Fans make their way to their seats at Wrigley Field before Game 4 of the Major League Baseball World Series between the Cleveland Indians and the Chicago Cubs Saturday, Oct. 29, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
David J. Phillip
October 30, 2016

CHICAGO (AP) The T-shirt in the window of a shop on Damen Avenue elicited plenty of nervous laughs from Cubs fans before Game 4.

It read: ''If We Lose, It's Rigged.''

While it's unlikely that line from GOP candidate Donald Trump's stump speech will catch on in a deep-blue, Democratic stronghold like Chicago, Cleveland's 7-2 win Saturday night left more than a few of those fans were grasping at straws.

How could a team that had five starters picked and seven players total at the All-Star game find itself on the brink of elimination? How could a team that won a major league-leading 103 times in the regular season turn around and hit .204 - 50 points lower - in the biggest games?

Here's how: Third baseman Kris Bryant, last season's Rookie of the Year and the front-runner for the NL's Most Valuable Player Award this season, is batting just .071. Shortstop Addison Russell, who collected 21 home runs and 95 RBIs in the regular season, has two total bases in the four games. Javier Baez, who tore through the Giants and Dodgers pitching staffs in both the division and championship series, is at .118.

Small wonder the Indians have won as many World Series games in two nights at Wrigley as the Cubs have in total since the ballpark opened more than a century ago.

''It's just been abnormal in some ways,'' Chicago manager Joe Maddon said afterward. ''But they've been pitching great. ...

''We just need that offensive epiphany somehow to get us pushing in the right direction. And if we do that,'' he added a moment later, ''based on what they have left pitching-wise, I kind of like our chances.''

Try telling that to fans who've waited 71 years just to see a World Series game in their hometown, never mind the 108 years since their beloved Cubbies actually won it all. Then again, plenty of them believe they saw it coming.

Behind the old ballpark on Waveland Avenue, the limousines and town cars were lined up and idling in the bottom of the eighth. It didn't help that Cub fans were again done in by one of their own. Just an inning earlier, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who grew up in suburban Northbrook - and went to the same high school as Steve Bartman - put the game out of reach with a three-run home run, then pointed to his family in the stands.

''I did, I knew where they were sitting and I saw the red towel,'' Kipnis said, nearly blushing, ''so I knew where to look.''

Vendors, meanwhile, were fast changing their pitch. One selling Cubs-themed floppy hats had already begin hawking them as warm-weather gear instead of historic souvenirs. ''Stay warm, look cool, wear them for Halloween,'' he yelled.

If you want to scare Cubs fans, sure.

Anne Riecken, 92, was being wheeled out of the park by her daughter trying to beat the rush. She stopped long enough to register her displeasure.

''I don't know why I though this year was going to be different,'' she said. ''But I guess it's enough we finally made it back.''

She thought about it, then added quickly, ''Last night I was so mad about the way they were hitting I would have kicked some of them in the shins.''

Considering the lack of success most of the moves Maddon has made have registered in that department, it might have been as good a suggestion as any. As she headed for a waiting gold cart to shuttle her back to the family's car, Riecken was asked whether she'd lost faith in the team's unofficial motto, ''Wait `Til Next Year.''

''I don't think I'm going to be around next year,'' she replied with smile and a rueful laugh.

But John Hurley, with his 5-year-old son in tow, vowed to return if the Cubs made it back. Both wore Cubs caps and matching oversized, black-rimmed glasses, a style made popular around town by the late Harry Caray, the team's legendary announcer. John Hurley grew up here, but lives in California now.

''Just another year of being a Cub fan, I guess,'' Hurley said. ''But don't call me `disappointed.' This is progress and it's historic. And if they get back, and this team is more than good enough to do it, we'll definitely come back.

''Of course, he starts kindergarten next year so I'm not sure we'll be able to do this for a whole week again. Or maybe we'll just pull him out of school,'' he laughed. ''I guess we'll cross that bridge when we get there.

''Right now,'' he said, brightening, ''we're just concentrating on tomorrow night.''

They're not alone.

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Jim Litke is a sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at)ap.org and https://Twitter.com/JimLitke .

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