CLEVELAND — Maybe the Cleveland curse isn’t over after all.
With three opportunities to close out the Cubs and end their 68-year World Series drought, the Indians failed each time, culminating with a far from charming third straight loss — 8-7 in 10 innings — Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
After the Indians took a 3-1 advantage with their second straight win at Wrigley Field in Game 4, an ironically horrifying narrative began to surface for Tribe fans, connecting Golden State blowing the same lead against the Cavaliers in the NBA Finals to the potential for an identical fate to meet Cleveland’s baseball team.
And just days after Halloween, it happened.
This was no ordinary loss. This Game 7 defeat came complete with false hope and an agonizing ending.
The Indians trailed early and appeared to finally be folding after ineffective outings from their top two pitchers, ace Corey Kluber and left-hander Andrew Miller.
But as it has done countless times throughout a magical postseason run, Cleveland fought back.
Down 5-1 in the fifth inning, the Indians rallied to score twice, then tied it in the eighth in the most unimaginable of ways — a Rajai Davis two-run home run off elite Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman.
With Cleveland’s portion of a sellout crowd back on their feet and believing one more time, the Cubs scored twice off Bryan Shaw in the 10th to end the longest world championship drought in professional sports and hoist their first World Series trophy since 1908.
“That was an incredible game, I mean to be a part of,” manager Terry Francona said. “That was quite a series, and you knew somebody was going to go home happy. They deserve a lot of congratulations.”
The misery began nearly as soon as possible when Kluber surrendered a home run to Dexter Fowler four pitches into the game.
Pitching on three days rest for the second time in the series, Kluber was unable to carry his team to victories as he did in Games 1 and 4. The right-hander, who allowed only a run and struck out 15 batters over 12 innings in his first two starts of the series, surrendered four runs on six hits — two homers — and did not have a strikeout over four innings.
Miller was also human, taking over for Kluber and allowing two runs on four hits over 2 1/3 innings.
“I mean for our starters to have the guts to take the ball like Corey Kluber three times in a series,” Francona said. “And our relievers to be available that much that often and be effective, it’s not luck. It’s will.
“I think at times (tonight) they proved they’re human. But without them, we don’t get anywhere close to here.”
After the Indians scored twice in the fifth to close the gap to two runs, Miller surrendered a solo homer to David Ross, who, at 39, became the oldest player to go deep in Game 7 of the World Series.
Still, down 6-3 after already employing its top two pitching weapons, the Indians went down swinging.
Jose Ramirez reached on a two-out infield single in the eighth off Game 5 starter Jon Lester, who replaced Game 7 starter Kyle Hendricks in the fifth.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon turned to Chapman, who allowed a double to the first batter he faced, Brandon Guyer, before Davis lined a 2-2 pitch just over the 19-foot wall in left field.
It was the only homer Chapman allowed as a member of the Cubs during the regular season or playoffs.
“It’s a microcosm of our year,” Kluber said. “We got punched in the mouth a few times during the game, but we never gave up and kept fighting back. That’s kind of how the season went for us. We had injuries and whatnot, but we never gave up and I think that shows a lot about our character.”
Neither team threatened to break the tie in the ninth, and Chicago’s game-winning 10th was delayed 17 minutes by rain.
When play resumed, the Cubs went to work on Shaw. Kyle Schwarber led off with a single. After Shaw got an out, he moved to second on an intentional walk to Anthony Rizzo. World Series MVP Ben Zobrist followed with a double down the third-base line that scored the go-ahead run. After another intentional walk, pinch hitter Miguel Montero drove in another with a base hit that chased Shaw.
“I don’t think it had much of an impact,” Francona said of the delay. “Bryan Shaw, if there’s one guy that you’re going to have that happen to, because he bounces back so quickly — and he was fine. (The delay) had nothing to do with it.”
Davis came though again in the 10th, driving in a run with a two-out single, but as the tying run, he remained on first when Michael Martinez grounded out to third baseman Kris Bryant to end the game.
It was a disappointing final chapter to a storybook season for the Indians, who weren’t expected to win the Central Division, let alone advance to Game 7 of the World Series.
“I talked before the game about it being an honor to be in a game like that,” Francona said. “To be associated with those players in that clubhouse, it is an honor. And I just told them that. It’s going to hurt. It hurts because we care, but they need to walk with their head held high because they left nothing on the field. And that’s all the things we ever ask them to do. They tried until there was nothing left.”
“It’s an awesome group of guys,” said second baseman Jason Kipnis, a Chicago native who grew up a Cubs fan. “There’s nothing for us to hang our heads about, we fought the whole time and overcame every single thing you could throw at us.
“We had injuries, we had you name it and not once did we ever use them as an excuse. All we did was put our noses to the grind and we kept fighting. We took a very good ballclub to extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series. I don’t think I’ll be hanging my head for too long, I’m very proud of what we did.”
- Gallery: Fans watch World Series Game 7
- LeBron sympathizes after Indians' World Series loss
- Indians: A Tribe column on curses and sports gods and such
- MLB: Chapman back to Yankees; source says deal is five years, $86 million
- 6. Indians beat the odds -- but fall short of beating the Cubs
- Another Indians season opener, another start for Corey Kluber
- Commentary: Rajai Davis is gone again, but the roar will live forever
- Baseball: Cubs manager Joe Maddon makes lineups three days at a time to help players better prepare
- Indians comeback falls short as Cubs win instant classic to take World Series
- Commentary: Terry Francona a big reason to feel good about Indians' future
- Commentary: Another Game 7 disappointment for Indians, but this one has a different feel
- World Series: 'Major League' actor Charlie Sheen flies in for Game 7 with help of Lorain businessman
- Indians notes: Terry Francona says rookie Tyler Naquin pressing, starts Rajai Davis in center field