CLEVELAND -- The Cubs know the importance of early leads in this World Series, considering how difficult it is to come back against Cleveland's dominant bullpen. After two quick outs in the first inning of Tuesday night's 9-3 Chicago victory in Game 6, the raucous sold-out crowd at Progressive Field had already worked itself into a frenzy.
Then, Kris Bryant hammered an 0-2 curveball from Indians starter Josh Tomlin into the left-field bleachers and nearly silenced the ballpark, except for a scattered, vocal number of Cubs fans who erupted with joy and chants of "MVP, MVP."
The Cubs offense broke out for a Series-tying victory, including six RBIs from Addison Russell, to force a decisive Game 7 on Wednesday night. But once again, Bryant was the igniter; it was his second consecutive game with a solo home run to put the Cubs' first run on the board.
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"It just loosens everybody up," catcher David Ross said. "We play better when he homers and seem to score more runs. Everybody relaxes; he's one of our guys that gets us going."
Bryant finished 4-for-5, making him the first player since Pablo Sandoval in 2012 to collect four hits in a World Series game and the second Cubs player to do so (Stan Hack in 1945).
It was only the second time this season Bryant has homered on an 0-2 count, and the first 0-2 homer Tomlin surrendered all year. Bryant's homer left the bat at 106 mph with a 35-degree launch angle, per Statcast™, and traveled a projected 433 feet. The homer tied Bryant with Kyle Schwarber for the most career postseason home runs in Cubs history (five). It was just the eighth time all year (regular season and postseason) that a curveball with a spin rate above 2,900 rpm was hit for a home run.
The Indians have been throwing Bryant a steady diet of curveballs to keep him off balance during the first four games of this series. Entering Game 6, 31.8 percent of the pitches Cleveland threw to Bryant were curveballs, up from 23 percent the rest of the postseason and 10.9 percent during the regular season, as measured by Statcast™. It made him a non-factor through the first four games when he went 1-for-14 without driving in a run with five strikeouts plus a pair of throwing errors in Game 4.
But as Bryant goes, so do the Cubs. Bryant, the favorite to win the National League MVP Award this season, has rebounded the last two games with Chicago on the brink of elimination, going 5-for-8 with two home runs.
Will Cleveland continue to throw Bryant breaking balls with Corey Kluber on the mound in Game 7?
"The game will dictate what pitch you're going to attack the guys with," Indians catcher Roberto Pérez said. "It's a matter of getting here tomorrow and seeing when the game starts."
"We want to see curveball in," Bryant said. "With the curveball outside, it's tough to get any slugging on that to try to hit that. I mean, it's a tough one, especially with the guys they have on their team. Their curveballs are some of the best in the game. So force them in the zone and don't go chasing for them. I felt like these last two games we've done that."