CLEVELAND (AP) – Terry Francona watched the mass of humanity from high above.
Four months ago, the Indians manager watched on a TV from his office at Progressive Field as Cleveland’s streets overflowed during a joyous celebration honoring LeBron James and the Cavaliers for winning the NBA title and stopping the city’s 52-year-title drought.
There were fans hanging from street signs, clinging to the walls of parking garages – everywhere. Francona wanted another view.
“I went up to the upper deck just because I wanted to watch the parade,” he said Monday as the World Series returned from a weekend in Chicago. “From that vantage point, I think they were expecting 700,000 and they about doubled it. And from up in the upper deck you could see the people coming across the bridge in droves.”
Francona wants to see them come again.
After missing on their first swing at their first title since 1948, the Indians are home with two cracks at a championship.
Down 3-1 and desperate, Chicago manager Joe Maddon used fire-balling closer Aroldis Chapman to get the final eight outs in Game 5 as the Cubs beat the Indians 3-2 at raucous Wrigley Field to extend their season and send this Series packing.
The Indians, who have been cast as underdogs throughout the postseason, can complete a remarkable run with one more win.
It’s the one Cleveland fans have waited to see for 68 years, and would cap a year like no other in the city’s sports history, which has been filled with more torture than triumph.
Josh Tomlin, the longest-tenured player on Cleveland’s roster, starts tonight against Cubs right-hander Jake Arietta, who held the Indians without a hit until the sixth inning in Game 2, a 5-1 Chicago victory.
Tomlin will be starting on just three days’ rest for only the second time in his career, but adrenaline and a home crowd of more than 35,000 screaming fans should help him overcome any fatigue.
The right-hander was terrific in Game 4, allowing just two hits in 4 2/3 innings as his dad, Jerry, who is paralyzed from the chest down and confined to a wheelchair, watched from behind home plate in noisy Chicago as Cleveland won 1-0. Tomlin only threw 58 pitches, so his arm should be fine. The bigger issue will be stifling the Cubs, who have momentum and will have slugger Kyle Schwarber back in the lineup as a designated hitter after he was reduced to a pinch hitter during three games played under NL rules.
The only other time Tomlin pitched on short rest was in his 2010 rookie season, when he gave up one run in 5 1/3 innings against Toronto.
On the eve of the biggest start of his career, the 31-year-old Tomlin said he’s approaching Game 6 like any other even though he knows it isn’t.
“I know the atmosphere of this game is not the same, but it’s still the same game,” he said. “Between the lines it’s still 60 foot, 6 inches. It’s still 90 feet to first base. It’s still baseball. In the grand scheme of things it’s still the baseball game whenever the umpire says ‘Play ball!’ So that’s how you have to treat it.”
Like any manager, Francona has his favorites and Tomlin is near the top of that list. They play cribbage together and as Francona turned the dais over to his starter following his news conference, Cleveland’s manager couldn’t miss a chance to have some fun at Tomlin’s expense.
“If you guys have questions,” he said to reporters. “Just use pictures.”
On a more serious note earlier, Francona said he’s confident Tomlin will give the Indians everything he has.
“If Tomlin doesn’t win, he won’t beat himself, and he won’t back down,” he said. “All the things we talk about, not backing down from a challenge and valuing winning and things like that – being a good teammate, he embodies all those better or as good as anybody I’ve ever seen.”
When the Cavs won their title in June, it was no coincidence the Indians took off on a 14-game winning streak that propelled them to the AL Central title. Cleveland’s players fed off the vibe created by James and his teammates, who will be forever remembered as the team that changed the city’s sports fortunes.
Francona watched the Cavs win Game 7 at Golden State, and found himself cheering wildly at the game’s climactic moments – Kyrie Irving’s 3-pointer and James’ chase-down block in the final seconds.
“I had to kind of remind myself I’m 57,” he said with a laugh.
Then Francona watched as Cleveland united as never before, 1 million people converging as one to rejoice for a team that lifted a trophy – and then a town.
“There was sheer joy,” he said. “I just thought it was really cool. It was hard not to get caught up in it.”
He’d love to see it happen again.