Corey Kluber Impacted the Series with Game One Performance

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Corey Kluber Impacted

Pete Hodges presents our World Series Game One recap in which Corey Kluber impacted the entire series with his excellent start against the Chicago Cubs.

The Cleveland Indians have relied on a simple strategy throughout the postseason: take the lead, turn the game over to Andrew Miller in the middle innings, and win the game. That can be more difficult on some nights because of ineffectiveness from the offense – or a propeller mishap with a drone (it could happen to anyone, right Tito?). If Miller enters the game in the seventh inning, he normally pitches until the ninth, or in the event of an early entry into a game, Bryan Shaw will bridge the gap to closer Cody Allen. That formula has been a winning one for Cleveland and in Game One of the World Series it was made all the easier by Corey Kluber’s masterful starting performance on the mound.

Kluber began the top of the first by striking out Dexter Fowler and Kris Bryant before Anthony Rizzo popped out to Jose Ramirez at third base.

Lefty Jon Lester took the hill for Chicago and looked as if he would follow suit, recording a strikeout of Rajai Davis followed by a one-pitch at-bat that ended in a liner to first by Jason Kipnis. However, shortstop Francisco Lindor stung a single up the middle for the first base hit of the 2016 World Series. The young shortstop then swiped second base (¡gratis taco!). But the effort was wasted (though we all get free tacos!) as Mike Napoli walked on five pitches.

Lester then walked designated hitter Carlos Santana to load the bags. Third baseman Jose Ramirez topped a slow roller about 30 to 35 feet down the third base line where it waited to be picked up by third baseman Kris Bryant. When the likely MVP looked up to see where to go with the ball he saw catcher David Ross standing in front of him, both arms extended, with the “no throw” sign.  

The bases remained loaded with the score now at 1-0. Lester quickly gained an advantage over Brandon Guyer with an 0-2 count. But a third-pitch cutter got away from the southpaw and hit the batsman in his back leg – which did not move. This is normal for Guyer. He led the league with 31 hit by pitches, despite accruing just 345 plate appearances. This means he is hit by a pitch in 8.89% of his plate appearances, while the league average is 0.089%.

Following the HBP, Lonnie Chisenhall hit a pop up behind home plate that David Ross had difficulty making a play on. However, the veteran catcher still caught the ball despite planting his face in the netting and taking a tumble.

Cubs uber-utility guru Ben Zobrist smoked a double to right-center field to lead off the second and present Kluber with his first challenge of the night. But the former Cy Young winner was unfazed, sending Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez, and Chris Coghlan back to the dugout without putting the ball in play – stranding Zobrist at second base.

Lester tossed a clean bottom of the second, that included a kick-save on the mound and an underhand toss to first base.

Kluber allowed a one-out single by the silver fox, David Ross, but bracketed the hit with three more strikeouts. The three Ks brought his total to eight, which broke the record for most strikeouts through three innings in a World Series game – which was held by Bob Gibson and Randy Johnson, among others. It also broke the record for the most strikeouts by a Cleveland Indians pitcher in a World Series game.

Lindor lead off the bottom of the third with his second single of the night. Then, during Napoli’s at-bat this unusual situation followed:

Because of Lester’s issues throwing to first, Lindor avoided being picked off, despite being caught red-handed. He was caught red-handed, but was allowed to return to the bag thanks to Lester’s inability, or at least unwillingness, to t throw the ball to first. Predictably, Lindor chose the next pitch to attempt a steal and Ross gunned down the shortstop. Following a Napoli strikeout, Santana walked on four pitches and Ramirez singled, bringing up Guyer again with runners at first and second. Lester was able to control his cutter this time, striking out the outfielder.

After Kluber retired Anthony Rizzo and Zobrist to start the top of the fourth, Schwarber launched a fly ball into the Cleveland sky that hit off the wall in right field, resulting in a double. But the next pitch put the two-out threat to bed, as Baez flied out to right.

Lester began fourth inning by notching his third strikeout of the night – this time with Chisenhall being the victim. However, Roberto Perez would not go down quietly, as he hit a frozen rope over the left field wall:

Lester escaped the rest of the inning unscathed, holding the score at 3-0 Cleveland.

