Indians, Cubs thirsting for title

Indians, Cubs thirst for title

In Cleveland and on Chicago's North Side, the ghosts are stirring to life. Too-often-crushed fans who long ago swore off ever again taking the bait are tuning back in. Sons and grandsons are getting misty-eyed, thinking of how much departed fathers and grandfathers would enjoy the ride, bumps and uncertainties and all.

This has already been baseball's drought-busting generation, the "Why Not Us?" era.

In 2004, Boston ended 86 years of Red Sox Nation angst.

In 2005, the White Sox ended an even longer famine of 88 years on the opposite side of Chicago.

And even last fall, the Cardinals ended their own considerable World Series dry spell with their first title in 24 years.

Et tu, Indians and Cubs?

Having the two teams with MLB's longest title-less streak in the same playoff field would certainly appear to stack the deck against someone's curses.

The Cubs' "Curse of the Billy Goat" and "Curse of the Black Cat," the Indians' "Curse of Rocky Colavito" ... they've all been put on alert.

And, yes, there is a reason for asking Indians and, Cubs, even though admittedly only one of them can grab the brass ring this year.

Cleveland has not won the World Series since 1948, parching the Tribe with a drought of 59 years. But in the Windy City, "World Series drought" generally refers to the 62 years since the Cubs have appeared in the Series, in 1945 (something the Indians have done as recently as 1997). Perhaps in Wrigleyville they feel that's painful enough without having to concede that the Cubs haven't won it since 1908.

So, if all the moons align, both cities could end their droughts.

But -- don't put the cartwheels before the hearse.

The baseball planet was also about to spin off its axis four years ago, when the Cubs and Red Sox appeared to be on a collision course for a Fall Classic rumble with their fates. Then, Aaron Boone crushed Boston, some guy interfered with Moises Alou's chances to catch a foul ball at Wrigley Field ... and the 2003 World Series proceeded without either.

So no one wants to anger the baseball gods by prematurely waxing poetic about what would be an extraordinary World Series. Beyond the drought-busting implications, the Cubs and Indians, two MLB charter franchises, have appeared in 15 World Series between them, but never against each other.

As for the last time each actually won ... not quite prehistoric, but that did make them toasts of a different world.

For keepers of the Cubs light, let's take a look at 1908:

• A fellow by the name of J.C. Penney got into the retail business.
• Ford unveiled the Model-T.
• The FBI was established.
• Born: Red Barber.
• Died: Grover Cleveland (not the pitcher; the 22nd and 24th president).

Lest you get smug, Indians fans, here is your 1948 snapshot:

• Gallon of gas: 25 cents.
• New 1949 Ford four-door: $1,333.
• The telephone answering machine debuted -- the "Electronic Secretary" weighed 80 pounds.
• Born: Bryant Gumbel.
• Died: Babe Ruth.

Both teams have tried hard since. The Cubs a little harder, the Indians a little more recently.

The Cubs are 0-for-their-past-11 postseasons, which include seven unsuccessful World Series appearances between 1910 and 1945. Their overall record in postseason games since 1908: 15-42, very dark indeed.

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The Indians are riding an 0-for-8 postseason skid, including three World Series appearances and an aggregate record of 31-34. The bulk of that came during their rebirth in the latter half of the '90s, when they appeared in five consecutive postseasons as the AL Central champ, every one of them ending with manager Mike Hargrove declaring, "We will try again next year."

That, of course, is the Ohio version of the well-known North Side mantra, "Wait 'til next year."

Is this next year?

The Racing Post of London, where such business is above-board, is touting its subscribers to bet the Indians to win the World Series.

The Cubs have recruited an even more renowned tout, comedian Bill Murray, who said, "I really feel this is going to happen. I feel very good about this team. I have all year."

The Cubs also have one of the two necessities for postseason nirvana: an indisputable starting ace to set the tone. Carlos Zambrano has had long streaks of both mediocrity and dominance, and three weeks of the latter could spark the Cubs.

This is a Cleveland asset, too. The lack of a forceful No. 1 starter, someone able to match up with the opposition's ace, in fact has played a huge role in the Indians' recent postseason struggles: They've lost the first game in eight of their past 10 playoff series, bad news in any short series.

These Indians, however, have C.C. Sabathia, a front-runner for the AL Cy Young Award. Their No. 2, Fausto Carmona, isn't far behind.

The other requirement for playoff success: a door-slamming closer. Well, both teams tread on thin ice when it comes to that. The Cubs' Ryan Dempster has a terrific saves percentage (28 of 31), and Cleveland counterpart Joe Borowski led the American League with 43 saves.

But Borowski (5.23) and Dempster (4.24) rank absolutely last in ERA among the 19 big league closers with 28-plus saves. Borowski in particular has been Maalox Man for Eric Wedge -- the politically correct update to Earl Weaver's Don (Full Pack) Stanhouse, who used to drive his Baltimore manager to chain smoke with his mound adventures. Opponents have hit Borowski at a near-.300 clip.

Oh ... Borowski was the Cubs' closer for that short-circuited 2003 drive for the Series. So he has nearly as much experience dealing with spirits as pitching out of trouble.

Both will come in handy in the coming days and weeks.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.