CLEVELAND — They conquered injuries, adversity and doubts all season. The little team that could.
The Cleveland Indians were models of resiliency, the comeback kids. Knock ’em down, but 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 Chicago Cubs.
Cleveland’s unexpected, unforgettable season ended one victory shy of 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.
“An incredible game to be part of,” manager Terry Francona said.
“They tried until there was nothing left,” Francona said.
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. Then Rajai Davis connected for a two-run homer in the eighth to tie it 6-6. The season seemed to be 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.”
Said Francona: “That was quite a Series.”
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 American League 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 was magnificent throughout Cleveland’s dash in October, but he 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 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.
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 being a homer to 39-year-old Cubs catcher David Ross. Entering Game 7, Miller had allowed just one run in 17 innings over nine appearances in this postseason.
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 anything seemed possible.
And it was, until the Cubs came calling.
The Indians moved into first place in the AL Central on June 4 and never moved out. They won 14 straight games from June 17 to July 1 — a run that coincided with the Cavs winning their title — and then held off the Kansas City Royals and Detroit Tigers despite losing starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar to injuries in September.
Cleveland played all but 11 games without All-Star left fielder Michael Brantley, who couldn’t make it back following offseason shoulder surgery. The Indians also shook off PED suspensions for outfielders Marlon Byrd and Abraham Almonte by acquiring Coco Crisp and Brandon Guyer, two veterans who not only plugged holes in the lineup but provided veteran leadership for Cleveland’s youngsters.
But Francona was the real difference-maker.
The 57-year-old manager, who guided Boston to two Series titles, somehow steered the Indians around danger for months. He got the most out of this team, mostly unknowns to the rest of the country, but now a team worth watching for years to come.
Indians’ Terry Francona says team ‘tried until there was nothing left’ – ESPN