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As Baseball Teams Close In On Championship, History Overshadows Cleveland And Chicago

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Tough week - we've earned it. Time for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: The Cubs and the Dodgers play tonight to try to get to the World Series, where one of them will meet the Cleveland Indians, who rolled over the Toronto Blue Jays this week to win the American League Championship four games to one.

Howard Bryant of ESPN and ESPN The Magazine joins us now from the spiffy, brand new studios of New England Public Radio. And thanks to everybody who helped pay for them. Howard, thanks so much for being with us.

HOWARD BRYANT, BYLINE: Oh, there is so much energy in that voice right now, Scott Simon. I can only imagine why.

SIMON: All right. I'm going to delay talking...

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: ...About the Cubs for a moment. Let's talk about the Cleveland Indians. They were - this is a superb team, isn't it?

BRYANT: It's a great team. And obviously, their manager, Terry Francona - fantastic. Everybody in these parts in New England know Terry very well from being the manager who broke the curse in Boston - 2004 - and then won it again in 2007.

And you've got Mike Napoli, who was also with the Red Sox in 2013 when they won it. And this is a wonderful team, a great collection of young players, a really good collection of veterans. And let's talk about the city of Cleveland for just a second, as well.

You go - the Indians hadn't won the World Series - haven't won the World Series since 1948. They've never hosted a World Series game in their history. Game 1 - which they will do on Tuesday night. The city itself hadn't won a championship since 1964.

And then here you go with the Cleveland Cavaliers, with LeBron winning the championship this year. And now you've got a chance for the Indians to also win in the same year? That's pretty good.

SIMON: The city's on a roll. And in Cleveland, that means a hard roll with brown mustard at the West Side Market. Let's talk about the National League, OK? Cubs ahead three...

BRYANT: The moment we've all been waiting for, right?

SIMON: Cubs ahead three games to two - the series returns to Wrigley tonight. If the Cubs win one, they go to the World Series, which they haven't won since 1908. Is this where...

BRYANT: Nineteen...

SIMON: Yeah. 1908 is when they last won.

BRYANT: 1908.

SIMON: Is this...

BRYANT: Yeah. What was happening in 1908? 1908, Scott - and they haven't even been there since 1945. And once again, as we know, 13 years ago, they were in this very same position. And that was the - dare I say - the Steve Bartman game where the fan reached over and took the foul ball away from Moises Alou. And then things all fell apart.

But this is what you've been waiting for. This is what we've been talking about all season, since spring training, when we were doing this when I was in Arizona. This is the best team in baseball. And I've been telling you all season long. Think like a winner.

And I know the Cubs have very - have a lot of difficulty thinking like a winner. They're going up against the best pitcher in baseball in Clayton Kershaw tonight. But they are at home. They won 103 games. They're the best team in baseball. And I think that even when they were down 2-1 to the Dodgers a couple of days ago, you had to figure they were too good a team to not respond.

That doesn't mean they're going to win the championship. It does mean, however, that when you are good, and you believe you're good - and they've got all the players that they need. They've got Joe Maddon, a great manager. They've got what they need to win. And so now you just put it on the field and go out and perform. And I think that's the fun thing about this season. It's not about curses, just like it wasn't with the Red Sox. It's about performance. It's about talent.

And the Chicago Cubs - and I've given you a lot of grief about this - but the Cubs have never, until the last couple of years, used all of their resources and all of their advantages to put a championship team on the field. Now they've finally done it. And it's go time.

SIMON: Mr. Ricketts and Theo Epstein - well, you know, I suggested this week on Twitter that Theo Epstein run for president. Except he already has a...

BRYANT: (Laughter).

SIMON: He already has a job that is - far as some of us concerned, is very vital to the national interest. So we wouldn't want to remove him for that to go to the White House. Howard Bryant of ESPN, thanks so much for being with us. I'll be watching tonight.

BRYANT: As we all will. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.