Sports Baseball

WORLD SERIES

Cubs power their way to win, force Game 7 in World Series

By Scott Mitchell, Toronto Sun

CLEVELAND — The sixth game of the World Series wasn’t even three innings old and everyone’s attention had already shifted to Game 7.

At 8:10 p.m. local time, Cleveland Indians starter Josh Tomlin, hoping to help his team to their first championship in 68 years, threw the first pitch of Game 6 on Tuesday night amid flashbulbs popping all over Progressive Field.

At 9:04 p.m., the game was all but over, and the Chicago Cubs were well on their way to a 9-3 win, shovelling themselves out of a 3-1 World Series hole to force a winner-take-all seventh game.

“Tonight was a tough night,” Indians manager Terry Francona said quietly.

“I’m going to go out on a limb and say it’s a really important game tomorrow, and we’ll be really excited to play. You learn from your mistakes and then move on quickly, and we’ll do that. It will be exciting to come to the ballpark tomorrow. Shoot, I might just wear my uniform home.”

One swing of the bat, one monumental brain cramp, and a second swing of the bat were the main reasons it was a tough night for the Tribe.

The first swing came with two outs in the first inning — on an 0-2 count to boot — and it was loud.

Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ star third baseman who had already hit an important home run in Game 5 to help extend the series, crushed a hanging curveball 433 feet for an early lead.

“We get to play in a Game 7 tomorrow — that’s pretty special,” Bryant said after the game.

Back-to-back singles by first baseman Anthony Rizzo and left fielder Ben Zobrist extended the inning, before a miscommunication between Indians centre fielder Tyler Naquin and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall allowed shortstop Addison Russell’s lazy fly ball to drop in between them, scoring two more for a quick 3-0 advantage.

“That’s Naquin’s ball,” Francona said.

If Bryant’s contact was loud, Russell’s next cut in the third inning was deafening.

With the bases loaded up and Indians righty Dan Otero in the game in relief of Tomlin, Russell hit a mammoth grand slam to centre field — the first World Series slam in Cubs history — that landed one foot further than Bryant’s estimated blast.

Cubs 7, Indians 0.

The Cubbies bats were binging in a big way.

“We came out hitting the baseball,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We looked more normal.

“All of a sudden our offence is having a resurgence, which we need.”

The Indians tried desperately to put up a fight in front of 38,116 who arrived at the ballpark with a party on their minds, but a fourth inning rally that had already produced one run fell short when Cubs starter Jake Arrieta struck out Naquin with the bases full.

It was a forgettable night for Naquin, a 25-year-old rookie getting his first taste of the post-season.

Actually, it was a forgettable night for the Indians as a whole, and they’ll now have to deal with the sweaty-palmed thought of losing a Fall Classic that once looked promised after taking two-out-of-three games at Wrigley Field over the weekend.

While Tomlin’s night came to an end after giving up six hits and six earned runs — the botched outfield play in the first inning fell untouched and Russell was awarded a double — in just 2 1/3 innings, Arrieta went 5 2/3 innings, giving up three hits, two runs and striking out nine to earn his second win of the series.

Cleveland threatened again in the seventh, getting two men on, but Maddon somewhat surprisingly turned to closer Aroldis Chapman, who quickly got Francisco Lindor to ground out to end the inning on a close play at first base that was originally called safe, but was overturned when they went to the video.

“I thought the game could’ve been lost right there if we did not take care of it properly,” Maddon explained.

“Lindor, he can hit a home run at any time, and it’s much more difficult to hit it against Chapman’s velocity.”

In total, the Indians stranded eight baserunners.

Rizzo added salt to the wound with a two-run homer in the top of the ninth, finishing off a huge night that saw the Cubs’ 3-4-5-6 hitters all register at least two hits.

Bryant enjoyed a 4-for-5 game, while Rizzo went 3-for-5, and Russell drove in six runs, tying a World Series record.

“Game 7, a kid’s dream,” Russell said.

Chapman ended up throwing 20 pitches in 1 1/3 innings, but will still be available to help out in Game 7.

The Cubs, meanwhile, are trying to become just the seventh team in World Series history to erase a 3-1 series deficit, and first since the Kansas City Royals did it in 1985.

Of the six comebacks, only the 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates, the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and the 1958 New York Yankees have won Game 5 at home and then gone on the road to complete the journey.

Oh, and there’s that Curse of the Billy Goat and a 108-year World Series drought on the line.

“Both sides have played really good baseball,” Maddon said. “It’s just correct and apt that we’d go seven games.”

In Game 7, Corey Kluber — one of the MVP favourites if the Indians can hang on — will get his third start of the series on short rest for the Indians, while the Cubs will hand the ball to Kyle Hendricks.

“When you’re out in your backyard as a kid, playing Little League at the field with your friends, this is the moment you dream about: Game 7, 3-2, two outs, something like that, bottom of the ninth,” Hendricks said prior to the win about the prospect of pitching in a Game 7. “But it’s always Game 7 of the World Series.”

smitchell@postmedia.com