CHICAGO — All day long on the North Side of this city, fans in blue Cubs sweatshirts and caps moved nervously about. A night earlier, their team had lost the first World Series game at Wrigley Field in 71 years, but many thought that must have been an aberration.
This is supposed to be the year the Cubs break their century-long hex and win the World Series. There were no visible signs of billy goats, black cats or headphone-wearing fans reaching for foul balls. “It Is Happening” had become the motto, replacing “It’s Gonna Happen.”
But after the Cleveland Indians defeated the sloppy Cubs, 7-2, in Game 4 on Saturday night to take a three-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series, a pall descended over Wrigley Field and its environs.
Among the heroes of the game were Corey Kluber, the Indians’ ace, who pitched well on three days’ rest, and Jason Kipnis, a former Cubs fan from the Chicago suburbs, who blasted a three-run homer in the seventh inning to put the game out of reach.
With one more loss, the Cubs, who last won the World Series in 1908, will again be lovable losers — and remain owners of baseball’s longest championship drought. Their motto might have to be changed once more: “It Is Happening Again.”
Of the 44 previous teams to have fallen behind by three games to one in the World Series, only five have come back to win it. The last was the Kansas City Royals in 1985, and since then, teams with a 3-1 lead in the World Series have gone on to win all 10 times.
This World Series was supposed to be different. The Cubs were no longer scrappy underdogs but a dominant team of talented young stars that won 103 games in the regular season. Some saw the World Series as a coronation, and all of Chicago’s North Side was along for the ride.
Well, not quite all of it.
“You turn on the TV here, and that’s all you hear about, is Wrigleyville and the Cubs fans — Cubs this, Cubs that,” Kipnis said after Game 3. “I thought the team did a fantastic job of keeping their noses to the ground. We knew we had a job at hand, and we came to play.”
Indeed the Indians did, and it was the Cubs who looked out of sorts on Saturday. One of the best defensive teams in the majors, the Cubs played an uncharacteristically messy game, with third baseman Kris Bryant making two errors. The only positive aspect of the game for the Cubs was that they finally broke reliever Andrew Miller’s postseason scoreless streak as Dexter Fowler hit an eighth-inning home run.
Perhaps that small consolation will give the Cubs the confidence that they can get to Miller again in Game 5 and, perhaps, beyond. After all, the Indians have their demons, too: They have not won a World Series since 1948, coming up just short in 1995 and 1997. But things look different for these Indians under Manager Terry Francona.
The Cubs scored first, but facing John Lackey, Carlos Santana blasted a home run into the right-field bleachers in the top of the second inning to even the score at 1-1. It was the first World Series home run at Wrigley Field since the Hall of Fame slugger Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers homered in Game 6 in 1945.
Santana was batting only .139 in the postseason going into Game 4, but he had homered twice before.
In Game 3, he had started in left field for the first time in his major league career; for Game 4, Francona moved him back to first base and kept Mike Napoli, the emotional leader of the team, on the bench.
“I hated like crazy not playing Nap,” Francona said before the game. “I physically hate it.”
But Santana swings from the left side. Napoli bats right-handed and was hitting only .184 in the postseason. And besides, nearly everything Francona has done in the postseason has worked, so it seemed almost inevitable that this would as well.
The Indians tacked on another run in the inning after Lonnie Chisenhall reached first base on a throwing error by Bryant. Chisenhall, who has made some poor plays in right field himself in the Series, went to second on a Roberto Perez tapper back to the mound.
Lackey then walked the Indians’ No. 8 hitter, Tyler Naquin, in order to pitch to Kluber, who had just 21 career plate appearances before the World Series.
But Kluber put the ball in play, and it created havoc among the normally sure-handed Cubs.
Bryant scooped up the ball, but his hurried throw to first base was wide and drew Anthony Rizzo off the bag. Kluber was safe, and when Chisenhall saw Rizzo drop the ball, he broke for home and scored.
Cleveland added to its lead in the third inning after Kipnis, another Indians batter who has struggled in the postseason, rapped a double into the right-field corner. Francisco Lindor singled to center, scoring Kipnis, and the Indians seized a 3-1 lead.
Wrigley Field became eerily quiet, and it continued to struggle finding its voice.
Lackey settled down to strike out Santana and force a double-play ball by Jose Ramirez. That prompted some cheers, but for the most part, the mood remained sedate. The fans knew, even if it was early in the game, that the Indians’ pitching staff had been extremely stingy about handing back leads.
In the third and fourth innings, the Cubs put men on base with two outs, but both times, Kluber got out of the jam. In the third, he struck out Ben Zobrist to strand two runners, and in the fourth, he struck out Javier Baez with a vicious slider.
Kluber had started in Game 1 four days earlier and helped the Indians to a shutout victory. This was the second game in the postseason in which he had pitched on short rest. The previous one was in the American League Championship Series, and Kluber lost that game, allowing two runs in five innings.
But he had thrown 100 pitches in the game before that loss. In Game 1 of the World Series, Kluber threw only 88 — well balanced throughout the game — and he seemed completely at ease in Game 4, too.
Francona made no secret before the World Series that he felt Cleveland’s best chance of winning included Kluber’s pitching three times. It may not even come to that.