CLEVELAND -- The tug on the jersey says a lot. Corey Kluber's unflinching expression may never change, but when the Indians' ace reaches up with his right hand to quickly pull on the sleeve hugging his right shoulder, that usually means good things are happening.During a dominant performance against the
CLEVELAND -- The tug on the jersey says a lot. Corey Kluber's unflinching expression may never change, but when the Indians' ace reaches up with his right hand to quickly pull on the sleeve hugging his right shoulder, that usually means good things are happening.
During a dominant performance against the Cubs on Tuesday night, Kluber tugged at his jersey a lot in a 6-0 victory in Game 1 of the World Series. In one of the great performances in Cleveland history, Kluber piled up nine strikeouts in six shutout innings, setting the tone and stepping up as the leader that the Tribe needs him to be in this Fall Classic.
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"I'm really just trying to treat it like any other start," Kluber said.
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With Cleveland's rotation riddled with question marks, it was imperative that Kluber seize the moment on a historic night for his home city. Not long after the Cavs celebrated their NBA title with a ring ceremony inside Quicken Loans Arena across Gateway Plaza, Kluber opened Game 1 of the World Series with two-seamer that froze Dexter Fowler for the first in a flurry of strikeouts.
Kluber is trying to help Cleveland end its 68-year World Series drought, and he turned in an outing that would have made Bob Feller proud. In the first three innings against a patient and potent Cubs lineup, Kluber established a World Series record with eight strikeouts. The previous mark of seven punchouts in the first three innings was shared by Bob Gibson (1968), Orlando Hernandez (1999, 2000) and Randy Johnson (2001).
His nine strikeouts set a World Series record for an Indians pitcher, besting the seven that Jaret Wright (1997) and Orel Hershiser (1995) posted in previous Fall Classics. Kluber also joined Duster Mails (twice in 1920), Stan Coveleski (1920) and Gene Bearden (1948) as the only Cleveland pitchers with six scoreless innings in a World Series outing.
Kluber became the sixth pitcher in baseball history to throw six shutout innings and record at least nine strikeouts in his first World Series start. That exclusive list includes Boston's Bill Dinneen (1903), Philadelphia's Chief Bender (1905), Ed Walsh of the White Sox (1906), Cincinnati's Hod Eller (1919) and Baltimore's Moe Drabowsky (1966).
"He's probably the most composed guy I've seen," Indians closer Cody Allen said. "And he's been like that forever. It's not like this is something that he just started doing. He's just very poised, never gets rattled, just focuses on the task at hand."
Facing a Cubs team that won 103 games and is determined to end its own championship drought -- one dating back to 1908 -- Kluber dispensed a steady dose of sinkers, cutters and curveballs. Against the left-handed batters, he concentrated on cutters in on the hands and sinkers breaking back over the inside corner. Against righties he buried his curveball low and away while mixing in four-seamers to offset his sinker.
That combination leads to twists and turns through the strike zone that can leave batters guessing. And Chicago sure looked baffled, as six of Kluber's strikeouts were called. In the first inning, when Kluber placed a four-seamer right on the low outside corner, Kris Bryant began jogging up the first-base line. But instead of taking a walk, Bryant was rung up.
For those close calls, Kluber credited catcher Roberto Pérez for his elite ability to frame pitches.
"That's huge. He did an unbelievable job," Kluber said. "It's almost like he knew what they were looking for. He had them off-balance for the majority of the night. Really, the only time that they got hits was really when I didn't execute a pitch. If I did what he asked me to, then it worked pretty well."
Asked about Kluber, Rajai Davis -- who had a great view of Kluber's artistry from center field -- broke into a wide smile.
"He was just dynamic," Davis said. "His ball was going up there like a Wiffle ball. It was like, 'OK, I want to throw a two-seamer,' and he was throwing two-seamers that are really freezing left-handed hitters. He was throwing so many pitches that you didn't know if it was a slider out of his hand or a fastball out of his hand. It's so late, his movement."
Cubs shortstop Addison Russell cited Kluber's setup as one of the sources of the his deceptiveness.
"He stands on the first-base side of the rubber," Russell said. "It looks like the ball is coming in on you, and then it goes back into the middle of the zone. It's a good pitch. He slows it up, speeds it up, changes the shape of it. That's something good to see. He has velo, and he can run it in. He's one of the best."
After four postseason starts in 2016, Kluber has a 0.74 ERA and has amassed 29 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings. Armed with a lead in the seventh inning, manager Terry Francona pulled the plug on his ace's outing at 88 pitches, keeping the rest of the Series in mind. There is a chance Kluber could return on short rest for Game 4, then again for Game 7 if necessary.
"We need him," Francona said. "And we're going to need him more."
Kluber is ready for whatever the Indians ask of him, too.
"At this point in time," Kluber said, "it's all about doing whatever we can to get four wins before they do. If that means pitching on short rest, then I'm more than willing to do that. I don't think you'd find anybody who would turn down a chance to go out there and pitch right now."
"Listen," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. "I've seen Kluber before. That does not surprise anybody that's seen him before."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.