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'Cursed' Chicago Cubs Advance To First World Series In 71 Years

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And it's time now for sports.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

MARTIN: I don't really know if there's anything to talk about, but we decided to call up Mike Pesca anyway. He joins us from the studios of "The Gist" produced by Slate in Brooklyn. Good morning, Mike.

MIKE PESCA, BYLINE: Hello. Hello.

MARTIN: Hi. What do you want to talk about?

PESCA: How about the Cubs? How about the Cubs?

MARTIN: Oh yeah, the Cubs. The Cubbies (ph) going to the World Series. I hear it's a big deal (laughter).

PESCA: Yes, that doesn't happen often, at least during our lifetime. OK, so the...

MARTIN: ...Oh, man. I even stayed up. I want you to know I stayed up to watch that game. It was awesome. But recap...

PESCA: Yes, and...

MARTIN: ...For those who didn't get to see it.

PESCA: Right. And everyone in the city of Chicago said, me, too.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Yeah.

PESCA: I haven't gone to sleep. I haven't gone to sleep yet. OK, so the Cubs were facing the Dodgers. They were up 3 to 2 in their best-of-seven series. The opposing pitcher, Clayton Kershaw - he's the best pitcher in baseball. But as we've talked about, Rachel, he does have problems in the playoffs. And the Cubs exploited those problems or perhaps created those problems, got to him early. And then on the - so they put up five runs. On the defensive side and the pitching side, Kyle Hendricks and the relief pitcher, Aroldis Chapman, combined for something with only one precedent in baseball. So in baseball, the perfect game is often described as 27 up, 27 down.

MARTIN: Yeah.

PESCA: And it also means that no one reaches base. Well, in this game, a couple hits, a walk, an error. So four Dodgers reached base, but they were all erased. One was picked off and there were two double plays. So the Dodgers had only 27 batters come to plate. And that is the only time this has ever happened in the playoffs since the most famous pitching performance, Don Larsen's game - perfect game in the 1956 World Series. It was phenomenal.

MARTIN: Wow, OK. So the drama continues because now they're going to the Series with the Cleveland Indians, which is also significant because Cleveland is having a moment.

PESCA: Yes. The city of Cleveland - the Cavaliers helped break a curse, which was the city hadn't won a championship since 1964 before the Cavs won it. But contributing to that drought was the Indians, who haven't won the World Series since 1948. And it's so funny - I mentioned 1956 with the perfect game. That's recent history compared to the Cubs and the Indians. And I think the Indians - and they're both teams I love because they're really well-managed. And it's very frustrating to watch baseball if you know a little bit about it. And sometimes managers manage on myth or tradition. And Terry Francona of the Indians and Joe Maddon of the Cubs are the smartest managers in baseball, so it's good to see two minds match.

MARTIN: So what will that mean? I mean, you know, I'm a layman when it comes to...

PESCA: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...Baseball. When I watch this Series, am I supposed to be making - watching them make good managing decisions?

PESCA: (Laughter) Yes. I actually do find that as I age out of the age range of players, I start to think more like managers. And now that is official as I am older than everyone in baseball. But - so what we will - we might not see too many flashy things. We might not see pitching changes. A mark of a good, quote unquote, "manager," a guy like Tony La Russa, is he used to use, you know, four, five, six pitchers a game. What I think that Terry Francona will do is use his best pitchers judiciously. So he has shown a tendency to put - there's Andrew Miller, who's normally a guy you'd say, oh, let's have him pitch the last inning. Francona will deploy him wherever he is most needed, what's called the highest leverage situation.

MARTIN: OK.

PESCA: And Joe Maddon is the guy who pretty much brought the shift to baseball, which is where defensive players play, like, maybe all of them on one side of the infield, depending on the hitter. But he actually shifts less than other teams. I would say that he uses it judiciously and well. But mentally, both these teams will not give up the game. They're going to be totally prepared and not intimidated. Can I give you one other small detail?

MARTIN: Yeah, give it to me.

PESCA: OK, so this is one thing to look for. Jon Lester, a pitcher for the Cubs, is great at throwing the ball to the plate. When it comes to throwing the ball to the bases, he is a disaster. Now, this is a guy who won the - shared the MVP in the National League series. I wouldn't be surprised if, unlike other managers, Terry Francona and the Indians find a way to exploit this and run wild while Jon Lester is pitching. That is just one thing to look for unless Jon Lester somehow shows an ability to throw to first base.

MARTIN: I'm going to watch. I'm going to do it. Mike Pesca. He hosts "The Gist." We'll talk to him next time. Thanks, Mike. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: October 23, 2016 at 12:00 AM EDT
An earlier Web version of this story incorrectly stated that the Chicago Cubs last advanced to the World Series in 1948. In fact, it was 1945.