Addison Russell lofted a fly ball in the first inning, and right fielder Lonnie Chisenhall converged with center fielder Tyler Naquin.
Probably an easy play in a half-filled ballpark on a hot summer night, the 284-foot fly turned into a disorienting disaster for the Cleveland Indians.
With a loud, raucous crowd packing Progressive Field hoping to witness Cleveland's first World Series title since 1948, the ball hung in the air for 5 seconds. Chisenhall pulled up and looked at the onrushing Naquin, who was a few feet behind him.
A 25-year-old rookie who made his debut on opening day, Naquin had no chance by then to make the catch. The ball bounced past him for a two-run double as Anthony Rizzo scored and then Ben Zobrist, who bowled over catcher Roberto Perez. The Chicago Cubs built a three-run lead before Jake Arrieta threw his first pitch.
"It counts as a hit, which I was totally stoked," Russell said. "I thought that was going to be kind of a routine play."
Far from it.
Cleveland never recovered, and Chicago coasted to a 9-3 win Tuesday night that forced the Series to a deciding Game 7.
"Kind of one of those deals you wish you could take back," Naquin said. "Me being the center fielder, I need to take charge on that."
Even after the game, the sequence of what happened was unclear. Naquin said both players called for the ball. Chisenhall said neither did.
Baseball practice says corner outfielders defer to their teammate in center.
"It's Naquin's ball. He was playing on that side, and he's the center fielder," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I think at the end there, as Lonnie was kind of pulling off, Naquin was yelling, 'It's yours. You got it.'"
Chisenhall, a 28-year-old converted third baseman in his sixth big league season, appeared to follow protocol.
Still, he shouldered the blame.
"I should have caught that ball. I made the aggressive move on it," Chisenhall said. "The ball's moving towards me, and somebody's got to catch it. It should have been me. ... He said he saw me moving towards the ball, and I should have continued my route, and I kind of felt him coming, so I pulled up. But I should have kept going."
By the third inning, Chisenhall did take charge and cut in front of Naquin to catch Kris Bryant's fly with a runner on as the center fielder slid behind him.
"You've got to catch the ball. You can't let another one drop, so you risk making a collision," Chisenhall said. "We talked about it. We were both avid about not letting the ball hit the grass."
Chisenhall and Naquin had a long discussion during a pitching change later in the inning, joined by left fielder Coco Crisp. Naquin said he suggested they use their arms as "flippers" to signal each other.
Three pitches later, Russell hit a grand slam off Dan Otero for a seven-run lead.
Naquin, the 15th overall pick in the 2012 amateur draft, hit .296 with 14 home runs and 43 RBIs this year but is 4 for 25 (.160) with two RBIs in the postseason, including a strikeout that left the bases loaded in the fourth.
In the crucible of the World Series, defense can go awry.
Last year, Kansas City's Alcides Escobar drove the first pitch of the Series to the left-center warning track, where Mets center fielder Yoenis Cespedes and left fielder Michael Conforto came together. The ball ricocheted off one of Cespedes' feet and rolled along the fence as Escobar sped around the bases with the second inside-the-park homer to lead off a Series game.
A year earlier, San Francisco center fielder Gregor Blanco allowed Alex Gordon's two-out single to bounce past him for an error that put the potential tying run at third base with two outs in the ninth inning - some questioned whether Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele should have waved Gordon home. Madison Bumgarner then retired Salvador Perez on a foulout, saving the Giants' 3-2 win in Game 7.
And with Game 7 in 1968 scoreless in the seventh inning, Detroit's Jim Northrup hit a two-on, two-out drive that was misjudged by St. Louis center fielder Curt Flood and fell behind him for a two-run triple. The Tigers held on for a 4-1 victory behind Mickey Lolich, the last pitcher to win three starts in a single Series.
Cleveland ace Corey Kluber will try to match that feat in Game 7 on Wednesday night.
"We've just got to win the game tomorrow," Chisenhall said. "I think we leave winners, people will remember that."