CLEVELAND — Game 2 of the 2016 World Series was the baseball gods playing Game 1 backward on a turntable to find the hidden message. The two games couldn't have been more different, and they sent different messages to both teams.
For the Cubs, the message was that the simple formula they’ve executed 111 times so far this season is still a good formula. Have pitchers pitch better than the other team. Have hitters hit better than the other team. Catch the ball. If possible, do all of the above much better than the other team. A Jake Arrieta/Trevor Bauer matchup should go to the Cubs. Most games should go to the Cubs. There are times, however rare, that baseball doesn’t get so cute. Everything happens more or less as expected.
The Cubs won their first World Series game in 71 years, 5-1, and they used the help of a beefy metaphor to do it. They’re right to be excited.
For the Indians, the message was that this isn’t going to be easy. All of their postseason wins have obscured that they were absolutely slapped in the face by bad injury luck and dreadful timing like no other postseason team. That means they’re forced to lean on their fourth and fifth starters a whole bunch. Postseason teams can occasionally get by without using their fourth starters at all. Not only do the Indians not have that luxury, but they’re relying on their fifth starter and pitching their ace on short rest. It’s the worst of all worlds.
If that sounds dire, it shouldn’t. The Indians have waded through a mess to get this far, and now they’re in what’s essentially a best-of-five World Series. There are 28 teams that would trade all 10 of their top prospects for that chance.
The afternoon before Game 1 of the World Series was a party, a sustained party. It started early and the city was loud, loud, loud. The bars and restaurants had lines out their doors, and the patios were spilling over. Everyone had a shirt or a jersey, Cavaliers or Indians, or a team hat, or both, or a team hat with a team shirt under a team jersey with a team jacket that was ready to go over everything when it got cold enough. There was good-natured ribbing between Indians fans and Cubs fans. There was bad-natured ribbing. The plaza between Quicken Loans Arena and Progressive Field was like a headlining Coachella show without all the personal space.
The afternoon before Game 2 was a slog through a cold, gray soup. Heads were down, trudging from one place to the next, getting to the next spot in the straightest line possible. Only the fat, wet pigeons were having fun, and even then you could tell it was just a façade. Nothing can hide the pain in its heart better than a pigeon.
The first game of the World Series was a tease, a glimpse of a world that could be snatched away at any time, but no one wanted to believe that was true. It was, almost certainly, one of the greatest Cleveland sports days that will ever exist.
The second game of the World Series wasn’t that for the Indians. It’s not always championships and dreams of more championships. Sometimes the cold and wet is going to wrap around you like a leotard four sizes too small, and you’re going to remember that you don’t have Carlos Carrasco, Michael Brantley, or a full-strength Danny Salazar. All of those players would have been a part of any essay describing why the Indians were going to win the pennant. They’re not around.
The word of the day was "endure." This was still a World Series town, with all the requisite buzz that kind of comet brings to the city. The crowd was still unfathomably loud, even down five, even when all there was to cheer was a simple two-out walk. But it was still a day of endurance.
Which is what the World Series will be for the Indians, win or lose. Sometime around August, it started pouring on them. Screw it. Nothing left to do but trudge. That goes for the ace going on short rest. That goes for the super-reliever throwing 40 pitches every other game. And it goes for the entire lineup, too. Just put your head down and trudge.
I saw three umbrellas all day. Those were the tourists. This is not an umbrella city. The hoods were pulled over, and the ponchos were cinched tight. This is a place that knows how to trudge, and they do it so very well. I want to learn their trudging secrets. And their baseball team has to do the same when they don’t have Kluber or Andrew Miller overpowering the other guys. Trudge, trudge, trudge.
The Cubs get to go back to Wrigley Field, which will crackle with an energy that might open a trans-dimensional gateway. They’ve recaptured home-field advantage, getting a chance to win the World Series at home. And they’ll continue to follow the same template. Kyle Hendricks will start Game 3, almost like an afterthought, as if it’s no big deal that he won the ERA title in the National League. Huh? That guy? Oh, right, the one who helped us win the pennant, uh, yeah, uh, put him out to start Game 3.
This isn’t to say the Cubs don’t have their problems, either. Jason Heyward has been benched, and Chris Coghlan looked uninspiring in his place in Game 1, with Jorge Soler going hitless, as well. Javier Baez is swinging at invisible baseballs that only he can see. Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant are a combined 2-for-17 in the World Series so far.
It takes a game like this, though, to remind you just how much deeper the Cubs are than this injury-riddled Indians team. It was Arrieta vs. Bauer. Friday night will be Hendricks vs. Josh Tomlin, and the three consecutive games should make Terry Francona wary of going to Miller too early and keeping him in too long. Everything looks like it’s going the Cubs’ way, like momentum and logic are on their side.
What should the Indians and their fans do, then? Trudge. Head down. Get to the destination and worry less how they got there. There will be unpleasant hiccups, with Game 2 an obvious, recent example. But no one expected them to get this far without two of their best pitchers. They got a little wet, and they still might get even more wet. There’s a lot more Kluber coming, though. There’s a lot more Miller.
The first two games of the World Series ended in a split, and it was the nice, even kind of split where both teams were supremely happy with one game and devastated after the other one. The Cubs need to keep acting like the bullies, the team that can beat up on anyone other than Corey Kluber with his best stuff. The Indians need to endure.
Both of them can do it. The best possible World Series matchup is in a stalemate at the moment, with both sides a mess of expectations and nerves. We wouldn’t have it any other way.