CHICAGO—Trevor Bauer strolled to the plate in the third inning of Game 5 of the World Series with one goal in mind: Don’t swing.
The Cleveland Indians’ righty was only two and a half weeks removed from slicing open the pinkie of his pitching hand while repairing a drone, two weeks removed from reopening his 10 stitches on the mound, and there was no reason to take any chances. But he had taken some cuts in the cage the day before and was feeling good about his new Mike Napoli–inspired hand-shuffling batting stance—“I wanted to imitate someone who gets hits,” the pitcher said afterward—and he just couldn’t lay off the juicy fastballs Chicago Cubs southpaw Jon Lester kept tossing him. Bauer took two on the corners and two barely outside, then rocketed a line drive just to the right of first base. He fouled the next offering straight back. He took a deep breath.
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The seventh pitch gave him the longest plate appearance of any Indians batter to that point, and second longest of the night; he lofted it 200 feet down the rightfield line, headed safely toward the stands. It never got there. Rightfielder Jason Heyward, who is 5 for 41 in the postseason and seems even more lost at the plate than that figure would suggest, climbed the wall and leaned backward to make the grab. The fans at Wrigley Field stood and gaped, as did Bauer, who grinned and applauded.
Then the night got less fun for him.
Bauer gave up four straight hits to open the fourth inning, the first time all World Series the Cubs had strung together more than two, and allowed three runs before being replaced to start the fifth in an eventual 3–2 loss.
“I threw the ball really well,” he said sullenly after the game. “I know you guys are gonna write it differently, but I pitched well tonight.”
He did, actually. His two-seamers danced across the plate, his four-seamers looked like two-seamers, his curveballs started in the zone and ended in the dirt. That three-run inning was keyed by two mistakes: an inside fastball to Kris Bryant that the probable NL MVP deposited in the leftfield stands, and the next pitch, a high fastball to Anthony Rizzo that the possible NL MVP runner-up lined to right for a double, and a pair of infield hits. Facing an offense that scored 808 runs this year, Bauer was frustrating to watch but mostly effective. So were the hitters, who left three men in scoring position over the last five innings but put together six hits and two runs.
Unfortunately for Cleveland, that would not prove enough. Up 3–1 in the Series, the Indians had a chance to celebrate their first title since 1948 on enemy soil. Instead they will return home and trust that at least one of Game 3 starter Josh Tomlin and Games 1 and 4 starter Corey Kluber, both pitching on short rest, can keep the Cubs at bay. On Sunday, a team that has spent October getting a small lead while its pitcher stymies the opposition for four or five or six innings, then letting its elite bullpen take over found itself in the unhappy position of watching someone else do just that.
Lester gave up a Jose Ramirez homer early and a Rajai Davis manufactured run, but otherwise the Indians advanced only one runner as far as third base in the first six innings. Chicago manager Joe Maddon, who has had a good view of the unprecedented aggressiveness and creativity with which Cleveland’s Terry Francona has deployed his relief corps in the playoffs, decided to give that approach a whirl, bringing in closer Aroldis Chapman to get eight outs. The flamethrower snuffed the Indians’ brief rally attempt in the eighth—the fleet-footed Davis singled, stole second, then third—and did not allow even that much in the ninth. A Wrigley Field crowd that seemed to spend the first two games experiencing every emotion of the last 108 years, ending always in despair, did not fully believe in the result until it was over. For only the third time this postseason, Cleveland had lost.
You would have been forgiven for being unsure of that after the game, though. Bauer may have scowled his way through his press conference, but his teammates smiled and spoke of success rather than of failure. They look forward to the opportunity to raise the Commissioner’s Trophy in front of their fans, they said. They have the utmost confidence in Tomlin and in Kluber and in themselves. No one is tired. Everyone is exhilarated. They can feel each other getting hot. They are still having fun.
“The goal was to take one here,” said second baseman and Chicago native son Jason Kipnis, echoing a refrain the Indians all seemed to have internalized. “We took the first two, so in our eyes, we did our job.”
On his way off the field, Kipnis stopped to joke with his best friend’s younger brother, an ardent Cubs fan who, five games into the World Series, still has not decided whom to root for.
When the second baseman got on Jeff Zohn for going to bed instead of hitting a bar, his friend shot back that some people had graduated from college and gotten jobs. Kipnis laughed.
“I didn’t have to!” he answered. “I can hit a fastball.”
And with that, the loss already forgotten, he headed toward Cleveland.