Aces face off in World Series opener
CLEVELAND -- Who wrecks the hex?
Who can reverse the curse?
The Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians will send their postseason aces into Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday with an eye toward winning their first championship in three generations ... or much, much longer.
You know the history by now.
Cleveland has not won a World Series since 1948. The Indians came up short in their three most recent appearances, the last in 1997, when Edgar Renteria's walk-off single in the 11th inning of Game 7 gave the Florida Marlins the title.
The Cubs have not been in the Series since 1945 and have not won it since 1908. Numerologists suggest this might be the year. There are 108 stitches on a baseball. Wrigley Field sits on Chicago's planned development lot 108. The Cubs win the Series in the movie "Back to the Future II," which has a running length of 108 minutes.
And on and on.
Not that the teams are focused on the history.
"After you've actually done it, that's when you really dwell on that particular thought," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "In the meantime, I promise you, our guys are going to be in the present tense. I think we all have a tremendous amount of respect for history and what's happened before us or not happened before us. But, you know, you go in that room right now, they're very young. Really not impacted by a lot of the lore, I don't think."
Cubs left-hander Jon Lester and Cleveland right-hander Corey Kluber have been the two best starting pitchers in the postseason while lifting the Great Lakes neighbors this far. Each will make his fourth start of the postseason, his third in a Game 1.
Lester is 2-0 with three quality starts, an 0.86 ERA and an 0.76 WHIP in 21 innings in the playoffs this year. He threw eight shutout innings in a 1-0 victory over the San Francisco Giants in the first game of the National League Division Series, gave up one run in six innings of a no-decision in the 8-4 victory over the Los Angeles Dodgers in the first game of the NL Championship Series and gave up one run in seven innings in an 8-4 victory in Game 5 of the NLCS.
"You know, there will be nerves and there will be adrenaline and all that stuff when I go out there to throw the first pitch and kind of get the ball rolling," Lester said, "but once you get into the game, I feel like then you're able to go back to your game plan."
Kluber's postseason ERA, 0.98, trails only Lester among pitchers who have made more than one playoff start this month. He won both of his previous Game 1 starts, throwing seven shutout innings in a 6-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series and 6 1/3 shutout innings in a 2-0 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays in the first game of the AL Championship Series.
In Game 5 of the ALCS, he lost after allowing two runs in five innings.
"Obviously, you're in the World Series, and there's two teams left and all that kind of stuff," Kluber said. "For me at least, it's been all about getting prepared and being ready when it is time to throw that first pitch."
The teams also have more than the usual familiarity.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona led ghost-busting Boston to its first World Series title in 86 years in 2004, then to another crown in 2007, both times for general manager Theo Epstein, now the Cubs' president.
"I know that's a really cool thing for fans to talk about and stuff," Francona said. "It really doesn't enter into what we're doing. I just think if you look too far back, you look too far forward, you miss what's right in front of you."
Epstein interviewed Maddon for the Boston managerial job in 2004 before hiring Francona. Maddon said the other day the Red Sox made the right choice at the time.
"Our players are going to dictate who wins and loses on both sides, as it should be, but Theo had the guts to hire me up there when I didn't have a ton of resume and they were expected to win, and he believed in me," Francona said. "We went eight years of a lot of good baseball."
Lester won 65 games in his four full seasons as a starter under Francona, who was replaced after 2011 and hired by Cleveland in 2013. Lester is 8-6 with a 2.05 ERA in 19 playoff appearances, 17 starts, and he won four games in the Red Sox's run to the 2013 World Series title.
"I watch him pitch right now and when he takes the mound, extremely calm," Maddon said. "He's in the moment. There is something about that internal level of confidence and the ability to -- this is an overused term, but it's true -- slow things down. I think some players have that ability better than others."
The Cubs had 33 hits while winning the final three games of the NLCS against the Dodgers. Anthony Rizzo was 7-for-14 with two homers, Addison Russell 6-for-13 with two homers and Dexter Fowler 6-for-14 with two doubles.
Cleveland's staff, despite injuries to three start pitchers, has given only 15 runs in eight playoff games, sweeping Boston and taking out Toronto in five.