It is certainly fitting that a “World Series for the Ages” between two teams trying to break generational streaks of disappointments would culminate in a winner-take-all seventh game. Regardless of whether the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians come out victorious, the 2016 World Series will go down in baseball annals as one of the most memorable World Series of all-time.
This marks the 37th time that a World Series champion will be crowned in a seventh game. Of the previous 36, 14 have been one-run games and four were decided in extra innings.
The last time a game seven went to extra innings was in 1997 when the Cleveland Indians could not close the game despite a one-run lead in the ninth inning and ultimately lost in the eleventh inning on a game-winning hit by Edgar Renteria.
While the closer for the Indians in 1997 was the shaky Jose Mesa, if Cleveland enters the final innings of this seventh game with a lead they have the strength of a bullpen that has been lights out during the 2016 postseason.
The only game seven appearance for the Chicago Cubs was during the 1945 World Series. The game seven starter for the Cubs that year was Hank Bowry, who had lost game five and then pitched four innings of relief to win game six 8-7 in 12 innings. He didn’t make it out of the first inning of game seven as the Detroit Tigers scored five runs on their way to a 9-3 victory.
This time the Cubs have the luxury of pitching a likely Cy Young Award winner who is working on regular rest after starting game three.
Though Kyle Hendricks did not allow a run before being lifted in the fifth inning of game three, the Cubs ultimately lost that game 1-0. Hendricks will certainly be trying to duplicate his performance in game six of the National League Championship Series when he allowed only two hits in 7.1 innings.
His adversary for this game seven is looking to become the first pitcher since Mickey Lolich in 1968 to win three games in a World Series and first since Bob Gibson in 1967 to win games 1, 4 and 7 in the same series. Just for the record, Lolich recorded complete game victories in games two, five and seven in 1968.
After shutting out the Cubs in game one and allowing only one run in game four, Corey Kluber will look to complete the trifecta and lead the Indians to their first World Series title since 1948.
Interestingly, during that 1948 World Series, legendary flame-thrower Bob Feller lost a 1-0 game one to Johnny Sain (Spahn and Sain and pray for rain) and ultimately was the losing pitcher of both Cleveland losses. The Cleveland staff included two other future Hall of Famers as Bob Lemon won twice in the series and Satchel Paige (who was 41 years old in his first Major League season) pitched 2/3 of an inning of relief in game five.
The matchup of 2014 American Cy Young winner Kluber and likely 2016 winner Hendricks certainly has the potential to be a great pitcher’s duel, it will be a challenge to exceed the 1991 game seven when Jack Morris of the Minnesota Twins pitched 10 shutout innings to edge John Smoltz and the Atlanta Braves 1-0.
What has happened in two of the more recent game sevens has been a starter coming back on short rest to pitch out of the bullpen and help secure victory. In 2001 Randy Johnson pitched seven innings to win game six and then came back the next night to record the final four outs. In 2014, Madison Bumgarner pitched a complete game victory in game five and then came back to register five scoreless innings in a 3-2 game seven victory.
Because the dynamic three-headed monster of the Indians bullpen (Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen) was not needed in game six, it is unlikely that any of the Indians starters will see action out of the bullpen in this final game. However, for the Cubs it would not be shocking if game four starter John Lackey or game five winning Jon Lester are called upon to get some big outs down the stretch for the Cubs.
Interestingly, when the Cubs last won the World Series in 1908 they used only three relief pitchers for a total of three and a third innings, but each of those pitchers also started a game in the series.
Orval Overall registered one out in game one and then allowed only one ninth inning run in winning game two 6-1 and no runs to win the decisive fifth game. Mordecai “Three Fingers” Brown was credited with the game one win after allowing one run in two innings while the Cubs rallied to score five ninth inning runs and win 10-6. He pitched a complete game shutout to win game four. Ed Reulbach started game one and then pitched one inning of relief during their only loss of the series in game three.
Regardless of which team wins, the 2016 World Series has already been a winner for Major League Baseball and baseball fans. With the game seven TV audience expected to be the largest for a World Series game in at least 15 years, it certainly has captured the American spirit and brought the “American Pastime” back to national prominence.
And tonight we will see the end to either the 108 year drought for the Cubs or 68 year streak for the Indians. No matter who wins, it will certainly be priceless and one for the ages.