CLEVELAND — Since reporting for spring training in February, the Cubs never ran away from their status as prohibitive World Series favorite.
They knew they were good and expected to be good.
But what the Cubs didn’t do then, and what they haven’t done since, is obsess over the history that makes their appearance in the 112th World Series against the Indians one of those stories that goes beyond baseball.
That history, of course, is the longest drought without a championship in professional sports. The Cubs, who will send lefthander Jon Lester to the mound against Indians righthander Corey Kluber on Tuesday night in Game 1, have not won a title since 1908 and are heavy favorites in the series.
“We know how much it means to everyone, but at the end of the day, we have to go out and play,” Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “We have to play for each other, and that’s what we’re so good about doing.”
The Cubs went an MLB-best 103-58 before beating the Giants in four games in their National League Division Series and the Dodgers in six games in the National League Championship Series. That gave the Cubs their first pennant since 1945.
Rizzo, 27, is comparatively old in a starting lineup that has an average age of 23. Because the Cubs are so young, manager Joe Maddon said, the weight of a historic drought doesn’t weigh on them.
Even with the franchise’s first World Series title since the Teddy Roosevelt administration four wins away.
“I think we all have a tremendous amount of respect for history and what’s happened before us, or not happened before us,” Maddon said. “But you go in that [clubhouse] right now, they’re very young. Really not impacted by a lot of the lore.”
Or, as 30-year-old centerfielder Dexter Fowler said of his younger teammates, many of whom blossomed in 2015 during a 97-65 season: “The young guys [here], they’re ahead of their time. We [veterans] were talking about it yesterday; this is all they know, winning. Which is awesome.”
Fowler added: “And we plan to keep it that way.”
In their way is an Indians team that is trying to become Cleveland’s second champion crowned in 2016. But while the Cavaliers won with LeBron James, whom most consider the best basketball player on the planet, the face of the Indians — from a national-profile standpoint — is manager Terry Francona. He won two championships as the Red Sox manager, and the first of those, in 2004, was Boston’s first World Series title since 1918.
The Indians, underdogs against the Red Sox in the ALDS and the Blue Jays in the ALCS, haven’t won a championship since 1948. Their drought is the second-longest in the sport, behind only the Cubs’.
“I just think if you look too far back, you look too far forward, you miss what’s right in front of you,” Francona said. “These players have earned the right to try and see if we can beat the Cubs, and that’s going to be a tall enough task. But I don’t think we need to go back and concern ourselves with 40, 50, 60 years ago.”
He paused briefly.
“Now, if you win, it makes for a cool story,” Francona said.
This will be the Indians’ sixth appearance in the World Series but the first time they’ve hosted Game 1. That honor will take on even more meaning Tuesday as it happens to be the same night the Cavaliers will receive their championship rings (before their game against the Knicks).
To say the city — which went 52 years without a title in any major sport before the Cavs came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat the Warriors — is bursting at the seams with civic pride doesn’t begin to cover it.
“This is going to be the No. 1 place to be for sports tomorrow night,” Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “What a special day for a city to do that.”
The Cubs have been through a lot since their last world championship in 1908:
World Series record