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Nightengale: Indians Ready to Make Cleveland Rock With World Series Win

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Oct 19, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Cleveland Indians first baseman Carlos Santana (41) celebrates after making the final catch to beat the Toronto Blue Jays in game five of the 2016 ALCS playoff baseball series at Rogers Centre. Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians can feel it, sense it, even smell it, and now they’re allowing themselves to wrap their minds around the idea.

Just one more victory, and they can finally wipe away 68 years of dust on their mantel to make room for that coveted World Series trophy.

Their frenzied fan base is poised to erupt Tuesday (8:08 p.m. ET, Fox) at Progressive Field, celebrating not only an anticipated game-time temperature of 70 degrees for Game 6 of the World Series but also witnessing the first Cleveland sports team to clinch a championship at home since 1964.

When the Cleveland Cavaliers earned their first NBA title in June, they won Game 7 in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors.

There were the 1964 Cleveland Browns, knocking off the Baltimore Colts to win the NFL championship at Cleveland Municipal Stadium, before the Super Bowl was born.

There were the 1920 Cleveland Indians, who won Game 7 on Oct.12 against the Brooklyn Robins at Dunn Field.

And here are the 2016 Indians, daring to go where none of their ancestors has gone in two generations.

“It’s incredible to even think about,” Cleveland second baseman Jason Kipnis says. “You start to think about it, as it gets this close, and you get chills.

“It will hopefully be rushed into a bottle of emotions if it happens, but it’s something you don’t want to think about too far ahead, especially because they have (Jake) Arrieta and (Kyle) Hendricks over there.

“So we have a tall task ahead of us.”

Cleveland Indians player Jason Kipnis. Photo: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports
Cleveland Indians player Jason Kipnis. Photo: David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Yet if the Indians listened to the noise out there, you would never know they’re the ones who are up 3-2 in the World Series. You would dismiss the idea that their next two pitchers, Josh Tomlin in Game 6 and, if necessary, Corey Kluber in Game 7, have gone 6-1 with a 1.18 ERA in this postseason.

You’d forget that their vaunted bullpen is so well-rested that you could see Andrew Miller and Cody Allen combining to pitch five innings in Game 6, if needed.

And you’d ignore the fact that only three teams in World Series history have recovered from a 3-1 deficit by winning the final two games on the road, and that the Indians are 58-29 at home this season.

“We’re the underdogs to everybody else but ourselves in this clubhouse,” Indians first baseman Mike Napoli says. “We never looked at it like we’re the underdogs. We’ve been in first place for 100-some games. And we won the AL Central. It’s not like we snuck in anywhere.

“We’re good.”

Awfully, awfully good.

The Indians have won 10 of 13 games in this postseason, knocking off the heavily favored Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays to reach the World Series, only for everyone to believe the Series was over when it headed to Wrigley Field tied 1-1.

“Nobody gave us a chance to get out of Chicago,” Napoli said. “We kept hearing, ‘Oh, you’re not going to be able to get out of Chicago,’ and this and that. Well, we’re up 3-2, at home, where we play good.

“So it’s not us against the world, like everybody’s saying. Everybody can pick who they want and say who they think is better, but we’re confident in each other. We know what we can do.

“You’ll see.”

So go ahead, the Indians say, keep on showering the Cubs with all the hype. Let ’em watch all the Rocky movies they want, blaring Eye of the Tiger as their walk-up music or even feigning a few punches after crucial base hits.

While Cubs manager Joe Maddon implored his team to wear Halloween costumes Monday on their early-evening flight to Cleveland, the Indians are the ones who should be wearing their Rocky Balboa outfits trick-or-treating.

Let’s see, they have the ninth-smallest payroll in baseball, including a starting rotation that earned a combined $11.7 million — less than half of Cubs ace Jon Lester’s salary. They have been ravaged by injuries, leaving them without outfielder Michael Brantley for all of 11 games; Carlos Carrasco, their No. 2 starter, whose season ended Sept. 17 with a broken hand; and No. 3 starter Danny Salazar, who has pitched one inning this postseason without a start since Sept. 9. And performance-enhancing drug suspensions ended outfielder Marlon Byrd’s season, and career, and kept Abraham Almonte ineligible for the playoff roster.

“I haven’t watched a game of baseball since my (June 1) suspension, except for the Indians games,” Byrd told USA TODAY Sports. “I couldn’t be happier for those guys. It’s such a great organization. Believe me, it’s hard to have all 25 guys like each other, or someone not liking someone on the staff or in the front office, but it’s unbelievable there. That camaraderie is real. I’ve never seen anything like it.

“I felt so bad when my suspension happened, but you look at what those guys are doing now, and they’re playing better without me. To see what they’re doing now, it’s a relief.

“I can’t wait to see that crowd react when they win. That city deserves it.”

Certainly, the Indians realize after nearly 70 years it won’t be easy. These are the Cubs. They won 103 regular-season games. They knocked off the beasts of the NL West, the San Francisco Giants and Los Angeles Dodgers, in the playoffs. And now, by being able to use the DH at Progressive Field, they’re back at full strength.

Kyle Schwarber, who has not been medically cleared to play the field, was limited to one plate appearance in three games at Wrigley. He’ll be their DH at Progressive Field, back hitting in the middle of their lineup.

“It was almost an advantage for us to play there,” said Kipnis, whose team won two of three games at Wrigley. “When you put him back at DH, it makes a difference. He’s a good hitter, a great hitter actually.”

The American League rules have never looked more beautiful to Maddon and the Cubs.

“I’m not a really big fan of the DH as much as I am right now,” Maddon said. “And I’ve never wanted to play Game 7 of a World Series as much as I want to right now, either. It’s up to us to take it to that seventh game, then you’re really going to have a classic that everybody will remember.

“So I kind of like the way all of this is trending.”

The Indians, of course, have a fan base in such a frenzy that 67,000 fans showed up at Progressive Field to watch Games 3, 4 and 5 while the Indians were at Wrigley Field.

“Hopefully we give them a chance to see something special,” says Miller, acquired by the Indians in July from the New York Yankees. “Everyone remembers what this town was like when the Cavs won. When we came into town right after they won, it seemed like 80% of the people were still wearing Cavs gear. Every time you hopped into a cab or took an Uber, they talked about the parade. Every time you bumped into somebody at Starbucks, they were talking about the championship.

“We know this city is excited, and if we just go out and do our job, they’re going to have a blast.”

By Bob Nightengale

This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale

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