CLEVELAND — In your life as a sports fan, whomever you root for, my only wish for you is that you never experience anything as gnarly as the collective gasp of Indians fans in the first inning of Game 6. It should be an adage, a way to say goodbye, passed down from generation to generation until people who don’t know why they’re saying it do so out of habit and tradition.
Fare thee well, and let the wind be at your back, and let your sports teams not force you to spit your soul out and inhale it back into your body.
The sound will haunt me for the rest of my days, as if I’ve watched the videotape from The Ring. There were two strikes and two outs. It was loud, it was loud, it was as loud as I’ve ever heard a ballpark, the kind of loud that’s steeped in catharsis and of shedding those decades of being the punchline, of finally getting that chance to float to the top of the stagnant, sad water and breathe deep of delights of which you’ve never dreamed and ...
... doom. It was the I’ve-got-it-you-take-it of a generation, an almost inexplicable collective failure of how to play baseball. This, in the World Series, with the Indians about to win for the first time in more than a half century. All of a sudden, the players forget how to play baseball.
But I use the term "almost inexplicable" because there is an explanation. It was too loud. The outfielders couldn’t hear each other. The passion of the home crowd was the fatal flaw, an unexpectedly ironic twist. In August, that ball is caught. In March. In July. You get the idea. But because it was the worst possible timing, the Indians have to sleep under a blanket of what-ifs for the night.
For the rest of the game, the crowd was desperate to cheer something, anything, and they would occasionally get their wish. Jose Ramirez’s line drive out in the fourth? Bedlam until it nestled into a mitt. When Francisco Lindor raced to the bag in the seventh to load the bases on an infield single? It was like the first seven innings never existed, and the Indians were in control. The noise, man. The noise.
And then ...
... it wasn’t an infield single. It wasn’t a comeback. It wasn’t anything. It was a game that ended with an I’ve-got-it-you-take-it, for all intents and purposes, and that is a very cruel way to end a game, indeed.
If there’s one thing for certain, it’s that it had to come down to a Game 7. This World Series always promised to be the cruelest of World Series, and we’ve known that since the postseason started:
There’s something about that kinsmanship they each have with one another, though, that would make it seem like an extra betrayal. The Cubs hadn’t won in a century, but neither had the White Sox, Red Sox, or Indians. And then their compadres left. If the Indians leave them, they’ll be stuck with a bunch of teams that were just babies when Ernie Banks retired. They couldn’t possibly share in that same measure of pain and hopelessness.
This is the best-case scenario. This is the worst-case scenario. This is 176 years of collective pain in a steel-cage match, with metal chairs in the ring and the referees pretending to be occupied with someone on the outside.
It’s as if I’ve been preparing for a decade to use words to explain what a World Series Game 7 between the Cubs and Indians will be like, and realizing that I’m completely outclassed. Are there words for this? It’s a whale song of supreme glory, of supreme defeat, sung across the planes of time.
Which is a ham-fisted way of saying this: One of these teams is gonna be so damned sad.
Sad in a way that’s hard to find a comparison for. When it comes to baseball history, these are already two of the longest championship droughts that have ever existed in the sport.
The good news (for us impartial fans, the ones who won’t die from Stage IV stress of the everything) is that it should be a brilliant baseball game. The Cubs will have the National League ERA-leader pitching, and they’ll have a Cy Young candidate available in relief for as long as it takes. They’ll also have the Cubs’ roster, which has been quite the advantage over the last two games.
The Indians will have their best starter starting on short rest and their best relievers relieving on regular rest. They can cobble together nine innings of utter brilliance without having to rely on a single pitcher who isn’t among the best in baseball. With Corey Kluber, Andrew Miller, and Cody Allen, the Indians have a trio that can win 1-0. It feels like they could win 0-(-1).
The worst part is that one of these teams will lose, and I know the cliché alarm is sounding, and I’m so very sorry, but I enjoy the idea of how both these teams could actually do it. The Indians, so scrappy, so beleaguered, so written off, and they’re riding their elite arms harder than any team has ridden their elite arms since Old Hoss Radbourn was around. The Cubs, so synonymous with heartbreak, so destined to lose, with curses that came from goats and beheadphoned fans alike. They’re so laden with unmistakable talent that was accumulated slowly and patiently.
Both of these teams would be great World Series stories, the kind of stories that would make your grandkid look up, while his or her brain secretly processes a thought like, "My god, they actually had to watch baseball like that, in basic HD, like a savage." They would ask what it was really like.
Well, I’ll tell you, kid. It was like this. Both of these teams were forsaken, empty shells without any hope for joy or resolution. Nothing good ever happened to them. But one of them had to win the last game, the game of destiny. One of them got to shed their skin and begin life anew, and the other one started over from the same stupid place they’d started every season, only this time it felt much worse.
It’s Game 7 of the World Series, and it’s the Cubs vs. the Indians. Everyone is available. Everyone is capable. I have no rooting interests other than a clean game without Buckners. This series, this matchup, has been too good for that. I can’t contemplate how this is going to end, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to.
The Cubs and Indians are going to play one game to see which fans are still sad, and which fans get to experience something they never thought they would experience. It had to come down to a Game 7, didn’t it?
Baseball’s a sick twist, alright. Here’s a Game 7 of a World Series between the Cubs and Indians as proof. Either one of these teams could have lost in the first round, and it would have been business as usual. There’s something about it that’s extra, extra, extra cruel. And beautiful.
Mostly cruel, though. Sorry about that.
* * *