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Miller and Chapman: joy or heartache

Figure that you start to remember things in vivid detail at five or six-years-old, then you’d have until about 77 to remember the joy of the Chicago Cubs last pennant in 1945. You’d be setting some kind of age record if you remember the Cubs last World Series title in 1908. As for Cleveland Indians fans, they haven’t had it as bad, but following the Tribe hasn’t been a cakewalk either. There was the heartache of losing to the (still-had-that-new-car-smell) Florida Marlins in a seven-game series in 1997. Two years earlier they had fallen to the Atlanta Braves in the Series. To put it in terms of time, if you experienced the joy of the last Indians World Series title, you are about 75.

A large part of each team’s success was former Yankees relievers, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman. Miller, in particular, has been a Godsend for Cleveland since his acquisition at the trade deadline. He was named the ALCS MVP and has struck out 21 batters in 11-2/3 postseason innings. (Not including the World Series.) He’s limited the opposition to five hits and a pair of walks. With manager Terry Francona using Miller in high leverage situations from the sixth inning on, Miller won four games down the stretch for Cleveland and saved another three. He also picked up a save in the ALCS.

Chapman was on the mound for the Cubs to close out Game 6 of the NLCS. The Cubs rallied from a 2-1 deficit in games won to win three straight over the Los Angeles Dodgers for their first pennant in 71 years. Chapman fired one 100+ MPH pitch after another in the 9th inning of Game 6, which ended when Yasiel Puig bounced into a double play.

The two teams don’t have a lot of World Series experience on their current rosters, with some notable exceptions. Miller pitched in 37 games for the 2013 champion Boston Red Sox, but broke his foot and missed the postseason. He’s got a ring, though. Cleveland manager Terry Francona knows a thing or two about ending long negative streaks. He was at the helm when the Boston Red Sox broke their 86-year championship drought in 2004. Francona managed the Red Sox to the title in 2007. (He also has a history with each team as a player when he was with the Cubs in 1986 and the Indians in 1988.)

Indians’ first baseman, Mike Napoli was on the 2013 Red Sox team that won it under manager John Farrell, and he was on the 2011 AL championTexas Rangers. Indians reserve outfielder Coco Crisp was on the 2007 Red Sox title team. First base coach Sandy Alomar Jr. was the starting catcher on the 1997 Indians’ AL pennant winner.

The architect of the current Cubs team is President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein, one of the key men who build the 2004 and 2007 Red Sox. He could be the man behind the end of 86 and 108-year droughts. Ben Zobrist was a versatile player on the 2008 Tampa Bay Rays AL pennant winner. The skipper of that Rays team is current Cubs manager Joe Maddon, whose bench coach Dave Martinez, served in that capacity with the Rays as well.

Cubs folk hero/catcher, David Ross, was the backstop for the 2013 Red Sox. Cubs ace Jon Lester pitched his way to WS rings on the 2007 and 2013 Red Sox. Cubs starter John Lackey was a rookie when the Anaheim Angeles won the 2002 title and a grizzled veteran when the 2013 Red Sox won it all.

Assistant hitting coach Eric Hinske appeared in four World Series games and had four at-bats…for three different teams. He appeared in one game and won a ring for the 2007 Red Sox. He got into two games for the Rays when they fell to the Phillies in ’08 and had one at-bat as a member of the 2009 Yankees that topped the Phillies in the Series. He was 2-4 in those four games, by the way.

Cleveland’s tales of woe

Cleveland hasn’t had a whole lot of success in what is considered the four biggest sports in the US. The Cavaliers, established in 1970, won their very first NBA championship last season. The NFL’s Cleveland Browns won four of 11 NFL championship games before they slinked off to Baltimore and won two Super Bowls.  The current Browns (0-7 as of this writing) are a combined 87-105 (.453) since they became an expansion team in 1999. They’ve made the playoffs just once.

The NHL’s California Golden Seals moved to Cleveland prior to the 1976-1977 season and were renamed the Barons. After two miserable seasons, the financially-strapped Barons merged with the financially-strapped Minnesota North Stars, keeping the latter’s location and name.

As for the Indians themselves, Cleveland thought they were going to be the toast of the town in 1997. They faced the then-Florida Marlins in the World Series. The Marlins had only been in existence for five years, but owner Wayne Huizenga opened his wallet and put together a powerful team. The Indians had lost the World Series two years earlier to the Atlanta Braves. In ’97, they knocked off the reigning champion Yankees in the Division Series and overcame a dominant Mike Mussina (2 GS 15 IP 1 ER 25 K) to capture the pennant in six games.

The Series was tied at three games apiece and the Indians led by a run in the 9th inning of Game 7, but closer Jose Mesa couldn’t protect it. Two innings later, in the 11th, Cleveland’s bubble was burst.

