CLEVELAND — Pinch us. The 112th World Series starts here Tuesday night, and the Cleveland Indians will tangle with the Chicago Cubs? For reals? Next thing you'll tell us is there are cordless telephones you can carry around that also double as computers.
These two teams, collectively, haven't won a World Series in (quick, somebody find a calculator!)…let's see (still adding!)…um…(almost there!)…176 long, cold, hardball years.
Combined, these franchises have been playing professional baseball for 255 years, the Cubs since 1876 (first as the Chicago White Stockings, changing to the Cubs in 1903), the Indians since 1901. Neither has hoisted a World Series championship flag since Cleveland beat the Boston Braves in six games in 1948.
So Midwest meets Midwest, Lake Michigan vs. Lake Erie, The City of Broad Shoulders vs. Believeland, Chi-Town vs. The Land.
Matching it up and breaking it down as we all count it down…
1. Water, Anyone? We're Parched
This World Series is brought to you by Aquafina, or Evian, or Gatorade (take your pick): These are, easily, baseball's longest two active World Series title droughts.
As the sign said on Chicago's Waveland Avenue during Saturday afternoon's raucous pregame anticipation: "Party Like It's 1908." As everyone from Billy Williams to billy goats to Oprah knows, that's the last time the Cubs won one of these blasted things. They haven't played in one since 1945.
Last time the Indians won the World Series was in 1948, when Lou Boudreau's club beat the Boston Braves in six games. They last were here in 1997, when Edgar Renteria singled home Craig Counsell in the bottom of the 11th inning in Game 7 to win it for the Florida Marlins.
"It's great for baseball," Cubs manager Joe Maddon says. "Listen, none of this is lost on me. One thing you always hear is that we need to attract younger fans. We have a team of young players, Cleveland [has such great young talent], I would hope people would tune in and check it out."
"This moment kind of takes your breath away," Theo Epstein, the Cubs' president of baseball operations, says. "We never doubted, but at times it seemed a long way away."
In Cleveland, they've had a few days to regain their breath after chain-sawing through Boston and Toronto in the playoffs. And after, you know, the Cavaliers' NBA title in June.
"Obviously, they got a taste of the basketball championship," Indians relief ace Andrew Miller says. "The crowds for the playoff games at home have been special, as you would expect them to be. I'm looking forward to seeing how they react. It's going to be a lot of fun."
Drought, schmout, says Cleveland manager Terry Francona.
"I don't feel responsible for the fact that my dad didn't win. That was his fault," Indians manager Terry Francona quips of his father, Tito, who played outfield for Cleveland from 1959-1964. "We're responsible for playing the Cubs."
And that should be a blast over these next several days.
"It's going to be unbelievable," Cleveland first baseman/DH Mike Napoli says. "It's going to be crazy. Here and there."
2. Cleveland: City of Championships
In Cleveland, how cool will Tuesday night be? The Cavaliers open their NBA title defense against the New York Knicks at 7:30 p.m. at Quicken Loans Arena, Progressive Field's next-door neighbor. They will receive their rings in a pregame ceremony.
Thirty-eight minutes later, at 8:08 p.m., Corey Kluber will throw the first pitch of the World Series.
Chicago? The Bears stink, the Bulls haven't won since 1998, the White Sox haven't won since 2005, and the Blackhawks couldn't defend their 2015 Stanley Cup title.
3. The Coronation of Theo Epstein and Terry Francona
Both men, Chicago's president of baseball operations and Cleveland's field manager, stamped their Hall of Fame passes this month.
Epstein was the 30-year-old whiz kid GM when Boston broke The Curse of the Bambino in 2004, winning the World Series for the first time since trading Babe Ruth in 1919 (ending the drought since 1918). Now, he's the architect of the Cubs' first World Series team since 1945 with the very real possibility of being the first winner since 1908.
If he winds up being the architect of both the Red Sox and Cubs teams that win their first World Series in decades? Straight to Cooperstown.
Francona was the manager of that ‘04 Boston World Series-winning team, then won again (with Epstein as GM) in Boston in 2007. Now, Francona has pulled the levers and pushed the buttons to move the Indians to historic heights.
"We were together eight years in Boston," Francona says of him and Epstein. "Eight years in Boston, I would say, is miraculous."
Epstein texted Francona congratulations 30 minutes after the Indians clinched the AL pennant in Toronto last week, and an hour later, his phone buzzed with a response.
"Hope to see you next week," Francona texted.
4. The Ex-Yankee Factor
How backward is this: Remember when some folks once sized up the postseason by adding up the "Ex-Cub Factor," and the team with the most ex-Cubs immediately became the underdog?
