FOX welcomed viewers to the World Series by showing a montage of senior citizens– some Cubs fans and some Indians supporters– speaking to the decades of disappointment they’ve endured rooting for their team as Tom Petty’s The Waiting played. The piece was heavy on sentimentality and deeply human. Baseball is, after all, is the sport most prone to poetry and emotion.
Sometimes this can obscure things.
This Fall Classic has been painted as a referendum on the cosmic forces and paranormal curses that allowed these two franchises to collectively come up empty over the last 176 seasons.
But it’s not that. There are no otherworldly factors at play. This is just a best-of-seven series between two well-rounded teams. One side will win and quench a lingering thirst for a championship. The other will be crushed and continue to live in purgatory.
Cleveland and Chicago haven’t won a World Series for all these years for one reason: Because it’s damn hard to win one.
The Cubs were the ones reminded of this in Game 1. It was Corey Kluber who shifted the focus from ancient history to new history by striking out eight batters through three innings — the first time such a feat has been accomplished in 1,503 postseason games. When the former Cy Young winner wasn’t carving up right-handed hitters with his swingback fastball, he was freezing lefties with the two-seamer.
Kluber used his pinpoint control to take advantage of home plate Larry Vanover’s generous strike zone. A potent offense was handcuffed, one called strike at a time.
Cubs starter Jon Lester was unable to capitalize and was open with his frustration as the Indians mounted a two-out rally in the first inning. After Francisco Lindor singled up the middle, the lefty walked Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana. Jose Ramirez’s swinging bunt brought the game’s first run home before Lester plunked Brandon Guyer to make it 2-0. Light-hitting catcher Roberto Perez added a solo home run in the bottom of the fourth and blasted a three-run bomb in the eighth.
Kluber continued sailing until he was lifted after surrendering a leadoff single in the seventh inning. Andrew Miller, who has appeared more than human during the playoffs, worked himself into a bases-loaded, no-out jam before inducing a flyout and getting two strikeouts to preserve the shutout. He flirted with danger in the top of the eighth but escaped unscathed by striking out Kyle Schwarber with runners on the corners for the final out.
Cody Allen worked a clean ninth to finalize the Indians’ 6-0 win.
World Series dreams don’t die because of curses and fate. They die because a starting pitcher is lights out or because a 45-foot dribbler is placed perfectly. They die because a few borderline pitches go in the other team’s favor or a guy can’t check his swing on time on a payoff pitch with the bases juiced. They die because a team goes 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position when it matters most.
Or they die because a guy who hit .184 with three homers on the year goes deep twice and collects four RBIs against long odds.
With each new game comes promise. But also comes the knowledge that any number of things can go wrong and derail the quest for what’s proven to be profoundly elusive. On Tuesday night, the big thing was Kluber. He wasn’t the only thing.
And none of them were magic. Lindor’s single didn’t find the hole in the first inning because it was guided by a higher power. It found the hole because Joe Maddon’s defense was playing him to pull. Guyer’s hit-by-pitch was a freak occurrence considering the fact he led the majors in that department this year. Miller didn’t pull a Houdini by sleight of hand, he’s just that good.
Winning a World Series is damn hard. The song may have it right. Waiting may be the hardest part. The on-field stuff, though, ain’t so easy either.