a double but could not advance, and after that it was one inning after another with nothing happening. Meanwhile, Lester gave up a home run to Roberto Perez in the fourth to extend Cleveland’s lead to 3-0. He otherwise pitched decently after the first inning and departed with two outs in the sixth.

It looked like the Cubs could get back into the game in the seventh, as they loaded the bases with nobody out: Ben Zobrist singled, Kyle Schwarber walked, and Javier Baez singled. Coming into the series, we heard a lot about the Indians’ strong bullpen, led by lefty Andrew Miller and closer Cody Allen, but Indians manager Terry Francona decided to stick with Kluber to try to get out of the seventh. And it worked: Kluber got Contreras to fly out before striking out Addison Russell and David Ross. It was so close, and yet it seemed so far.

Francona went with Miller in the eighth, and though the Cubs got a couple runners on, Miller did his job and posted a zero. Justin Grimm took the ball for the Cubs in the bottom of the eighth and allowed a couple baserunners before leaving the game in favor of former closer Hector Rondon. Rondon was one of the relievers that the Cubs relied on heavily in the past but that Joe Maddon didn’t seem comfortable using during the playoffs. And on a 2-2 pitch, Jose Ramirez blasted a three-run homer to left, essentially ending any chance the Cubs had of coming back in this game. Cody Allen pitched a scoreless ninth, and the Indians struck first in this best-of-seven series.

There isn’t much else we can say about this one. Despite this being such a historical occasion for Cubs fans, it was a night we’d otherwise like to forget. Fortunately, Game 2, and a chance to tie the series before heading to Wrigley Field, would start in less than 24 hours.

Brian Johnston is the author of the book The Art of Being a Baseball Fan, his story of following the 2015 Chicago Cubs, available on Amazon. He lives in St. Joseph, Michigan with his wife and two children.