Relaxed and ready, Cubs bust game open early to force World Series Game 7

In personalized recruiting videos Cubs President Theo Epstein produced for Ben Zobrist and Jason Heyward last winter, each prospective free agent is shown leading off the ninth inning of a tie game in Game 7 of the World Series.

On Wednesday night, fiction may become reality.

The Cubs forced a Game 7 on Tuesday with a 9-3 victory against the Indians at Progressive Field, setting up the classic ending you dreamed about as a kid while playing baseball in your backyard.

"Everything you guys write about us tomorrow, if we win it, it will be the best things of our life," Anthony Rizzo said. "We've got to come in tomorrow and get it done."

Heyward, who made a couple of defensive gems in Game 6, was reminded he'd already played in Game 7 in the video.

"I forgot about that," he said. "Good point. We actually were at home in Game 7 (in the video), but either way, you don't know how it's going to get drawn up. … What speaks volumes about this team is how we overcome things that are a loss, or if a play doesn't go your way. Keep pushing, and I think we've done a good job answering that."

Spoiler alert: The Cubs won Game 7 at Wrigley Field in Epstein's animated version, and reveling fans turned the city of Chicago upside down.

Beating Indians ace Corey Kluber on the road in the real-life version Wednesday may have a higher degree of difficulty, but the Cubs have momentum on their side and a budding ace of their own in Kyle Hendricks.

One way or another, one drought will end and one will agonizingly continue.

The pressure will be squarely on the Indians after the Cubs floated to a Game 6 win on Addison Russell's grand slam and Series record-tying six RBIs, a strong outing by Jake Arrieta, and another old-school relief outing by Aroldis Chapman.

The Cubs came into Game 6 with the same kind of joie de vivre they display before every game. They gathered in a circle before pregame stretching and laughed and joked and exchanged hugs like they were on a retreat in Malibu.

"It's our team, it's our clubhouse, that's who we are," Kyle Schwarber said. "We have fun with it. It's just the way we go about our business. Joe (Maddon) obviously helps, too, with keeping us all loose with the theme (trips) and everything like that. It's a lot of fun to be here, a lot of fun to play for this team and this organization."

When the game began, they pounced on Indians starter Josh Tomlin early, with Kris Bryant cranking a 433-foot home run on a juicy 0-2 curveball as the appetizer. Two singles

later, Russell's fly to center was misplayed by Tyler Naquin into a two-run double, and Zobrist crashed into catcher Roberto Perez like he was blocking for Bart Starr on a quarterback sneak.

The Cubs had a 3-0 lead before Arrieta had thrown a pitch, and the stadium sounded like the Wrigley Field watch party that never was.

By the time Russell hit the first grand slam in Cubs World Series history in the third, the champagne the Indians brought in for a potential celebration was as useless as a belly button on a butterfly.

Arrieta wound up allowing two runs in 52/3 innings and now has two of the Cubs' three World Series wins to go along with his two no-hitters and Cy Young Award. Not bad for a guy who immediately was sent to Triple-A Iowa when acquired from the Orioles in the summer of 2013.

Arrieta said afterward he "absolutely" would be available to pitch out of the bullpen in Game 7.

"Everybody's available," he said. "That's kind of how we view tomorrow."

David Ross laughed when he heard that.

"Shoot, I want an inning," Ross said. "Are they going to give me one? Who doesn't want to be a part of something like this? This is baseball at its finest, and I'm so happy for these guys, even the team across the way, man… There are not too many people that can say they've been part of a Game 7 World Series, a rare few. It's a special thing."

After Arrieta was removed, all was quiet until Mike Montgomery put two on with two outs in the seventh, forcing Maddon to summon Chapman early again.

Naturally, the baseball gods decreed a sharp ground to Rizzo would test Chapman's reflexes, a virtual rerun of Game 5. After failing to cover first Sunday, Chapman outraced Francisco Lindor, who was ruled safe until replay showed otherwise.

Maddon felt confident in his team's chances all along and hoped his dad's old Angels cap, which he has been toting around the country since his father died in 2002, would bring good luck.

"I've had his old Angel hat in my (travel) bag since then," Maddon said. "So it goes everywhere. So that was the one thing I'm relying on today is my dad. So I held onto his hat a little bit this morning, and that's probably the omen, in a sense, going into tonight's game."

Whether it's a treasured old cap or Matt Szczur's bat or any other talisman in their arsenal, the Cubs believe in believing good things will happen.

And now it's on to Game 7, where reality always trumps fiction.

psullivan@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @PWSullivan

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