Cubs edge Indians, 3-2, force Game 6 of World Series
He rose from his seat as the Cubs clung to a one-run lead in the seventh inning, unfurled his 6-foot-4 frame and climbed atop a Wrigley Field bullpen mound. The ballpark registered his presence. Aroldis Chapman is impossible, his teammates explained afterward, to miss.
“Any time you’ve got a power arm like that,” Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler said, “you can hear him warming up.”
As the Cubs staved off winter with a 3-2 victory over Cleveland in Game 5 of the World Series on Sunday night, the team relied upon its two most reliable pitchers. Jon Lester recorded the first 18 outs. Making the longest appearance of his career, Chapman secured the final eight. The performance allowed the Cubs to force Game 6 on Tuesday in Cleveland and send this ballpark into the off-season with reason to cheer.
Chapman was the anchor. A domestic violence allegation clouded his reputation, scotched the Dodgers’ attempt to acquire him last winter and ultimately resulted in a 30-game suspension by Major League Baseball.
But his performance on the mound has never been questioned, and on Sunday evening, he demonstrated why he belongs in the debate with Cleveland late-game ace Andrew Miller and Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen over who is the game’s finest reliever.
When the season ends, Chapman can become a free agent. He will compete with Jansen for the richest contract ever provided to a reliever. He can add to his resume a performance capable of matching Jansen’s marathon sessions in the earlier rounds.
“That was a big ask,” Cleveland Manager Terry Francona said. “And he answered.”
Time was drawing thin on the Cubs’ season after they’d fallen behind three games to one, dropping Games 3 and 4 at home to the spunky lineup and fearsome bullpen of the Indians. To extend the season, Maddon utilized Chapman in a way that bucked tradition and the left-hander’s usual zone of comfort, a three-out save. He prefers his outings tidy, three outs and little more, and has not been utilized like a Swiss Army Knife, the way Francona has deployed Miller, Chapman’s former New York Yankees teammate.
On Sunday, Maddon knew that needed to change.
Throughout the season, Maddon encouraged his players not to shrink from the challenge of ending the franchise’s 108-year title drought. “Embrace the target,” he told his charges during spring training. Eight months later, one loss away from winter, Maddon offered a slightly different message to his fan base.
“Please be nervous,” he said before the game. “Absolutely. You should be nervous. We have to win tonight, so go ahead and be nervous.”
In the afternoon, Maddon met with Chapman. During this series, Maddon has often hewed toward his usual strategies, avoiding the kind of maneuvering Francona often makes. Sunday was different. He told Chapman to be ready to enter in the seventh inning.
“I’m always prepared for the ninth inning,” Chapman said. “That’s my job. I understand that. But I always appreciate it if they let me know that I’m going to pitch more than the ninth inning.”
To unleash Chapman, the Cubs needed a lead. Cleveland struck first with a second-inning solo homer by third baseman Jose Ramirez. At no point during this postseason had Cleveland secured a lead and then lost a game.
At the start, Indians starter Trevor Bauer looked primed to suppress his hosts. He struck out five in the first three innings, freezing the Cubs with the movement of his two-seam fastball.
The sinkers stopped sinking in the fourth. Third baseman Kris Bryant battered a fastball at the belt for a game-tying homer. On the next pitch, first baseman Anthony Rizzo made a double disappear in the ivy. After a single by left fielder Ben Zobrist, a swinging-bunt single by shortstop Addison Russell gave Chicago the lead.
The Cubs stuck with small ball, as second baseman Javier Baez dropped a bunt for a hit. A sacrifice fly by catcher David Ross made it 3-1. Bauer lasted four innings.
“It was nice to have a big inning there, get us going a little bit,” Bryant said.
Lester started to crack in the sixth. A leadoff single by Rajai Davis turned into a two-base play when Davis stole second. Two batters later, shortstop Francisco Lindor cut Cleveland’s deficit to one with an RBI single.
Lindor hoped to swipe second, too. But his lead did not allow him enough space to offset the arm strength of Ross behind the plate and the nimbleness of Baez at the bag. Ross fired toward Baez, who dropped the tag in time for the third out.
Lester would not return for the seventh. Carl Edwards Jr. took his place. Edward did not last long. He gave up a single to first baseman Mike Napoli, who advanced on a passed ball by catcher Willson Contreras, who’d had just replaced Ross. After left fielder Carlos Santana flied out, Maddon turned to Chapman, whom the Cubs acquired from the Yankees in July.
“When you have a guy that can pitch that many significant outs in the latter part of the game, it’s pretty cool,” Maddon said.
Eight outs remained in the game. Never before had Chapman recorded more than seven. The cliche held: Desperate times.
Chapman answered the call. He hit a batter in the seventh, but stranded both runners. An inning later, Davis singled when Chapman neglected to cover first base. Davis stole two bases. But as Davis stood at third, Chapman set up Lindor with sliders, then iced him with a 102-mph fastball for a called third strike.
“Once [Davis] got to third, I concentrated strictly on Lindor, and getting him out at the plate,” Chapman said.
The ninth inning featured no drama. Chapman retired the side in 12 pitches. A 101-mph fastball zoomed past Ramirez’s bat for the final out. He had his eight-out save, for the first time in his career.
“That was huge for us,” Lester said. “That was unbelievable for us to see him do that.”
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