'Next year' arrives: Lovable Losers Cubs, Indians begin World Series

'Next year' arrives: Lovable Losers Cubs, Indians begin World Series

CLEVELAND — The last time the Cleveland Indians won the World Series, Dewey led Truman in the polls. The Chicago Cubs' last title was 13 days after the first Ford Model T car was completed.

Lovable losers known for decades of defeat meet in this year's championship, a combined 174 seasons of futility facing off starting Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

Cleveland's last title was in 1948, when 16 teams from the East Coast to St. Louis competed in a just-integrated sport. The Cubs are trying to win for the first time since 1908 , a dead ball-era matchup at a time home runs were rarities along with telephones.

No player is alive from the last championship Cubs or even the last to make a Series appearance -- Tuesday marks the 25,948th day since the Cubs' Game 7 loss to Detroit in 1945. One player remains from the 1948 Indians, 95-year-old Eddie Robinson.

"It seems like it's just forever," Robinson said Monday from his home in Fort Worth, Texas. "When we got home from Boston, there was a monumental parade. It just looked like everybody in Cleveland came out on Euclid Avenue."

One team's fans will let loose with the celebration of a lifetime. But while history weighs on the supporters, Cubs manager Joe Maddon focuses his players with a now-centered battle cry of "Win the Inning!"

"Air conditioning is popular right now. So is color TV," he said. "You've just got to change with the times."

Both teams worked out under cloudy skies Monday as the new 59-by-221-foot scoreboard behind the left-field seats -- the largest in the major leagues -- trumpeted the Sisyphean matchup. While the Cubs play in Wrigley Field, the 102-year-old brick-and-ivy jewel on Chicago's North Side, the Indians are in a 22-year-old throwback-style ballpark originally called Jacobs Field.

Led by Kris Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, the Cubs led the major leagues with 103 wins during the regular season, then beat San Francisco and Los Angeles in the playoffs. But since the playoffs expanded in 1995, only four teams with the best regular-season record won the title: the 1998 and 2009 New York Yankees, and the 2007 and 2013 Boston Red Sox.

"I promise you, our guys are going to be in the present tense," Maddon said. "I think we all have a tremendous amount of respect for history and what's happened before us or not happened before us. But, you know, you go in that room right now, they're very young. Really not impacted by a lot of the lore."

Jon Lester, 7-1 in his career against Cleveland, starts for the Cubs and Corey Kluber opens for the Indians. Lester is 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three postseason starts this year and 3-0 with a 0.43 ERA in a trio of Series outings. He learned to prepare from watching Curt Schilling and Josh Beckett in Boston.

"They prepared the same way for this start as they would for a regular start during the season," he said.

Kluber pitched shutout ball twice in the playoffs before allowing two runs in five innings in Game 4 at Toronto. His father, Jim, was born in Cleveland and rooted for the Indians growing up in suburban Highland Heights.

"I think every parent is excited if their kid has a chance to play in the World Series," said the 30-year-old right-hander, who could win his second AL Cy Young Award in three years.

Both teams were dealing with injuries that caused changes in planning.

Chicago included outfielder Kyle Schwarber, out since tearing knee ligaments on April 7. He played a pair of games in the Arizona Fall League, going 1 for 6 with a double and two walks.

"Reports are good," Maddon said. "He's swinging the bat well. He's running really well."

Cleveland, juggling all year because of health mishaps, put on pitcher Danny Salazar, who could start Game 4. The All-Star right-hander has not pitched since Sept. 9 because of forearm tightness but threw a simulated game Sunday.

Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was dealing with a sprained left ankle, hurt when he jumped and shortstop Francisco Lindor accidentally stepped on his foot while celebrating the last out of the ALCS.

"He might not be 100 percent, but I don't think it's going to get in the way," Francona said.

Cleveland fell three outs short of the 1997 title when Jose Mesa blew a one-run lead in the ninth inning of Game 7 at Florida and an error by second baseman Tony Fernandez led to the Marlins' winning run in the 11th.