Now it's the Yankees who went all Amazon and special delivered key pieces to this year's World Series contestants.
The Cubs acquired closer Aroldis Chapman from the Yankees on July 25 in exchange for four players: pitcher Adam Warren and prospects Gleyber Torres, Billy McKinney and Rashad Crawford.
Six days later, on July 31, the Indians acquired Miller from the Yankees in exchange for four minor leaguers: outfielder Clint Frazier, left-handed pitcher Justus Sheffield and righties J.P. Feyereisen and Ben Heller.
"It's fun to be a part of this team," Miller says. "I really enjoyed my time with the Yankees. It's tough when you leave a comfort zone and a place that you like and people that you like. But I knew I was coming to a team that had won a lot and had expectations to win more. I was coming to play for Tito. I couldn't have dreamt it up any better."
Miller is rip-roaring through this postseason, pitching all over the place. The fifth inning. Seventh. Ninth. He has faced 41 batters, and he has fanned 21 of them. At one point, he had struck out 20 of 27 batters faced. He's producing like few have produced before.
"I think the first thing that really struck a chord with me is, when we walked into the clubhouse when we first got him and he's watching videos of the opposing hitters [and studying] the scouting report," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway says. "Man, you've got two pretty good pitches that you could just stick with. But he's totally prepared, and that's what allows him to do above and beyond what most people can do."
Those two "pretty good pitches," by the way, are a four-seam fastball and a sweeping slider.
Chapman's 105 mph gas is sexy, but he is the more high-maintenance of the two. It was telling that Maddon said following Game 6 he was happy to get Chapman in for the final five outs, basically, to make him feel good about himself again after surrendering runs earlier in the series.
5. For the Glove of the Game
Cubs infielder Javier Baez, 23, doesn't play defense so much as he performs alchemy in the field whenever the baseball is hit near him. He spins impossible plays into gold.
Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor, 22, is magical in his own way.
Together, these two infielders alone make this World Series a can't-miss. We may see some of the slickest fielding in baseball history.
"Unbelievable," Cubs center fielder Dexter Fowler says of Baez. "He's a diamond in the rough. He plays hard, and he loves the game. You see it in his face."
"He's been playing unbelievable," Napoli says of watching Baez on television this autumn. "It's been cool to see.
"He's making some sick plays."
Lindor is too, while also hitting .323/.344/.581 with two homers and four RBI in eight postseason games this month.
"He's been a superstar since he's been here," Indians closer Cody Allen says. "He's 22 years old, but he's a leader in this clubhouse. He's a special player, one of the guys who helps keep things moving in the right direction.
"I'm looking forward to watching him play these [World Series] games."
6. Cleveland's Bullpen Rocks
Over eight postseason games, Cleveland has a 1.77 ERA overall, and its bullpen owns a 1.67 ERA and 0.99 WHIP (walks plus hits divided by innings pitched; basically, how many baserunners per inning allowed).
The Cubs bullpen has surrendered a 3.53 ERA and 1.21 WHIP.
Francona has deployed his relievers like a master surgeon, winning universal praise for using Miller and Allen in the highest-leverage situations no matter the inning, mixing in Bryan Shaw and spotting Dan Otero and Jeff Manship.
Maddon has gotten far more out of his rotation and hasn't had to rely on his bullpen nearly as much.
7. Paths to the World Series
The Indians swept Boston in the AL Division Series despite the fact the Red Sox scored more runs than anybody in the majors in 2016. Then they dispatched the powerful Blue Jays, who ranked fifth in the majors in runs scored.
The Cubs bounced the San Francisco Giants in the NL Division Series after the wild-card winners skidded to a 30-42 record after the All-Star break. Then they blitzed a Los Angeles Dodgers team that was toothless against lefty pitchers this year and employed a ragtag crew of pitchers.
8. Just Call Uber
The Cubs have been working on building an uber-team since Epstein, Jed Hoyer and Co. were hired in 2011, and this year's 103-win unit qualifies. From NL MVP favorite Kris Bryant to Anthony Rizzo to infielders Baez and Addison Russell and beyond, this is an exceptionally deep lineup that scored 808 runs this year, second in the NL only to the Colorado Rockies, who benefit by playing in high altitude.
Though the Indians ranked second to Boston in runs scored in the AL, they've scored just 27 in eight postseason games. Aside from Lindor (.323) and Lonnie Chisenhall (.269), nobody in the lineup is hitting above .225 this postseason.
"I guess I was hoping they would keep playing extra innings, all kinds of stuff," Francona says, chuckling, about watching the Cubs win Game 6 on Saturday night. "They're built for October. They had a heck of a year.
"They're going to be a handful."
