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The Cleveland Indians are a victory away from winning the World Series

Corey Kluber flummoxed the Cubs once again, and the Indians need to win just one of their next three games to erase 68 years of heartbreak.

Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

CHICAGO — We knew going into this World Series that either the Indians or Cubs were going to win, and that one of them was going to join the White Sox and Red Sox at the table of the nouveau riche, forgetting where they came from, ignoring all the little people they stepped on to get there. It was going to be weird. But for only one of the teams.

For one of the teams it was going to be so very familiar.

Right now the Cubs are down, and the Indians are up, but it’s always smart to apply the New York Times test in a situation like this. Would the New York Times put "CUBS WIN THREE STRAIGHT" in 50-point font on the front page of their sports section? Of course not. Teams come back from 3-1 deficits with at least some regularity, and the Cubs finished the season with the best run differential, the best defense, just about the best everything.

Plus, there’s the cosmic symmetry of the Indians being from the city that inspired the world’s only "blew a 3-1 lead" meme, even if that shouldn’t mean anything to anyone other than the Indians fans who’ve chuckled at the meme for months and are now looking around sheepishly.

And yet the Indians are clearly, clearly, clearly the favorites right now. They have to play .333 ball to win the World Series. The Cubs have to play 1.000 ball. That’s a problem.

I’d like you to consider what might have happened with a healthy Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar in this theory. Technically, the Indians would be better, insofar as a team with five Carrascos would be better than one with five Trevor Bauers for 162, and the same applies to Salazar and Josh Tomlin.

But it might have been the wrong permutation, which is always the cryptic trick of every postseason. You never know when Tomlin is the one you need to win a 1-0 game, or when a better pitcher will give up five consecutive bloops at the absolute wrong time. What we know now is that the Indians are up 3-1 this way, and they wouldn’t give it up for what’s under the box.

More specifically, the urgency of not having the best team might have helped the Indians. Hear me out: Picture a bunker, before the World Series, with Terry Francona, Mike Chernoff, and Chris Antonetti, all trying to figure out what their strengths and weaknesses were against the Cubs.

Strengths: Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, Francisco Lindor, other assorted hitters and pitchers.

Weaknesses: Some of those other assorted hitters and pitchers.

They stare at the whiteboard with all this information.

"Can we bat Lindor more than four or five times a game? Say, 14 times? Even more?", someone asks.

"No, no, that’s against the rules," comes the response.

Silence. Everyone keeps thinking.

But they can pitch Kluber, Miller, and Allen more than they usually would. So they did. They took a short-handed roster and made the long-handed players stretch a little bit more than they’re used to. And they’re one win away from a championship because of it.

Now take the Cubs. They were deep. They were so very deep. And maybe that’s the problem, which is a strange thing to type. They wouldn’t make one of their aces pitch on short rest, certainly not twice in the same series. Why would they? They had three aces. Let them both pitch twice on regular rest if needed, and that fulcrum game could go to the fourth guy, big deal.

But the fourth guy, John Lackey, hasn’t been very effective all postseason, possibly because he’s an old-timer and baseball seasons are very, very long. Once the Indians stole a non-Kluber game, it was probably time for the Cubs to start thinking about their short-rest permutations, because that was the biggest sign of trouble. There were always going to be three Kluber games, and once the Indians snuck away with the Tomlin game, that was when the Cubs might have explored some contingency plans.

Instead, it’s been business as usual. And that goes for the Cubs bullpen, too. Whereas the first pitchers out of the Indians’ bullpen are usually Andrew Miller and his cousin Andrew Miller, the Cubs have hardly used their three best relievers. Hector Rondon, Pedro Strop, and Aroldis Chapman have combined to throw four innings in four World Series games. About 1⅔ of those innings were classic high-leverage innings (with the Cubs down 1-0).

In a high-leverage situation in Game 4, the Cubs went to Justin Grimm, Mike Montgomery, and Travis Wood. All of whom have their talents and uses, for sure. But when the Cubs were in that bunker, staring at that whiteboard, it read, "Everything looks pretty good from here," and maybe that’s why we’re not seeing Chapman in the fifth inning. Or why the displaced closer isn’t occupying the same role as Andrew Miller, overqualified setup man. Or why Jon Lester wasn’t pitching against Kluber the whole time.

I’ve walked out of a lot of baseball games, important games, awful games, the sour farts disguised as baseball games that sneak up on you and chloroform you with a rag that also smells like ... that. And the cattle crush at the end is usually filled with despair or anger, or both mixed together in an unholy Smucker’s Goober hybrid.

That’s not what happened in Wrigley at the end with this one. Maybe I’m reading the room wrong, but for every absolutely distraught fan, there were a dozen who were wistful. Not resigned, that’s too passive. They weren't under the influence of fatalism, because that’s a cliché at this point. But they were wistful.

And as they all bled into the surrounding blocks, they merged with the exponentially drunker Halloween parties, and suddenly all the wistful, contemplative Cubs fans were mixing with drunk, half-assed Ken Bones. There were more audible sirens on the walk home than there were after Game 3, which is a detail that’s both anecdotal and reductive, but it’s what I heard. Godspeed, everyone.

The reality is that the Cubs will have Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta, and Kyle Hendricks pitch on regular rest if they need to. And they’ll have the defense and powerful young core backing them up, with a bullpen that features three pitchers who are probably as good or better than the closer for your team.

But the Indians are here, one win away from a title, because they had to make do with what they had. Turns out that might have been the absolute best thing they could have ever done.