Kluber sat down Chris Coghlan for his ninth, and final, strikeout in the fifth inning. Cleveland also went down quietly in the bottom half of that inning, adding two strikeouts to Lester’s total.

Following another perfect frame from Kluber, Lester was unable to duplicate his counterpart’s performance as the pesky Jose Ramirez smacked a leadoff double to start off the sixth. Guyer then struck out for the second time on the night, and Lester retired Chisenhall, which brought Joe Maddon  striding out to the mound to lift his lefty in favor of a right-handed reliever, Pedro Strop.

Lester allowed three runs on six hits and three walks, striking out seven over 5 ⅔ innings before being replaced. The righty reliever retired Perez by way of the K on four pitches, keeping the Cubs deficit at three runs.

Kluber marched out to the mound to start the seventh inning, but the Indians tall, bearded lefty was warming in the pen. Following a single by Zobrist, Terry Francona climbed the dugout stairs and signaled for his relief ace Cleveland’s infield converged on Kluber, congratulating him on a job well done. The crowd let out an outburst of gratitude: some of it for the departing starter, and some of it for that bearded lefty jogging out to the mound. And none of it for Wild Thing, despite the number of jerseys in the crowd.

Something strange happened next though. Miller walked Schwarber and then Javier Baez smacked a two-strike single to load the bases. With three on and no outs, Terry Francona came out to discuss things with Miller – though there isn’t much to say aside from “don’t let them score.”

With the bases loaded, no outs, and the Cubs down 3-0, Joe Maddon pinch hit for Chris Coghlan with Willson Contreras, replacing a left-handed bat for a right-handed bat. The pinch hitter made weak contact with a slider that possibly had a chance to become a Texas Leaguer, but center fielder Rajai Davis raced in to make the catch – and fire the ball into the infield to make sure no runner dare advance. However, Davis fired the ball to the plate, not the cutoff man. Had he delivered the ball to one of the middle infielders, perhaps the Indians would have turned a double play, as Schwarber had wandered very far from second base on the fly ball.

Still with the bases loaded, one out, and the Indians up 3-0, Miller could exhale and take care of business – this was his element. Three sliders later, Addison Russell was walking back to the dugout. Miller was now one out away from working his way out of the jam, with David Ross his only obstacle. The soon-to-be-retiree never really stood a chance, and the Cubs allowed their best opportunity at besting the Indians relief ace slip through their fingers.

Miller labored a bit in the top of the eighth, allowing a one-out walk to Kris Bryant and a two-out single to Zobrist. But he finally shut things down with a strikeout of Schwarber, having tossed throwing 46 pitches in two innings of work.

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, Guyer drew a walk and Chisenhall hit a single. Maddon called for his (former) closer Hector Rondon – replaced by Aroldis Chapman after a midseason trade – to face Roberto Perez, and the catcher responded by blasting his second home run of the game, doubling Cleveland’s score. Rajai Davis would follow that up with a double, but Jason Kipnis’s ground ball down the first baseline was easily fielded by Rizzo to end the inning.

Up 6-0, Cleveland’s closer Cody Allen entered the game. After catching Baez looking at a curveball for strike three, Allen allowed Contreras to smoke a double to right field. Allen then made Russell and pinch hitter Miguel Montero chase fastballs for strikes three, to end the game.

Kluber’s ability to stymy the Cubs’ offense put Cleveland in the driver’s seat. Take the lead, give the ball to Miller, and win the game. With the day off following Game Two, the Tribe will have their full bullpen complement available should Bauer need assistance. One important thing to note is that Kluber threw just 88 pitches – meaning that he could be available for Game Four. This unlocks the potential of returning-from-injury Danny Salazar being available out of the bullpen as early as tonight – which is just one more tool for Terry Francona to play with.

The big question is, will Miller be available tonight after throwing 46 pitches in his appearance last night? And if he is, will the Cubs be able to do what no one else has this postseason: score off the tall, bearded lefty?


Follow Pete on Twitter @PeterWHodges

Featured image courtesy of Aaron Josefczyk/UPI.

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