By Steve Silverman
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There is little doubt that Joe Maddon won the battle on Tuesday night, but did he lose the war in breaking out fire-balling reliever Aroldis Chapman for multiple innings in a game that the Chicago Cubs were up by five runs?
It certainly seems that way with Game 7 just hours away.
The Cubs deserve full credit for coming back from a 3-1 deficit to force a deciding game of the World Series. Not only were they able to win Game 6 by a 9-3 count, they took the drama out of the event early with three runs in the first — thanks to some non-communication in the outfield by the Indians — and a grand slam by Addison Russell in the third inning.
As Chicago breathed a sigh of relief in the middle innings and started contemplating Kyle Hendricks meeting Corey Kluber in the seventh game, the wheels were turning in Maddon’s head on how to finish the game.
Jake Arrieta appeared to be in top form, as he struck out nine and allowed just three hits into the sixth inning. However, Maddon did not see fit to let him finish that frame.
Instead, he brought in reliever Mike Montgomery to close the sixth and get two outs in the seventh before bringing in Chapman.
With just an off-day of rest, Chapman entered Game 5 in Chicago and recorded the first eight-out save of his career. Was he really needed for another long performance with a five-run lead?
Of course not.
Nevertheless, Chapman stayed in Game 6 one batter into the ninth before Maddon brought in Pedro Strop. By the time Chapman threw his last pitch, his 102-103 mph fastball was at 98 mph.
The Indians have dropped two in a row, but they will have their ace, Kluber, on the mound in Game 7. He is 4-1 with a 0.89 ERA, 35 strikeouts and just eight walks in his 30 1/3 innings this postseason.
At any point Cleveland manager Terry Francona sees fit, he can turn to ace reliever Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and closer Cody Allen.
This is the Indians’ big advantage in the decisive game. The Cubs’ powerful lineup has found its collective stroke over the last two games, but the Indians have the ace of the postseason and a superb bullpen on their side.
Here’s the other advantage for the Indians that nobody is talking about: their American League pedigree.
No, we’re not talking about the homefield advantage that the Indians gained when the AL won the All-Star Game in San Diego last July.
We are talking about the interleague competition that has been going on since the two leagues started playing against each other in 1997. The AL has won this battle every year since the start of the 2004 season. In some years, the margin has been fairly slim, and in others it has been quite decisive.
The AL has clearly been stronger for a very long time and this has steeled that league’s competitor and is advantageous in all-interleague competition.
The Cubs are a powerful team and they may have been the best team during the regular season, not to mention having flexed their muscles over the last two game of the Fall Classic.
That’s an excellent achievement, but the job is not complete.
The Cubs still have to end their 108-year drought, while the Indians are trying to put to bed 68 years of their own misery.
The tension will be thick and delicious, and look for Cleveland’s renaissance year to continue by the end of Wednesday night, thanks to the Indians’ strong and deep pitching.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @ProFootballBoy