Watch Game 4 of the 2016 World Series live on Fox at 8 p.m. ET or stream it live on Fox Sports Go by clicking here.
CHICAGO — Just a short walk west of Wrigley Field on Friday afternoon, at an alley near the intersection of Waveland and Lakewood, a man in a Cubs hat holding a slat of neon green posterboard was happy to park your car for the low, low price of $90. Directly across the street from the ballpark, there was room to spare on the patio at Bernie’s, but taking in the sights and the beverages at that establishment required a $50 cover charge paid in full at the door. That was a bargain by comparison: Bars down the street asked for double as much, some even offering specialized viewing packages in excess of $1,000. But of course everyone came, choking the sidewalks around the place. And of course everyone paid, and of course everyone reveled.
The sun was up. The wind was blowing out. The first World Series game here in seven decades loomed. The festivities had only just begun.
And then anticlimax smothered the whole neighborhood, like the world’s largest pillow dropped on a few square blocks of this city. And everyone left with an entirely different reason to drink than expected. The 1–0 loss to the Indians in Game 3 was just so thoroughly unsatisfying, a nine-inning lurch in which frustration lurked around every corner. The mighty Cubs lineup had been shut out for the second time this series and the fourth time in the playoffs, after getting blanked just six times total in the regular season. So here was a second straight 2–1 series deficit, a second straight series that demanded they solve the opposition’s ace starter just to survive, a second straight cannonball into angst and doubt and all that stuff that ruins a good party, every time.
“No one said it was going to be easy,” first baseman Anthony Rizzo said. “We’ve been in this situation before.”
Now the urgent challenge is finding consistent offense against a pitcher, Indians righty Corey Kluber, that declared offense a banned substance in his opening start to this series, and avoiding all semblance of panic while doing so. Kluber will be throwing on three days’ rest in Game 4 on Saturday, and we will see if that’s an advantage against a team whose bats are coming off one day’s rest.
That wind gusting out to left, starching the flags on the foul pole from the afternoon well into the evening? It might as well have been a vacuum, sucking the life out of the joint. The Cubs managed a meager five hits on Friday night, and no one launched so much as a deep fly into the jet stream, to see if it might get a little artificial oomph into the bleachers or beyond. The seemingly God-sent breeze, auguring big offense for a lineup flush with heavy hitters, was in the end a gag gift. “Sometimes when you see the wind blowing out, you can try to do a little too much,” Cubs second baseman Ben Zobrist said. “I didn’t think there was any one particular guy that was doing that tonight. Just sometimes before the game, you lick your chops a little more than you should. Hopefully that wasn’t the case today. I feel like it was more the fact that it was good pitching. That’s why we didn’t score runs.”
This was emblematic of a supremely vexing night. A bustling, lively park came to an utter standstill when burgeoning folk hero Kyle Schwarber walked to the plate to pinch-hit with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning. His at-bat ended with a majestic bloop to second base. Two batters later, after a Dexter Fowler single, National League MVP favorite Kris Bryant stepped in with the chance to provide a lead with one swing. The best he could do to ratchet up the drama was a weak floater that fell just outside the right field foul line, just before he struck out to end the inning. In the bottom of the ninth inning, the 41,703 in the building stood on their feet, deliriously expectant, with runners on second and third and fearless swinger Javy Baez at the plate. Baez was not timid enough to lay off a high fastball, though, and the game ended thusly.
It was like the Cubs spent an evening wrestling with uncooperative doors, and when they finally yanked one open, another one slammed in their face. “You don't anticipate or expect that, but this time of the year you see good pitching,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “That's what it is. When you get to the latter part of the season, you have to beat the best to be best. We have seen good pitching, and I guess I did mention it in the pregame, that's the one component of our team that's going to blossom over the next couple years, is the offensive side.”
This is a franchise far too familiar with waiting years for things to come to fruition, but it doesn’t have much of a choice but to accelerate the timeline this weekend. Because here comes Kluber for Game 4, who befuddled them with a six-inning, four-hit, nine-strikeout effort in Game 1. He’ll work on short rest against a lineup that has now seen what he can offer, and the Cubs hoped that combination works in their favor. Or at least that was their story late Friday, and there was no option but to stick with it. “You can’t really pitch better than he did,” Zobrist said. “We know we can hit better than we did. We feel like the advantage goes to the hitter the second time around.”
Or as centerfielder Dexter Fowler put it: “We’re going to have to beat him any way you look at it.”
Having worked through a similarly foreboding predicament against the Dodgers in the National League championship series, down two games to one with the prospect of facing Clayton Kershaw one more time, the Cubs were not flinching Friday as much as they were wincing.
This was an opportunity lost. This was a chance to ride the vibes of the city and a full-throated crowd, not to mention that favorable wind, and make a party at the end of the weekend seem almost inevitable. The guest list at Wrigley Field alone made it feel like something almost too massive to handle what was happening, with Jon Hamm and Eddie Vedder and Billy Corgan and Bonnie Hunt and Jesse Eisenberg and Jeff Garlin and CM Punk just a few of the luminaries on hand. It was an evening that featured the greatest of all Americans, Bill Murray, taking the microphone during the seventh-inning stretch and singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” as an homage to Daffy Duck.
“It’s the last chance to order beer!” Murray bellowed to the crowd before he commenced singing. “But we didn’t come here to drink beer! We came here to win this ball game!”
No one got what they came for Friday, really.
Thousands flocked in for a party and left with a buzz kill. The Cubs, meanwhile, came for a slugfest and the next step in a coronation. They left leaning into a much stronger headwind than expected.