CLEVELAND — Indians players understand the attention the Cubs’ championship drought gets and why it’s the story of the World Series.
One-hundred-eight years is 108 years, the longest in professional sports. Still, as Mike Napoli pointed out, Cleveland doesn’t exactly have a habit of hoisting World Series trophies.
“[We’re] in a long drought too,” the first baseman/DH said Sunday. That is not an understatement.
When the series starts at Progressive Field on Tuesday night — Corey Kluber will go for the Indians against either Jon Lester or Jake Arrieta of the Cubs — it will be a matchup of the two longest droughts in baseball.
The Cubs haven’t won a title since 1908; the Indians haven’t won one since 1948.
“It’s been a pretty long time since Cleveland’s won a World Series as well,” lefthanded reliever Andrew Miller said before the Indians worked out here.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona, 57, certainly knows something about long stretches without a title. He won two championships as the Red Sox manager, with the first one in 2004 snapping an 86-year slump. But he didn’t seem at all interested in exploring the psyches of the respective cities in that regard.
“I think that’s stuff for fans. I think fans enjoy talking about it, or commiserating, however you want to put it,” said Francona, whose team swept the Red Sox in three games in the American League Division Series and took out the Blue Jays in five games in the American League Championship Series.
Francona then smiled and referenced his father, Tito, who played for the Indians from 1959-64.
“I don’t feel responsible for the fact that my dad couldn’t win. That was his fault,” Francona said to laughter. “We’re going to have our hands full playing against the Cubs. Trying to go back and win for [past] years, that doesn’t help. If it did, we’d do it. Those are more things that fans like to talk about, as they should. That’s a fun part of baseball.”
Francona also wasn’t making much of the fact that for a third straight series, his team will be an underdog, most severely against the Cubs. From the start of the season through the end, they have been the sport’s top team.
“It’s our responsibility to be fueled by whatever we can,” he said. “If that’s part of it, fine.”
Napoli said he and his teammates are fine with the outside perception of the Indians as a club of overachievers, lacking the star power of the teams they’ve faced so far and will face in the World Series.
“We’ve shown the past two series we can’t be taken lightly,” said Napoli, who won a World Series with the Red Sox in 2013 (among his teammates were Cubs pitchers Lester and John Lackey). “We do play as a team, so we’re a confident group.”
Closer Cody Allen said it’s a role that the team has “embraced.”
“I think we enjoy it, but those are opinions and projections from outside of this clubhouse,” he said. “I believe there’s 25 guys in here that don’t think we’re the underdogs and believe in every single guy in this room. We don’t worry about the projections from the outside, but if we’re labeled as the underdog, we’re fine with that.”