CLEVELAND — The 112th World Series kind of had to end this way, didn’t it?
After all, it was a matchup featuring the two longest droughts in the sport without a title.
It could end only with a Game 7.
And so, after the Cubs thrashed the Indians, 9-3, in Game 6 Tuesday night at Progressive Field, franchises that have gone a combined 174 seasons without a World Series championship will decide the 2016 season in a deciding seventh game.
“Of course we want to be the group that breaks the string,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “It’s just correct and apt that we’d go seven games.”
The Cubs, who haven’t won since 1908, send righthander Kyle Hendricks, 1-1 with a 1.31 ERA this postseason, to the mound.
The Indians, without a baseball crown since 1948, counter with righthander Corey Kluber, 4-1 with a 0.89 ERA this postseason. He will be starting for the third time this Series and will be going on three days’ rest for the second time.
“That’s a good feeling,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of pitching Kluber. “And I know they love their guy, too, as they should. It’s Game 7. You’ve got two really, really good pitchers and it will be exciting.”
The Cubs are trying to become the first team since the 1985 Royals (against the Cardinals) to win a World Series after trailing three games to one, and the first since the 1979 Pirates (against the Orioles) to win a Series down 3-1 by winning Games 6 and 7 on the road.
“We’re going to come to the clubhouse with a lot of confidence and a lot of energy,” said shortstop Addison Russell, who tied a World Series record with six RBIs. “Game 7, it’s a kid’s dream.”
Russell helped lead a Chicago offense that has struggled much of this postseason but erupted Tuesday night, accumulating 13 hits, including four by previously struggling Kris Bryant. The unit drove Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin, starting on three days’ rest, from the game after 2 1⁄3 innings.
Bryant, 2-for-17 the first five games, crushed a solo homer in what turned out to be a three-run first — a botched play by Indians rookie centerfielder Tyler Naquin with two outs brought in two of the runs — and Russell hit a third-inning grand slam off Dan Otero to make it 7-0.
“I feel like that was the hit of the night there,” Bryant said of Russell’s grand slam, the first hit in the World Series since Paul Konerko of the White Sox did it in Game 2 of the 2005 Series against the Astros.
Anthony Rizzo’s third hit of the night, a two-run homer in the ninth, made it 9-2.
Jake Arrieta, who earned the victory in Game 2, benefited from the early run support. He did not allow a hit in the first three innings and ended up allowing two runs, three hits and three walks in 5 2⁄3 innings. He struck out nine, five in the first three innings.
“I knew that was all we were going to need tonight,” Arrieta said of the 7-0 cushion.
Maddon did feel the need to call on closer Aroldis Chapman, who threw a career-high 2 2⁄3 innings in Game 5, with two on and two outs in the seventh. The lefty got Francisco Lindor to ground into a 3-1 out and appeared to tweak something covering first base. He came back out to pitch a scoreless eighth and was pulled after walking Brandon Guyer to start the ninth.
“I stumbled over the base, but I was fine, no issues there,” Chapman said through his translator.
The Cubs will need him to be with his workload.
“All I know,” he said, “is I’m going to be ready tomorrow and we’ll see what happens.”
Tomlin, 2-0 with a 1.76 ERA in three starts this postseason coming in, allowed six runs and six hits.
Arrieta did not allow a hit until Jason Kipnis’ leadoff double in the fourth. Kipnis scored on Mike Napoli’s single, which made it 7-1. Arrieta loaded the bases with two outs after consecutive walks, but he struck out Naquin on three pitches to end the threat.
Kipnis’ second homer of the series, a solo shot in the fifth, made it 7-2, but at that point a seventh game seemed all but assured.
“Today, obviously the offense [was] pretty special and our pitching was unbelievable,” Bryant said. “Hopefully we can do it tomorrow.”