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In the Drought Series, Cubs are the stars of the show

CLEVELAND -- Welcome to the Somebody-Has-to-Win World Series.

And the star of the show, the team with the national following that will likely drive television ratings for the Fall Classic to where they haven't been in at least a decade, is clearly the Chicago Cubs.

While the Cleveland Indians haven't won a championship since 1948, they got to this point in 1954 and again in 1995 and 1997. The last time, remember, saw them come within two outs of a title before Jose Mesa blew a save and the Florida Marlins won Game Seven in the 11th inning.

But when the Cubbies hit the turf at Progressive Field for Game One Tuesday night, we're talking some serious history at work. They haven't played a single game in the Fall Classic since Oct. 10, 1945 -- or 25,948 days ago. That's the longest championship-round drought in the history of the four major North American sports.

And unless you've been living under a rock for the last month, you probably know they haven't won a Series since 1908. But they're not running from the pressure. Far from it. Manager Joe Maddon told them to embrace the moment all the way back at spring training in Arizona. And 110 wins later, the Cubs are the best team in the game and at the precipice of finally getting back to the top of the baseball world.

"They're the only drought that could make ours look small," joked Indians second baseman and suburban Chicago native Jason Kipnis. "They've still got us by like 40 years. No disrespect. Both franchises have been yearning and longing for that next championship. I think it's pretty neat one of them is going to end here."

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A LONG WAIT

The longest combined droughts among World Series opponents:

Years Teams/Year
174 Cubs (107) vs. Indians (67), 2016
130 White Sox (87) vs. Astros (43), 2005
106 Red Sox (85) vs. Cardinals (21), 2004
104 Giants (55) vs. Rangers (49), 2010

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"After you've actually done it, that's when you really dwell on that particular thought," manager Joe Maddon said here Monday. "In the meantime, I promise you, our guys are going to be in the present tense. I think we all have a tremendous amount of respect for history and what's happened before us or not happened before us.

"But you go in that room right now, they're very young. Really not impacted by a lot of the lore, I don't think, other than the fact that we are impacted by our city and our fans and the people that attend our games and the conversations that we want to absolutely have an impactful moment."

Young they are. The Cubs are the first team in MLB history to clinch a League Championship Series with five starters under the age of 25 in their lineup. And if you're looking for karma, and not the negative Cubs kind related to billy goats, black cats or Bartman, just look to 22-year-old shortstop Addison Russell.

What's the name of the elevated train stop at Wrigley Field? Addison.

What are the intersections Wrigley is located at? Clark and Addison. Waveland and Addison. Hmmm.

"I played in Chicago at 14 for All-America high school game and I was one of two sophomores there," Russell recalled. "I remember there was a Busch beer sign that said 'where Clark and Addison meet.' I saw that when I was 14 and thought that was cool. I got traded here in 2014 and that street just popped up in my head and it did for my parents too."

"You can find a sign in anything," said third baseman and MVP candidate Kris Bryant. "I read something that the last game ended at 9:45. That's pretty wild too. Maybe they're just coincidences. Sure, it's fun to look at those things. A lot of things have gone our way and there are signs you see like that. But we know there's still a lot of adversity to overcome to win the whole thing."

While the Cubs have dealt with some injuries, they've had the run of the National League most of the year. It wasn't until the postseason they had adversity and they've responded, clinching the division series with a four-run rally in the ninth inning at San Francisco and winning the last three games of the NLCS after falling behind, 2-1, following a pair of shutout losses to the Dodgers.

"In spring training, there was an inordinate amount of expectations and pressure that was heaped upon us, and I tried to convince our guys that's a good thing," Maddon said. "Why would you ever want to do anything or be part of a situation or moment that did not have great expectations?

"Why would you ever want to run away from that? The alternative right now is I could be in Tampa cooking steaks in my backyard, making sure DirecTV is working properly. And I'd much prefer this reality."

"Embracing the target is what Joe wants us to do," Russell said. "We're good. We know we're good. the world knows we're good. It's time to embrace that. Don't think about it as pressure. We've been doing that all year."

Pitcher Jake Arrieta said he will never forget the release of pent-up emotion Saturday night in Wrigley after the Cubs wrapped up the NLCS with their Game Six win over the Los Angeles Dodgers.

"Just that constant ringing of noise in the stands, in the whole city. It's hard not to step back for a second and take that in," Arrieta said. "While we were celebrating, I kind of looked around the stadium and enjoyed the moment. The intros here is where it's going to hit us. We're one of two left and we're four wins away from bringing a championship back to Chicago for the first time in we-all-know-how-long."

"It's not like we feel satisfied where we're at. We want to win the whole thing," Bryant said. "But we understand. You can see it on the fans' faces. We're finally there. Everybody was really happy when we won the other night. People were crying. It's pretty cool to do that for a city that deserves it."

The pitching matchup for Game One will be a battle of aces in Chicago's Jon Lester and Cleveland's Corey Kluber. There's a chance the Tribe might go old school with Kluber and start him three times in the series if it goes seven games. Lester, meanwhile, will start Game One for the third time this postseason.

Lester is one of just four pitchers in his history to win his first three career World Series starts with an ERA under 0.50. In three starts for Boston in 2007 and 2013, Lester went 3-0, 0.43, allowing just one earned run in 21 innings and pitching the Game Four clincher at Colorado in 2007.

"This is awesome, especially to be part of this organization with all the history and all that fun stuff that we keep being a part of," Lester said. "Joe talks about staying in the moment. That's kind of his big thing. Stay relevant to what we're doing now. And I think this group has done a really good job of that."

Indians manager Terry Francona knows a thing or two about curse-breaking, going back to his epochal 2004 victory with Boston. Francona tried to deflect all that talk Monday, but admitted it was probably a fruitless pursuit.

"These players have earned the right to try to see if we can beat the Cubs and that's going to be a tall enough task," Francona said. "But I don't think we need to go back and concern ourselves with 40, 50, 60 years ago. Now, if you win, it makes for a cool story.

"One franchise and one city is going to be really happy. The other one ... all the same things you've heard year after year, you'll probably hear it again. I hope it's them."

email: mharrington@buffnews.com

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