CLEVELAND – The quickest way to get big-leaguers to sound like the little leaguers they once were is the mention of two words:
Game 7 of the World Series in particular.
“I think [Wednesday] we’re going to come to the clubhouse with a lot of confidence and a lot of energy,” said the Cubs’ 22-year-old shortstop, Addison Russell. “You know. Game 7, it’s a kid’s dream.”
Russell helped make Wednesday night’s winner-take-all Cubs/Indians Game 7 of the World Series possible, driving in six runs, which tied a Series record, in Chicago’s 9-3 victory on Tuesday night. Russell’s big night included a third-inning grand slam that made it 7-0.
“You know, we get to play in a Game 7,” said Kris Bryant, the Cubs’ 24-year-old third baseman, whose first-inning homer off Josh Tomlin made it 1-0 and quickly deflated the crowd. “That’s pretty special.”
The Cubs’ Game 7 starter, Kyle Hendricks, spoke in absolute terms before game 6, saying, “when” his club got a seventh game it would be the fulfillment of backyard fantasy.
“This is the ultimate dream,” said Hendricks, 1-1 with a 1.31 ERA this postseason entering Wednesday. “You dream of getting to the World Series, winning the World Series. When you’re out in your backyard as a kid, playing Little League at the field with your friends, this is the moment you dream about, Game 7, 3-2, two outs, something like that, bottom of the ninth. But it’s always Game 7 of the World Series.”
The enthusiasm was not limited to the players.
“This is as exciting a game as you could ever play, and I don’t think there’s any reason to downplay that,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Shoot, man, everybody’s going to be nervous, myself included. As long as that doesn’t get in the way, that’s OK.”
Neither Francona nor Cubs manager Joe Maddon said there would be any big speeches or proclamations before first-pitch.
“Nope,” Maddon said. “Again, I don’t want to interfere with the process. That’s not what I do, and why would I want to gather them and put a different thought in their head? I don’t want to do that. I could only hurt them. I can’t help them right now by trying to be brilliant or emotional or motivational. They don’t need that. They need to go play, like we did [Tuesday]. I didn’t have to talk [Tuesday], and we played a pretty good game of baseball.”
Facing elimination a second straight game, the Cubs rode three first-inning runs in Tuesday night’s victory.
“I’m just relying on the fact they’re going to do what they always do,” Maddon said. “They’re going to come in. They’re going to do their work here inside. They’re going to go outside and do their prep. They’ll do their same routine with ground balls, batting practice, et cetera. I do not want to interfere with that routine at all.”
Francona did express some emotion speaking with the media before the game when discussing the season his club has had.
Despite a spate of injuries, most significantly those incurred by front-line starters Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco in September, the Indians swept the favored Red Sox in the ALDS, beat the Blue Jays in the ALCS, then built a three-games-to-one lead over the Cubs in the Series.
“This is a good group,” Francona said. “This is one of the funnest . . . I mean, win, lose or draw, our season’s going to be over, unless some other country wants to take us on. And I’ll be as tired as you can get after this, [but] I will miss coming every day with this group because you get pretty close. No year is ever the same, even if a lot of the guys are, it’s never quite the same. It’s always a little different. And this group has been really extraordinary.”
Francona then reflected on his job, not just for Game 7 but overall.
“I go in the dugout maybe 45 minutes, maybe an hour before the game, from that point on, I mean, I don’t mean to be corny,” he said, “but I feel like the luckiest person in the world. I love it.”