DREAM COME TRUE:

Ti­tle droughts at stake, but Cubs, In­di­ans are en­joy­ing re­unions

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Mark Gon­za­les

The In­di­ans and Cubs, peren­nial losers, meet tonight for Game1 of the World Se­ries.

CLEVE­LAND — After the Cubs earned a World Se­ries berth Satur­day night, sec­ond base­man Javier Baez sent a text mes­sage to child­hood friend and In­di­ans All-Star short­stop Fran­cisco Lin­dor.

“Is this a dream?” Baez wrote.

“Yeah, I think it is,” Lin­dor re­sponded. “Be­cause I haven’t woke up yet.”

The Baez-Lin­dor re­union isn’t the only one in this World Se­ries, which be­gins tonight at Pro­gres­sive Field. In­di­ans re­liever An­drew Miller, a for­mer Ori­ole, and Cubs closer Aroldis Chap­man were team­mates on the Yan­kees un­til trade-dead­line deals in late July sent them to the even­tual Amer­i­can League and Na­tional League cham­pi­ons.

“I don’t think any­one would have guessed it would have hap­pened,” Miller said Mon­day. “I’m happy for him. Both of us couldn’t have been placed in bet­ter places to land.”

Both teams are look­ing to end lengthy cham­pi­onship droughts; the Cubs last won the World Se­ries in 1908, the In­di­ans in 1948. The emer­gence of Baez, 23, and Lin­dor, 22, rep­re­sents a more op­ti­mistic fore­cast for their re­spec­tive teams after decades of mis­ery.

Baez and Lin­dor played against each other in youth leagues in their na­tive Puerto Rico be­fore their fam­i­lies moved to the United States. Lin­dor re­called spend­ing one Thanks­giv­ing at Baez’s home in Florida and

play­ing ping­pong with Baez and his brothers.

They were team­mates in the 2010 Aflac All-Amer­i­can game be­fore their se­nior sea­sons of high school, with Baez play­ing third base and Lin­dor at short­stop. The In­di­ans drafted Lin­dor eighth in 2011, with the Cubs se­lect­ing Baez with the next pick.

“Lin­dor played above his age at that time,” for­mer Cubs scout­ing direc­tor Tim Wilken re­called. “He was a player un­der con­trol. You al­ways heard about Lin­dor be­ing the safest high school pick. He was con­sid­ered to go any­where from three to six. It was a shock when he fell to eight.

“Had Lin­dor fell to nine, we would have taken a time­out and talked it over. The only ques­tion was how phys­i­cal we thought he’d be. The one thing about Javy was that he was a wild colt. Javy was evolv­ing. A man turned into a horse. He was fear­less. He had some con­trol.”

Cubs out­fielder Al­bert Almora Jr., who played on two U.S. na­tional teams with Lin­dor, mar­veled over Lin­dor’s all-around cre­den­tials.

“He was as ma­ture as they come,” Almora re­called. “And ev­ery­one knows who he is on the field.”

While Lin­dor made a steady climb and reached the ma­jors mid­way through the 2015 sea­son, Baez ar­rived one sea­son ear­lier, but a high strike­out rate ne­ces­si­tated a re­turn to the mi­nors.

Baez’s hit­ting skills are catch­ing up rapidly with his Gold Glove­cal­iber de­fense that has gained na­tion­wide at­ten­tion dur­ing the post­sea­son.

“It’s amaz­ing,” Cubs hit­ting coach John Mallee said of Baez’s re­duc­tion in strike­outs. “And his swing is so short and so good, and it’s so fast. A lot of times you see him swing and peo­ple think he’s pulling his head and pulling off the ball: ‘Look at that big old swing.’

“He cre­ates so much bat speed and torque to de­cel­er­ate that. Keep­ing both hands on the bat is nor­mally im­pos­si­ble.”

Ve­loc­ity also is the theme for Miller and Chap­man, who re­quired a smaller com­pen­sa­tion pack­age in terms of tal­ent be­cause of his im­mi­nent free agency.

Chap­man said Miller was an “ex­cel­lent team­mate. He al­ways looked out for the younger play­ers on the team and al­ways helped them out.”

Miller was just as happy to share the late-in­ning spot­light with Dellin Be­tances and Chap­man be­fore the trade dead­line.

Miller said the Cubs had in­ter­est in him be­fore the dead­line, ac­cord­ing to Cubs play­ers who had played with Miller on the Red Sox, but they in­stead dealt for Chap­man six days be­fore the In­di­ans ac­quired Miller.

“We both spoke highly of our time in New York,” Miller said. “It wasn’t the ideal sit­u­a­tion [to be traded]. But the way it’s worked out, it’s hard for us to com­plain.”

JA­SON MILLER/GETTY IMAGES

A mem­ber of Cleve­land’s grounds crew paints the World Se­ries logo on the field Mon­day in prepa­ra­tion for Game 1 of the World Se­ries be­tween the In­di­ans and Cubs tonight. The Cubs last won the World Se­ries in 1908. The In­di­ans’ last World Se­ries win came in 1948.

DAVID J. PHILLIP/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Cleve­land groundskeep­ers pre­pare the field Mon­day for bat­ting prac­tice.

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