The 2016 World Series snuck into November, albeit barely, stretched there in the manner Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman was stretched for eight outs on Sunday to preserve a one-run lead.
Tuesday will be the fifth World Series played in November, and this was supposed to be the worst scenario: two Rust Belt cities deciding the sport’s championship in the 11th month of the year when thoughts had long turned to football and winter. Is there anything grayer than that? And what could the weather possibly be like?
It will only be 70 degrees or so at first pitch Tuesday. And 60-something if there’s a Game 7 on Wednesday. San Francisco in summer offers colder weather than Cleveland will this week.
Or to recycle a phrase seen on social media this week, there’s a name for it when the temperatures are this warm at this time of year. Indian Summer.
- Twenty-five years ago Jack Morris pitched his 10-inning 1-0 Game 7 shutout of the Braves to win the 1991 World Series, which like Roger Maris’ 61-homer season, wasn’t enough to get into him into the Hall of Fame. Today he’s a guy whose mound you want to stay off of. “It’s all about the relievers,” Morris said, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. “Starters really don’t have any glory in the postseason anymore.” Tell that to Indians starter Corey Kluber, who has two wins and might be, if the Indians win, the Series MVP, like Morris in 1991 (if reliever Andrew Miller isn’t). “It’s such a different era,” Morris told the Sun Times. “It’s almost like pitchers become paranoid because any indication at all that there’s trouble, you’re going to get yanked. I just can’t stand that. I watched (the Cubs’ Kyle) Hendricks and (the Indians’ Josh) Tomlin (in Game 3) and they’re both pitching their tails off, and they’re both out of the game under five innings, when they should have never been gone.” Morris isn’t all wrong, but he is mostly so. Game 3 was scoreless when Hendricks left, but he allowed nine baserunners and got only 13 outs, so it didn’t take an Ivy Leaguer like Hendricks to know it wasn’t going to stay that way if he did. Tomlin was better, but he was replaced by Miller and the Indians didn’t allow a run, so it’s hard to argue with their strategy, glory or not. Emerson said, “the greatest glory (is) … in rising every time we fail,” but there’s no failing in a 1-0 game. Fail once and you lose, and World Series aren’t like free agent contracts. You can’t afford to be wrong. You can understand Morris’ antipathy to the change since many of those who champion the earlier and more frequent use of relievers are those who used other stats to argue against Morris’ Hall candidacy. The friend of his enemy is still his enemy. Maybe someday Morris will be inducted into the Hall by the Veterans Committee, or whatever its subcommittee is then called. If so, Lonnie Smith should be his presenter. It might be fun to see Lonnie trip over the lectern.
- The New Yorker’s Roger Angell, who’s probably seen every World Series between Cubs’ appearances, wrote this week that baseball was already the winner of this year’s World Series. It’s a nice thought, if not likely to console the loser. But in one sense Angell is accurate: Sunday night’s game outdrew the NFL by almost five million viewers, even though the latter had the Cowboys and an overtime. That’s not normal. Also, it’s a counterweight the next time someone says the World Series should be played during the day. It might be harder for young children to see games in their entirety, but it’s easier for the adults, and they’re buying the products which buy the advertising which pays all the bills.
- If the Cubs are cursed, it’s been by breaking balls, not billy goats. According to Dave Cameron’s essay Monday at fangraphs.com, the Cubs had the lowest exit velocity in MLB against curveballs this year and the Indians are throwing them in this Series on 34% of their pitches, or 10% more than the Cubs saw during the regular seasons. It’s working, even if it might be because Miller, Kluber and Cody Allen all have good ones. But it also helps explain Rich Hill’s Game 3 NLCS success, and Tomlin’s Game 3 Series start. Can’t you see someone telling Morris 25 years ago he needed to throw more breaking balls because of the opposition’s exit velocity? It would have made him nauseous.
- The Cubs are hitting .210 and slugging .311 as a team, but Javier Baez, Wilson Contreras and Addison Russell have combined for a .148 average with one extra-base hit — a Contreras double — in 54 at-bats. Add in Kris Bryant’s 2-for-17 and four of the youngest Cubs are 10-for-71 — a .141 average with a homer and a double. Some of that is great pitching, some the Cubs’ anxiety, and some Baez’s complete lack of discipline. Baez struck out four times in 24 plate appearances in the NLCS, and homered to beat Johnny Cueto in the NLDS, but he fanned 108 times and walked only 15 in 450 regular-season plate appearances. Baez is a fascinating combination of talents, but also a temptress, and this World Series has been the meltdown. His approach is like that of an exuberant puppy: he’s so eager to swing and please, he just can’t restrain himself. The Cubs can well use the power and approach of Kyle Schwarber when they regain the DH Tuesday.
- No team has won the last two games of the World Series on the road since 1979 (and if the Cubs do that they’ll end the season with a three-game winning streak; they’ve done that 15 times this year, 16 if you count the NLCS). The Pirates were the last team two on the road in the Series, and Jack Morris will be happy to know, there was a lot of glory for Kent Tekulve. The Pirates reliever saved three of the four wins, pitched in five games and made multiple-inning appearances in four of them. Tekulve pitched three shutout innings to save Game 6 and came back the next night to get the last five outs of Game 7. If it seems like when it comes to using ace relievers that everything old is new again, it is, with one caveat. Tekulve pitched in a career-high 94 games and 134.1 innings in the ’79 regular season, a mite more than Chapman’s 59 and 58 or Miller’s 70 and 74.1 this year. Counting the postseason, Tekulve pitched 146.1 innings in 106 games in 1979. No wonder the Pirates reduced his workload in 1980 to 78 games and 93 innings.