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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

Cubs’ players can’t worry about history of failure

Chicago Cubs' Addison Russell hits a RBI single

Chicago Cubs' Addison Russell hits a RBI single against the Cleveland Indians during the fourth inning of Game 5 of the World Series against the Chicago Cubs Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Chicago. Photo Credit: AP / Charlie Riedel

CHICAGO

With Wrigley Field on edge for Sunday night’s Game 5 of the World Series and the potential end to the Cubs’ oh-so-promising October run, the only course of action was to ignore all the disappointment and the heartache that came before.

Forget 1908. We’re just talking about the previous week, when the Indians raced to within a victory of their first title since 1948. That left the Cubs somewhat dazed for Wrigley’s season finale — win or lose — and not much time to refocus.

“The reality is, you can’t change the past,” catcher Miguel Montero said. “There can’t be any negative thoughts. You can’t have those things in your mind.”

Easy for Montero to say. He’s only 33, and he made it to the World Series in his second season with the Cubs. But Montero’s advice was on point. Putting on a Cubs uniform means being cloaked in five generations’ worth of misery, a title drought that extends to 1908. As much as Joe Maddon’s “Embrace the Target” mantra helped the Cubs deal with mammoth preseason expectations, it’s impossible for these players to shed the franchise’s sad history.

But as Montero mentioned, what’s the use in worrying about it? And the Cubs were able to adopt that mindset Sunday night by avoiding elimination with a tense 3-2 victory over the Indians that sent the World Series back to Progressive Field for a Game 6 on Tuesday. Kris Bryant homered as the Cubs’ rallied for three runs in the fourth inning and Aroldis Chapman, in keeping with this October’s aggressive bullpen theme, was called on for an eight-out save, the first in a postseason since the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner during the 2014 World Series.

Despite the relentless drumbeat of public moaning that follows these Cubs around, chasing ghosts or attempting to soothe a ballpark overflowing with anxiety was not something that was on the their radar Sunday. Rallying from a 3-1 deficit requires tunnel vision that narrows the focus to each pitch, then each out, then each inning. As for the fans squirming in their Wrigley seats, or covering their eyes on the couch, Maddon had a message for them.

“Please be nervous,” he said. “You should be nervous. It’s up to us to get you beyond that moment and get back to Cleveland. We are at the doorstep, the precipice of winning a World Series. I understand the angst involved with that.”

Reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945 is infinitely better than not getting there, obviously. And that’s why the Cubs themselves, especially a young star such as Bryant, have a hard time processing a century’s worth of disappointment being thrust upon their 20-something shoulders.

Can they feel the pain of Cubs fans? Maybe to some degree. But they also have a game to play, a task independent of what Steve Bartman did in 2003.

“We do our best to tune that out,” Bryant said. “We can’t get too caught up in that.”

And if the idea is the Cubs are collapsing under the weight of history, does that mean the Indians are better at ignoring their own championship drought, which stretches to 1948? Not really. Just a better team so far, and peaking at the right time.

But don’t take our word for it. No less an authority than Indians manager Terry Francona, the man who conquered the 86-year Curse of the Bambino, echoed that belief, saying the historical component doesn’t factor into what players do on the field.

There’s an awareness, for sure. Especially in a fishbowl like Boston. But a team doesn’t get too wrapped up in the goal of ending a region’s losing tradition.

“I think for fans it does, and I get it, and I think it’s really cool,” Francona said. “But for us, it can’t enter into it. I don’t feel responsible for the fact my dad wasn’t good enough to win when he played. Winning is hard enough. We just need to go play baseball.”

For these two franchises, however, it’s never quite that simple.

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