Dream season ends in heartbreak for Cleveland
Team blew a 3-1 series lead, missing out on giving the city their 2nd major championship in 4 months
They conquered injuries, adversity and doubts all season. The little team that could.
The Indians were models of resiliency, the comeback kids. Knock 'em down, they bounced right back and they did it again in Game 7 on the brink of heartbreak.
But they couldn't contain the curse-busting Cubs.
Cleveland's unexpected, unforgettable season ended one victory shy of — and so achingly close to — a World Series title as Chicago completed a comeback from a 3-1 deficit to capture its first championship since 1908, beating the Indians 8-7 in 10 innings early Thursday.
The Indians just didn't have enough as ace Corey Kluber couldn't win for a third time in the Series, Andrew Miller looked mortal in relief and an overtaxed bullpen finally crumbled in extra innings.
It wasn't meant to be, but following a game he'll never forget, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was filled with pride.
"There is nothing for us to hang our heads about," he said. "We overcame every single thing they could throw at us. We had injuries. We had you name it, and not once did we use it as an excuse.
"All we did was put our noses to the ground and kept fighting. We took a very good ballclub to extra innings of Game 7 of the World Series, so I don't think I'll be hanging my head for too long. I'm very proud of what we've done."
Down 5-1, the Indians never stopped.
They scored two runs in the fifth when both Carlos Santana and Kipnis scored on a wild pitch, and when Rajai Davis connected for a two-run homer in the eighth to tie it 6-6, the season was saved — only briefly.
But this year belongs to the Cubs, who scored twice in the 10th off Bryan Shaw following a 17-minute rain delay.
Cleveland tried to rally in the bottom half, when Davis' two-out RBI single made it 8-7. But then Michael Martinez, who was twice claimed off waivers in the regular season and wasn't on the roster when the season opened, grounded out.
"We fought all year," Kipnis said. "We fought all game."
Forced to take on America's new favourite post-season pastime, these talented Cubbies, without two starters, Cleveland came up just a bit short.
Now the Indians' World Series drought of 68 years is baseball's longest.
After the final out, most Cleveland players quickly left the dugout. Not Kipnis, who grew up in suburban Chicago rooting for the Cubs. He leaned on the railing and briefly watched a celebration that remains only a dream, but one that seems more attainable for the Indians.
"We'll be back," Kipnis said.
This one hurts for Cleveland fans, but not as much as 1997, when the Indians blew a late lead in Game 7 on a humid night in Florida and lost in extra innings to the Marlins.
The 2016 Indians weren't expected to win the AL Central or beat Boston in the Division Series or take out Toronto in the AL Championship Series or push Chicago up against the wall. And yet, that's what the Indians did, which is why it will sting all winter.
It was right there for them. After winning two of three at Wrigley Field, the Indians came home to Progressive Field with two chances to close out the Cubs, but couldn't get it done. Cleveland is the first Series team since the 1979 Baltimore Orioles to lose Games 6 and 7 in their own ballpark.
Kluber's magic runs out
Kluber, magnificent throughout Cleveland's dash through October, ran out of gas on a warm November night.
Taking on the Cubs for the third time in nine days was too much to ask of the right-hander, who won his first two starts in the Series. He gave up a homer to Dexter Fowler on his fourth pitch and was pulled in the fifth by manager Terry Francona, who had no choice but to start the 30-year-old on short rest if the Indians were going to have any chance against Chicago's loaded lineup.
"I just made some mistakes," Kluber said.
And while Kluber wasn't as sharp in Game 7 as he had been, neither was Miller.
The lights-out left-hander, whose acquisition at the trade deadline vaulted the Indians from competitive to contenders, allowed two runs — one a homer to 39-year-old Cubs catcher David Ross — and didn't dominate. Entering Game 7, he had allowed just one run in 17 innings over nine appearances in this post-season.
As it turned out, a second title for a Cleveland team in four months was too much to ask.
When LeBron James and the Cavaliers ended the city's 52-year championship drought in June, the Indians went along for the ride as Cleveland morphed into "Believeland" and there was a feeling anything was possible.
And it was, until the Cubs came calling.