What are the odds the Cubs can go the distance?

Chicago Cubs

You'd think that a team trailing the World Series 3 games to 1 would look to, say, George Brett for inspiration. Or Willie Stargell. Or even Don Denkinger. But that wasn't where those 2016 Chicago Cubs looked Sunday night, when the time arrived to save their season.
Nope. The Cubs found their inspiration in -- who else? -- the great Rocky Balboa.

The bad news was, Sylvester Stallone wasn't available for any pregame "Yo Adrian" speeches. The good news was, the Cubs had their own personal winner of the Rocky Balboa look-alike contest, Mr. Anthony Rizzo, available to stand in for him.
So suddenly, several hours before Game 5 of the World Series, the clubhouse TVs all flashed scenes from "Rocky." The theme song, "Gonna Fly Now," blared through the room. And out danced Sugar Ray Rizzo, shirt off, shuffling around an imaginary boxing ring, trying to deliver an important message to a group of teammates who were pretty sure he'd just lost his mind.
And what, you ask, was that message?
"It was all about going the distance," Rizzo would reveal, many hours later, after an excruciating 3-2 win over the Cleveland Indians that will allow these Cubs to box one more round. "It was just to let everyone know it's time to go the distance."

Now they probably wouldn't appreciate it if we were to observe here that Rocky was one of the great underdogs in the history of fictional sports -- whereas the 2016 Cubs went into this postseason ranked as the very best team in their very real sport. That would be true, of course. But it's the last day of October. And for these Cubs -- still down, 3 games to 2, in this World Series -- every day could still be the last day of their season.
So this is no time for the analogy police to step in and tell them their little Rocky skit has been ruled by the judges to be factually inappropriate. Not that they'd give a cahoot anyway -- because for this team, all that matters right now is this:
They're alive. They're breathing. They're going to live to play another game in this fascinating World Series and this magical season. And for this group of men, that has a meaning beyond what you would probably expect.
Yes, they keep their dream alive to win this World Series. But there's also one more thing. Winning the game they played Sunday means one more plane ride together. It means at least one more game together. It means at least one more day at the ballpark, hanging out with a group of people who love being around each other and playing baseball with each other.
"It's that team chemistry deal, man," said Kyle Schwarber. "It's such a key factor in who we are. And it's been our identity pretty much the whole season."
So they'll climb onto that plane to Cleveland on Monday and feel more grateful to be boarding it than you'll ever know. The sign posted in their clubhouse Sunday night said: "HALLOWEEN COSTUMES ENCOURAGED ON THE PLANE." So as they prepared to play another win-or-else baseball game, these men were actually joking about going shopping Monday for costumes to wear on the plane. Because of course they were.
Winning postseason baseball games is always serious business. But one thing that has separated this team from almost any Cubs team that has come before it is that it never let that business get too serious.
Nevertheless, if the Cubs are really going to go the distance in this World Series -- if they are going to win Game 6 in Cleveland and then win a Game 7 against the best pitcher (Corey Kluber) that any team has faced this October -- it won't take a lot of fingers for them to count the list of teams that have done what they're aspiring to do.

No team has climbed out of a 3-to-1 hole to win any World Series in more than three decades, since Brett's 1985 Royals did it against the Cardinals. But only three teams have ever won a World Series the way the Cubs are trying to win it -- by going down, 3 games to 1, winning Game 5 at home and then taking Games 6 and 7 on the road.
Those three are Stargell's 1979 Pirates (against the Orioles), Mickey Lolich's 1968 Tigers (against the Cardinals) and Bob Turley's 1958 Yankees (against the Braves). And that's it.
So the odds against the Cubs joining that group are longer than Lake Shore Drive. But let's just say this team has noticed it has already defied 71 years' worth of odds that said that Cubs teams never get to this point in the first place. So why would they not believe that these odds don't apply to them, either?
"We're all about writing our own history," said Kris Bryant, whose game-tying fourth-inning homer Sunday could turn out to be a Series-changing moment if the Cubs keep winning. "This team is a special one. And we look at so many times throughout the year where we haven't been playing good, but I feel like we turn that around.
"Someone told me today," Bryant went on, "that 17 times this year, we lost a game and went on to win three in a row. So why can't we do that now?"
The way to pull off what they're trying to accomplish, actually, is exactly how Joe Maddon keeps laying it out -- with three "one-game winning streaks." And history tells us that, too.
You might be amazed to know that 61 percent of all teams that trailed in a World Series, 3 games to 2, have won Game 6. And of the 37 teams to pull that off, slightly more than half (19 to be exact) have also won Game 7.
So it's the totality of this task that is the challenge. But with each game a team like this wins, it seems to make it more likely that it can also win the next game. So let's just say these Cubs are going with that.
"We're making history," Addison Russell said. "So why stop? This is entertaining to us. It's fun. And we live for this. We see a lot of challenges ahead of us, and we embrace them."
All around their clubhouse, you could find men who would remind you that this wasn't their first moment of truth in this postseason. They had to score four times in the ninth in San Francisco to finish off the National League Division Series. They trailed the Dodgers, 2 games to 1, in the championship series and then won three games in a row. So this wasn't the first time they've been tested. It was merely the most pressurized.
But never had they been through anything quite like this. Falling behind early, on a Jose Ramirez home run. Feeling the tension rippling through their park in 42,000-part harmony. Then spurting back to take a 3-1 lead, only to have the Indians pull within a run, get Jon Lester out of the game and force Joe Maddon to bring in Aroldis Chapman for the first eight-out save of his life.
Almost no one on this roster had played in a game quite as intense as this one, with a season hanging in the balance and every pitch throbbing with intensity -- inning after inning, hour after hour. So afterward, you could sense as much relief as euphoria.
"That was hard, man," said catcher David Ross, as he tried to describe what it was like to watch Chapman have to throw 42 pressure-packed pitches to finish this one off. "I kept running in here [to the clubhouse] in between innings and telling the security guard, 'My heart can't take much more of this.'"
"That was high anxiety," Rizzo said. "Just every pitch. And it was here, in Chicago. You could just feel the nervous energy. [Dramatic pause.] It was awesome."
Well, sure. It's awesome if you win. It's awesome if you survive. But it can only truly be awesome if your team takes something away from a game like this that shows up in the games to come. So is it possible that happened Sunday night? It is, Ross said.

"It's important," said their voice of veteran wisdom. "You keep adding to your résumé of things you've had to deal with and mentally, what you have to go through, and how you prepare and go about your business on the field. And the more that gets put on these guys' shoulders over this year, the more they just continue to answer the bell."
But they still have two more bells to answer. And they'll both be sounding in Cleveland, where an entire city will be savoring a chance to watch their very own drought end on their very own field. So the biggest tests are yet to come. But for Rocky Balboa and the 2016 Cubs, they're just grateful for every chance to fight another title bout.
"I've never," said Joe Maddon, "been looking forward to wanting to play the seventh game of a World Series more in my life."

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