Bobby Bonilla started the 10th inning with a single off of Charles Nagy. With one out, second baseman Tony Fernandez allowed Craig Counsell’s grounder to slip under his glove. Nagy and the Marlins battled themselves into a bases loaded, two-out situation with Edgar Renteria due up to bat.

Renteria hit a soft 0-1 liner off of the tip of Nagy’s glove and into center field to drive home the Series-winning run. Until this season, Cleveland hadn’t seen the World Series since then. They held a three-games-to-one lead over the Boston Red Sox in the 2007 ALCS but blew it. (They were outscored 30-5 in the last three games combined.)

Chicago’s tales of woe

A couple of years after the Cubs last World Series win, Franklin Pierce Adams wrote “Baseball’s Sad Lexicon”.  It’s tribute to the celebrated double play combo of the Cubs – Joe Tinker (SS) to Johnny Evers (2B) to Frank Chance (1B).

These are the saddest of possible words:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”
Trio of bear cubs, and fleeter than birds,
Tinker and Evers and Chance.
Ruthlessly pricking our gonfalon bubble,
Making a Giant hit into a double-
Words that are heavy with nothing but trouble:
“Tinker to Evers to Chance.”

Baseball in Chicago has certainly changed since then, especially on the North Side that the Cubs call home. Chicago, overall, can’t complain about a lack of championships…unless, of course, you are a baseball fan. Especially a Cubs fan. The crosstown rival White Sox won the World Series in 2005, which only heightens the Cubbies’ pain.

Until 2010, the NHL’s Chicago Blackhawks (once known as the Black Hawks) hadn’t won a Stanley Cup since 1961. Then they won again in 2013 and 2015. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dominated the NBA during the 1990’s with six titles. “Da Bears” won the Super Bowl title in 1985 and appeared in the 2006 Super Bowl. The Bears also won eight NFL titles before there was a Super Bowl.

But no Chicago team has suffered the misery of the Cubs. 1969 is a year that is very painful in the memories of many Baby Boomer Cubs fans. It was the year the Cubs were finally going to win the World Series. Not just get to the Series, but win it. It was the first year of divisional play and the Cubs had the immortal Leo Durocher as manager. They were led by future Hall of Fame (HoF) members Ernie Banks, Ferguson Jenkins, and stars Billy Williams and Ron Santo.

The Cubs led the NL East by 8.5 games at the beginning of June. After stumbling a bit in July, they pushed the lead back up to nine games in mid-August. Then they began a gradual slide and the New York Mets got hot. 10 days after the middle of the month surge, the Cubs lead was down to 2.5 games.

A five-game winning streak saw the Cubs put a five-game cushion between themselves and the Mets. But, then someone pulled the rug out from under the “North Siders”. They lost eight straight games, including two to the Mets, and fell out of first place. Up by nine games in mid-August, the Cubs finished the season eight games behind the first-place Mets.

There was hope again in 1984. Pitcher Rick Sutcliffe was acquired from Cleveland in June and went 16-1. The rotation included future HoF member Dennis Eckersley and the team had a dominant closer in Lee Smith. Another future HoF member, Gold Glove second baseman Ryne Sandberg, hit .314 with 19 HR, 19 triples and stole 32 bases to win the NL MVP.

The Cubs faced off in the then-five game NLCS with the San Diego Padres. The Pads featured ex-Yankees Graig Nettles and Goose Gossage, and former Dodger Steve Garvey. Sutcliffe dominated Game 1 with a complete game shutout in a 13-0 win. He even hit a home run.

Game 2 saw Steve Trout outpitch Mark Thurmond in a 4-2 win, in which Smith picked up the save. The Cubs fans were giddy as the team flew west to continue the series in California. But, the Padres evened the series up to set up a one-game showdown between Game 1 starters Sutcliffe and Eric Show.

The game looked to be a repeat of the opener. The Cubs held a 3-0 lead after 5-1/2 innings, but the Padres cut the lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the 6th inning. An inning later, Sutcliffe and the Cubs saw the pennant slip through their fingers…and legs.

Carmelo Martinez drew a lead-off walk and was bunted over to second. Tim Flannery hit a grounder to Leon Durham at first base for what should have been the second out, but the ball went through Durham’s legs. Martinez came home with the tying run. Two batters later, Tony Gwynn delivered a double that plated two and gave the Padres a 5-3 lead. Garvey tacked on an insurance run with a RBI single.

Gossage came in and recorded a six-out save for the Padres. The Cubs had the tying run at the plate in the 8th inning with two outs, but Gossage struck out Gary Matthews Sr. to end the frame. The Padres lost to the Detroit Tigers in the World Series, but in Chicago, it was another year of no joy at Wrigleyville.

Fast forward to 2016. Game 2 was played Wednesday night after the Indians won the opener. Whether or not the series moves to Chicago with the first two games split, or with what people will call a “commanding Indians lead”, neither fanbase is going to feel comfortable until the final out is recorded to win the championship. For the other team, the heartache will continue.