Indians down Cubs, 7-2, are one win away from World Series title

Jason Kipnis
Cleveland Indians’ Jason Kipnis hits a home run in the seventh inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday.
(Ezra Shaw / Getty Images)

The two managers crossed paths in a dank room on the ground floor of Wrigley Field. Terry Francona reached out to pat Joe Maddon on the shoulder. Maddon returned the gesture. In that moment, minutes after Francona’s Cleveland Indians had captured a 7-2 victory in Game 4 of the World Series over Maddon’s Chicago Cubs, the two men were equals. Such standing has been a rarity this week. 

On the verge of ending his franchise’s 68-year stretch without a championship, Francona remains willing to adapt to each disparate situation as his team has built a three-games-to-one series lead. On the brink of extending the Cubs’ 108-year drought into Year 109, Maddon sounded uninterested in diverting from the strategies that carried his club to this moment. 

The latter innings of Saturday’s game provided a microcosm of the divide. Despite a thirst for offense, Maddon could not find a spot for Kyle Schwarber, the finest batter on his bench. Despite a sizable lead, Francona deployed relief ace Andrew Miller to get six outs, because “you have to respect who you’re playing, and what they can do.” 

“We’re just following what he asked us to do,” Miller said. “Part of that is because of his success rate. When he hits a button, it seems to work out.” 


In October, urgency trumps orthodoxy. Outs are precious. The game does not follow a conventional script. The postseason favors those able to recognize the points of inflection, those willing to bend to each day’s rhythms. 

Francona hears the song. He knows it well. He owns two World Series rings, acquired in 2004 and 2007 as manager of the Boston Red Sox. After a month of deftness, he is one victory away from a third fitting. His players are willing to sacrifice. His starters work on short rest. Miller sometimes arrives in the fifth inning. 

Maddon was part of a title-winning effort as Mike Scioscia’s bench coach with the Angels in 2002. On three separate occasions, he has been declared manager of the year. He may win for a fourth time next month. But his insistence on calm, his conflation of adaptability with panic, may no longer apply. Not since 1985 has a team rebounded from a 3-1 deficit and won the World Series. 

To push the Cubs to the brink, Cleveland ace Corey Kluber stymied his hosts with six effective innings for the second time in five days. The Indians pestered Cubs starter John Lackey for three runs in five innings. A Cubs fan at birth, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis ended the drama with a three-run homer in the seventh. 


“It’s a dream come true, like they say,” Kipnis said. 

From the start, it was clear Kluber lacked the substantial movement on his fastball that had befuddled the Cubs in Game 1. He gave up a run in the first inning, and never quite reached cruising altitude. As the Cubs swung freely, he leaned on his off-speed pitches. “It’s pretty easy to recognize early on that that was what they were doing tonight,” Kluber said. “So we just adjusted to it.”

Cleveland took the lead in the second inning, and did not relinquish it. Shifted to first base over slumping veteran Mike Napoli, Carlos Santana bashed a home run. Soon afterward, Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant committed a pair of throwing errors, one that allowed outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall to reach base, another that allowed Chisenhall to score from second on an infield single by Kluber. 

After a leadoff double by Kipnis in the third, shortstop Francisco Lindor splashed an RBI single. Lackey avoided further damage in the inning, but he ended it trailing by two runs and with 67 pitches on his ledger. He was due to lead off in the bottom of the inning. 

Maddon elected to stick with Lackey, rather than use a hitter against Kluber. Lackey struck out. Center fielder Dexter Fowler grounded out. Kluber wavered briefly, walking Bryant and plunking first baseman Anthony Rizzo. He recovered to strike out left fielder Ben Zobrist for the third out. 

Each out Kluber recorded pushed the Cubs closer to Cleveland’s vaunted relief trio of the left-handed Miller and right-handers Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. Maddon referred to the Indians’ bullpen depth as “abnormal.” 

“Outside of Kluber, they’re just looking for that five-inning moment [from a starting pitcher] with the lead, and then they turn it over,” Maddon said. 


Able to recognize the challenge before his offense, Maddon did little to counteract it. His lineup was shut out in Games 1 and 3. In between, Schwarber supplied a pair of RBI singles in Chicago’s only victory. On Saturday, the fifth inning presented an opportunity for him to alter Kluber’s evening, with the pitcher’s spot due up first for the Cubs and Cleveland ahead 3-1.

Maddon did not consider it “wise” to call upon Schwarber in that moment. He went with backup outfielder Chris Coghlan. He viewed Schwarber as a chess piece for a crucial at-bat later in the game, rather than a weapon who could punish Kluber at a moment of vulnerability. 

“I didn’t think that was the appropriate time,” Maddon said. “I don’t think it’s a lack of aggressiveness as much as it is looking for the right opportunity to expend him. Honestly, I don’t agree with that.” 

That opportunity never arose. Coghlan flied out. Kluber retired the side in six pitches. After a sacrifice fly in the sixth, Kipnis went deep in the seventh. The game ended with Schwarber standing in the on-deck circle. 

The comfy lead allowed Francona to give Allen a day off. For much of this postseason, Miller has extinguished fires and Allen has finished the job. Miller has logged 31/3 innings in these last two games, which compromises him for a multiple-inning outing Sunday. 

The Indians devised a simple strategy for the situation, if it arises. Allen would be the fireman, the pitcher asked to secure multiple innings. Miller would close the show. 

To the end, Francona can recognize the moment. He will push a button. Rare is the time when he regrets it. 

“He’s the best manager in the game,” Cleveland pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “They’re going to do everything he asks. Because they know it’s the right thing.” 


Twitter: @McCulloughTimes

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