Kluber dodges early traffic for Game 1 win

Tribe's ace holds Blue Jays scoreless over 6 1/3 innings

October 15th, 2016

CLEVELAND -- The traffic wouldn't let up, but neither would . Cleveland's gritty ace was relentless, forging forward no matter the mess around him, and bringing the Indians -- and their fervent following -- with him.

That the right-hander continually threw up zeros -- matching Toronto starter in an engaging pitchers' duel until the Tribe broke through in the sixth inning, when smacked a two-run homer for the game's lone scoring sequence -- wasn't all that surprising. Kluber routinely does such things, after all.

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It was the manner in which he did it -- on a Friday night in rambunctious Cleveland, where the Indians celebrated a 2-0 Game 1 victory over the Blue Jays in the best-of-seven American League Championship Series -- that proved so telling.

Game 2 is scheduled for 4 p.m. ET on Saturday on TBS, as well as Sportsnet and RDS in Canada.

Kluber was the ultimate escape artist in the opener, and perhaps it wasn't ideal, the way he was running up his pitch count while working his way out of jams and subsequently teasing a frustrated Toronto lineup, but it sure made for good theater.

The performance also underscored Cleveland's need for an early lead in a series that's watching the Indians operate with little wiggle room because of a depleted rotation.

"Corey's a tremendous competitor," said closer , who picked up the save with a scoreless ninth inning. "It never looks like the game's speeding up on him or it's getting out of control, and that's the sign of a true ace."

Kluber never cracked in his 6 1/3 innings, despite putting eight Blue Jays on base, allowing his teammates to wait out Estrada, whose lone mistake -- a changeup to Lindor -- tarnished his first career complete game.

Never wavering in his approach or composure despite enjoying just one clean inning in the fifth, Kluber relied heavily on his breaking ball, utilizing a devastating curveball nearly as much as his masterful sinker to tally six strikeouts.

"Once he gets runners on base, it's kinda like nothing," catcher said. "It's unbelievable."

By night's end, Kluber was just the fifth pitcher in postseason history to throw at least six scoreless innings in his first two postseason starts, having breezed through seven three-hit innings against the Red Sox in an AL Division Series victory on Oct. 7.

Kluber yielded four hits in the first three innings Friday, including back-to-back knocks with one out in the first. He allowed two baserunners in both the second and the third innings, and by the time the fourth concluded, with yet another baserunner stranded, Kluber sat at 69 pitches.

"We always feel we can hit anyone's best," Toronto center fielder said. "We have a good offense one through nine. We're going to try and wear guys down. I think we did a good job getting his pitch count up."

That's about all they could do, though.

After recorded the game's first hit, 's double put runners on second and third with one out in the first inning for . Kluber needed just three pitches -- a sinker and two evil curveballs -- to dispatch the slugging Blue Jays outfielder on strikes. ended the inning by grounding out.

"He's got arguably the best right-hand breaking ball in the game," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "And he kept us honest with enough fastballs. And he's got that razor-blade [breaking ball] that's tough to do anything with."

Kluber relied on his slider to work his way through traffic in the second, getting help from his defense by way of a double-play ball off the bat of . In the third, it was his curveball, again, that extinguished another threat, as Martin swung through the pitch to strand two.

Second baseman ' tremendous diving play on Pillar's sharp grounder for the second out of the fourth inning offered a mighty assist to Kluber, who worked around one more baserunner in the sixth before handing the ball over to left-hander with one out in the seventh.

The Blue Jays finished 0-for-5 with runners in scoring position against Kluber. All seven of their hits came in two-strike counts, none of them timely.

"It was really kind of doing the same thing that I did to the guys that got on base," Kluber said. "I got ahead of them, I just didn't make good pitches when I got ahead of them. It was making the same game plan, and not leaving two-strike pitches over the plate, basically."

Kluber's precision stems from his impeccable preparation. Allen recalled the many Spring Training days when Indians manager Terry Francona told his young pitchers, "Watch Corey Kluber."

"When the game starts, whether it's April or October," Francona said, "he puts himself in a position where he can go enjoy competing because he prepares so well."