The Series starts just after a ceremony across the street when LeBron James and the Cavaliers receive championship rings before their opener celebrating this year's NBA title, the first for Cleveland's big league teams since the NFL's Browns in 1964.

"It's a pretty neat set of circumstances," said Indians reliever Andrew Miller, the ALCS MVP. "Obviously the fans wish they had won quite a bit previously, but I think the Cubs are even going to overshadow us in that history."

While Chicago has many famous fans, among them actor Bill Murray and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Cleveland is rooted on by Tom Hanks and Drew Carey. And the Indians' losing history received nationwide attention in the 1989 film "Major League," featuring Charlie Sheen as Ricky "Wild Thing" Vaughn.

Maddon prepared for the Series while watching some baseball movies, "42" -- "we had to beat the Dodgers before I could watch it" -- and "Field of Dreams."

"I'm that guy," he said. "I cry easily, so the connection to the past is very important, very important."

5 Union players who need to ball out for a playoff upset in Toronto

5 Union players who need to ball out for a playoff upset in Toronto

Fair or not, the Union’s 2016 season will end up being classified by one game.

If they beat Toronto FC in the first round of the playoffs Wednesday (7:30 p.m., ESPN2), it will be considered a success.

If they lose, it will be nothing more than an average season — slightly above average for those who think getting to the postseason for the second time in club history was the ultimate goal; slightly below average for those paying more attention to the fact they finished the regular season on a seven-game winless streak to barely grab the final spot.

Can the slumping team go on the road and beat Toronto in an elimination game? Probably not. But it’s certainly possible. And while every player in the lineup needs to play well for the Union to pull off the upset, there are five in particular that will likely be the difference between an early exit or a trip to the Eastern Conference Semifinals:

  1. Andre Blake: You might know him as Superman, or the best damn goalie in all of MLS. The guy has come up with some incredible saves this season, some of which have helped the Union earn points, others which came in a losing effort. There’s a distinct chance the Union are still bounced even if Blake does make a monster save or two. But if he doesn’t and just has an average game, it’s almost a certainty the Union’s offseason will begin on Thursday.
  2. C.J. Sapong: It’s no coincidence that the Union rose to the top of the table early in the season when Sapong was scoring goals and getting U.S. national team buzz. And it’s no coincidence they sunk to sixth place as Sapong hit a massive goal-scoring drought. It’s now been 10 games since Sapong scored in a 4-0 win over New England, and the Union are 2-6-2 in that stretch. Now would be a good time for the striker to snap out of his slump.
  3. Ken Tribbett: Oh, Ken. The center back out of Drexel has had some rough moments in his first MLS season, none more memorable than when he was burned for three first-half goals vs. Toronto on Aug. 20 and yanked from the game at halftime. But Tribbett had a solid outing in Philly’s last game vs. Toronto — a 1-1 draw on Sept. 24 — and will be called upon to start again with platoon-mate Josh Yaro dealing with an MCL sprain. Can he stop Sebastian Giovinco and Jozy Altidore? Not on his own. The key will be getting help from the rest of the backline and avoiding critical mistakes.
  4. Alejandro Bedoya: On top of Giovinco and Altidore, Toronto FC also boast one of the country’s top players in Michael Bradley. The Union cannot match that kind of star power. The closest they can come is with Bedoya, who knows Bradley and Altidore well from the U.S. national team. Adjusting to MLS is never easy for players who arrive in the middle of season, and that’s certainly been the case for Bedoya. But if the newcomer is able to control the midfield and go to-to-toe with Bradley, the Union will have a much better chance of surviving. 
  5. Tranquillo Barnetta: Will this be the final MLS game for Barnetta, who announced he’ll be leaving after the season to finish his career in his native Switzerland? That alone should be the perfect motivation for the Union to win. More than that though, nobody on this team has the ability to make something out of nothing and score a special goal than Barnetta. Can he do that in Toronto to keep his MLS career alive for at least another week? We’ll find out soon enough.