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SportsColumnistsDavid Lennon

It’s tough to bear: Cubs’ great season has been derailed

Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis lands on

Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis lands on Chicago Cubs' Jason Heyward after turning a double play in the bottom of the second inning of Game 4 of the World Series. Photo Credit: EPA / JOHN G. MABANGLO

CHICAGO

Is it really going to end like this? After waiting 71 years for the World Series to return to Wrigley Field, are the Cubs going to bow out in what feels like minutes?

That’s the question that had to be weighing on everyone’s mind after the Indians routed the Cubs, 7-2, in Game 4 Saturday night, a win that seemed much easier than the score indicated.

From the fans seated atop the ivy-covered walls to the Wrigleyville bartenders to Kris Bryant himself, the seeds of doubt not only are planted, they’re in full, dispiriting bloom.

The best the Cubs could do, when interrogated about their stunning 3-1 deficit, was to stare straight ahead, shrug off their impending doom and adopt the standard one-day-at-a-time mantra. It’s the only course of action in such dire circumstances, and sometimes it actually works. Just not very often.

The 1985 Royals were the last team to overcome a 3-1 deficit to win the World Series. The next 10 to face that hurdle all lost. And for the Cubs, who would need to win two at Progressive Field, the odds actually get worse. That hasn’t been done on the road since the 1979 Pirates, and these Cubs just lost two straight at Wrigley in front of a fan base hoping and praying for the franchise’s first title since 1908.

After a 103-win regular season, the Cubs — everyone’s favorite since Day 1 of spring training — face elimination in Sunday night’s Game 5. The wonderboy general manager Theo Epstein, the hipster manager Joe Maddon, the roster laden with young, marketable and supremely talented stars — it’s all on the verge of crumbling, of collapsing into the same old ghastly Cubs narrative, that of ultimate failure.

How could that be?

“Nothing surprises me in this game,” said Bryant, who made two critical throwing errors. “You can be down, but you can get back up just as easily. We’re not out until we’re out.”

All that was missing from Bryant’s postgame homily was a few Yogisms to lighten the mood. But the clubhouse was no place for levity after the Cubs again were handcuffed by Corey Kluber, this time on three days’ rest, then mowed down by the reaper himself, Andrew Miller. The Indians also relied on home runs by Carlos Santana and Steve Bartman neighbor Jason Kipnis to improve to 10-2 this postseason and move within one victory of ending their own, more modest title drought dating to 1948.

When the Cubs were asked late Saturday night about their predicament, they universally praised the Indians for simply outplaying them in every aspect. That doesn’t excuse the Cubs, however, for falling flat in what is supposed to be the franchise’s greatest moment. This World Series was set up to be their coronation — part celebration, part exorcism. Instead, it is shaping up to be their Waterloo.

“They have an answer for everything,” said Jason Heyward, who had two hits in his first start of the World Series. “It’s tough to gain the momentum when they keep taking it. When you get down, it just makes it that much tougher.”

That’s why this situation looks so grim for the Cubs, who have been shut out twice in this series and scored a total of three runs in four games. The light is fading, and rekindling that spark is going to be difficult.

“We just need that offensive epiphany somehow to get us pushing in the right direction,” Maddon said. “And if we do that, I really think based on what they have left pitching-wise and what we have, I kind of like our chances.”

Seems like a big “if’’ after what we’ve witnessed. And Wrigley has been no help, with the anxiety-ridden fans too nervous to generate much electricity from their seats. The ballpark was so eerily quiet Saturday night, you could almost hear the ivy hibernating.

The Cubs seem headed for a long, cold winter as well.

New York Sports