9. Two World Series Managers, One Interview
It was 2003, and Boston was looking for someone to replace Grady Little.
Epstein, then Boston's GM, interviewed both Francona and Maddon, who at the time was one of the coaches on Mike Scioscia's staff in Anaheim.
The Maddon that Epstein hired before the 2015 season after opting for Francona in '03?
"Same guy, but different context," Epstein says. "He didn't have the major league managing pedigree to understand. Also, we were interviewing him for sort of a different role, at a different point in his career, for a different job. In the end we loved him, but we thought taking over a veteran team in a big market, there would have been some risk involved because he's so unique.
"I think it worked out best for both sides. He got to go to Tampa, which was really a petri dish at that time, and try some things out and grow into it with some young players, and, obviously blossom. And for us, having Tito, who had already managed in the big leagues, it obviously worked out great for both."
What stood out about Maddon at the time?
"How different he was than anyone else we'd ever interviewed for a managerial job," Epstein says. "Offbeat sense of humor, use of the language, the way his mind worked and his mode of transportation. He rode his bike everywhere. Everything was different than anything you'd expect from a managerial candidate."
10. Historic World Series Characters
Hall of Famer Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown pitched in four different World Series for the Cubs in the early part of the last century, including two title runs in 1907 and 1908, and won five games.
Three Finger? He lost part of one finger on his right hand in a farm-machinery accident when he was a boy and damaged other fingers soon after. Classic.
Albert "Mr. Freeze" Belle dominated the Indians lineup during the 1995 and 1997 World Series runs, slamming 50 homers and collecting 126 RBI in ‘95 and 30 and 116 in ‘97.
Mr. Freeze? Belle preferred the Indians clubhouse to be meat-locker cold, and he was a bully who got his way. Brrrr.
10. Celebrity Fans
In Wrigley Field, among others, you will find Bill Murray, who makes us laugh, John Cusack, who will say anything, and Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam vocalist.
Rooting for the Indians are comedian Drew Carey and NBA star LeBron James (who will be occupied during the NBA's opening night).
11. Party at Napoli's
Elder statesman/club leader/cult hero Napoli is the inspiration for T-shirts all around town that have "Party at Napoli's" printed on them. A fan had one made early this summer and sent it to Napoli. Then, Napoli wore it at a news conference, and it took off.
Since then, official "Party at Napoli's" T-shirts have raised more than $120,000 for Cleveland Clinic Children's Hospital.
The Cubs? Their clinch celebration Saturday night was as wild as you'll see.
"We can party," Cubs catcher Miguel Montero says. "I think we lead the league in that, too."
Both teams are fun, but since the T-shirt money goes to charity...
Following every Cubs victory at home, they blast "Go Cubs Go!" over the sound system, and everybody sings along. Know what's cool about that? It was written by a late Chicago songwriter named Steve Goodman, who also wrote "A Dying Cubs Fan's Last Request" and, most famously, the classic "City of New Orleans." ("Good morning, America, how are you? Don't you know me, I'm your native son. I'm the train they call the City of New Orleans, I'll be gone 500 miles when the day is done…")
In the eighth inning at Progressive Field, everybody sings and dances to the McCoys' "Hang On Sloopy," a No. 1 hit song in 1965. Classic song, but…
The Cubs produced the best home record in baseball this summer (57-24). Wrigley Field is the Friendly Confines, unless you are the opponent. It has ivy and wind and history. It is a museum.
Progressive Field opened in 1994 and was a colossal upgrade over the old Cleveland Stadium, the real Mistake by the Lake. Nice ballpark, but it ain't Wrigley.
Indians starter Trevor Bauer needed stitches after slicing open his right pinkie finger in a drone accident. The Indians plan for him to start Game 2, with Corey Kluber starting Game 1 and Josh Tomlin Game 3. But if doctors still don't like the way Bauer's finger is healing, Francona says Cleveland will flip-flop the latter two and have Tomlin start in Game 2 and Bauer in Game 3.
"I think we've all, probably everybody in here, at some point or another had a drone-related problem," Francona cracked during the Toronto series.
Cubs infielder/outfielder Ben Zobrist rides a bike, and his hand is fine.
15. Final Take
Top to bottom, left to right, east to west, the Cubs are the best team in baseball. They have the deepest talent, the best rotation, a strong bullpen and play breathtaking defense.
Cleveland has been the underdog all the way through this month and continues to rise to challenges. When the World Series was here in 1997, it was so cold it snowed one day during pre-game batting practice, and the game-time temperature of 38 degrees for Game 4 remains a record low for a World Series game. Thankfully, this week's temperatures should be warmer—and, especially, in one dugout.
Pick: Cubs in 6
Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.
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