It wasn't routine getting to this point, but the 2016 World Series is set to follow the script the only way it could have been written.
For two teams that have waited as long as the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians, a few more days and a couple more games seem all but in the cards. The long-suffering Cubs (since 1908) still need another win to force what would figure to be one of the most dramatic Game 7s in World Series history, but you can forgive Indians (suffering since 1948) manager Terry Francona for saying he's seen this act before.
It's not identical, mind you, but close enough. In 2004, the first of Francona's eight years as manager of the Boston Red Sox, his team was down three games to none and within one out of elimination during the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. The Red Sox escaped with a win in Game 4 and finished that series with an improbable four-game win streak.
We all know how that story played out. The Red Sox went on to break the "Curse of the Bambino" and win the World Series, ending an 86-year-old drought. Now, we have the Cubs trying to break a 108-year streak and win a World Series title for the first time in most lifetimes.
As was the case with the Red Sox a dozen years ago, the Cubs are well fortified to force this to the ultimate showdown. They have starter Jake Arrieta, a Cy Young winner last year, poised to pitch Game 6 in Cleveland Nov. 1. His opponent will be starter Josh Tomlin, who has done yeoman work for the Indians, but was still only the No. 5 starter on a very good pitching staff this year.
Make no mistake, Arrieta will be the key to whether there is a Game 7. The Cubs needed closer Aroldis Chapman to get the final eight outs during a 3-2 win in Game 5 Oct. 30, and even with a day off, manager Joe Maddon will be limited in how far he can push his closer in this one, so he needs every out he can get from Arrieta -- and anything fewer than 21 might not be enough.
With Indians reliever Andrew Miller well-rested, despite pitching two innings during a 7-2 walkover win in Game 4, you can expect Francona to go for the jugular and try to finish this off -- and avoid tempting fate by going to a seventh game. He has used his pitching staff masterfully throughout the postseason, relying, basically, on three starters and a pair of shutdown relievers in Miller and closer Cody Allen; and he's well fortified with his ace, Corey Kluber, ready for a third World Series start in a possible Game 7.
If it goes that far, the Cubs, likewise, are in a good position, with starter Kyle Hendricks, the National League ERA leader, lined up for what could be a classic showdown. Imagine that: a battle of aces -- in a battle for the ages.
Jim Henneman can be reached at JimH@pressboxonline.com