Soft-spoken Kluber lets Game 1 gem do the talking

Outing by 'man of few words' no surprise to Indians

October 26th, 2016

CLEVELAND -- 's new neighbor was basically a stranger, and to some extent, he still is. Miller, the trade acquisition who arrived in August, had only met once, at this summer's All-Star Game, and so suddenly occupying a locker next to that of the man affectionately and accurately known as "The Klubot" has given the reliever his first real window into the world of the stoic, dry, impassive ace of the Indians.

"He is," said Miller, "a man of few words."

• Game 2: Tonight, 7 p.m. ET game time on FOX (6 p.m. ET pregame show on FS1)

Few words, sure, but in this October, in his first extended opportunity to show the baseball world at large what they might have missed in his American League Cy Young Award season of 2014, Kluber has combined with Miller to level the playing field for a short-handed Tribe team that is now just three wins away from its first World Series title in 68 years. The Indians' 6-0 win in Game 1 at Progressive Field on Tuesday night was further confirmation that the Klubot's mainframe is operative in October, as if there were much concern to the contrary.

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On this night, Kluber set a Cleveland World Series record with his eighth strikeout.

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Then the game moved to the fourth inning.

So, yeah, Kluber, who would give the Tribe six-plus scoreless innings with nine K's in all (six of them of the backward variety) was on his game, getting insane movement on his sinker to leave a tough Cubs lineup befuddled.

"It just starts at your hip," Chicago first baseman said of that two-seam fastball. "And it comes in at you and then he can cut if off of that, too. ... It's just really picking a lane."

In Game 1, the Cubs' lane led straight back to the first-base dugout, and Kluber's performance -- in front of the young Rainbow Babies and Children's Hospital patient he had supplied with tickets -- was what allowed the Indians to take advantage of one of the more bizarre two-out, two-run rallies the World Series has likely ever seen, as well as the first of Roberto "Yogi" Perez's two home runs to put a lead in the eminently capable hands of Miller and closer .

Cleveland entered with the home-field edge -- earned, ironically or coincidentally or conveniently, when Kluber was the winning pitching at the aforementioned All-Star Game. And its opponent last won the World Series 19 presidents ago. But this Cubs team won 103 games and has a darn near-perfect roster augmented by 's Lazarus-like return from a torn ACL, so the Indians are/were the undisputed underdogs here.

That's what made this kind of night from Kluber non-negotiable. Because to lose at home with him on the hill would have presented a precariously iffy proposition to a Cleveland team that will start -- who has almost twice as many stitches acquired (10) as innings pitched (5 1/3) in this postseason -- in Game 2.

Kluber was going up against , who came in with an 0.43 ERA in three career World Series starts -- the third-lowest ERA in the history of the Fall Classic for those with at least 20 innings, trailing only (0.25) and Jack Billingham (0.36). So Lester's postseason pedigree was well-established.

Ah, but postseason pedigree only arises out of October opportunity, and prior to this amazing 2016 run, Kluber -- through absolutely no fault of his own -- had none.

You don't know what a guy's going to do on this stage until he gets to this stage, but color the Indians unsurprised that Kluber, who pitched on short rest in Game 4 of the AL Championship Series against the Blue Jays, has rolled out 24 1/3 innings in which he's allowed all of two runs with 29 strikeouts.

"I kind of figured it would go like that," pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "I don't think he's going to let anything rattle him or show any kind of emotion. Our whole pitching staff has done a good job of that the whole postseason. We've talked about that kind of thing more than we've talked about how to attack hitters, really. We talk about the next pitch. That's it. Focus on what's going to happen with the next pitch, not what just happened."

Kluber has long been a model of focus and fortitude around here. The story of how he went from organizational depth guy to Cy Young Award winner remains a perfect example of the danger of labels and the importance of experimentation. Kluber was once a 26-year-old in Triple-A, which is code for "non-prospect," and Callaway, who was Cleveland's Minor League pitching coordinator at the time, remembers how hard it would have been to imagine then what Kluber has become now.

"There were lots of talks about maybe going ahead and putting him in the 'pen," Callaway said. "But before we did that, [Triple-A pitching coach] Ruben Niebla and Kluber decided, 'Let's start throwing some two-seamers.' He went out the next start and started throwing everything over the plate."

Kluber had always gotten good results with his breaking pitches, but it wasn't until he incorporated the sinking fastball into his repertoire that he had the total package.

And in this postseason -- a time of year that often rewards the mentally mighty -- that package has proven all but unhittable.

"Not that there is less importance on a regular-season game," said Kluber, "but it's almost like you have that extra level of intensity or focus and stuff that it's not really something you can replicate."

In Game 1, the Indians used a formula of 88 pitches from Kluber and 46 from Miller that will be tough to replicate. They asked almost as much out of their relief ace as they did out of their actual ace, and that leads to plenty of questions about how much of a factor Miller will be in Game 2 and, frankly, whether Kluber looms as a short-rest option for Game 4, and then, should it come to that, Game 7.

Miller wasn't at his sharpest in this outing, and it just didn't matter. He took over for Kluber with a man aboard and none out in the seventh, somehow let the Cubs load the bases and then got a fly ball and two strikeouts in succession -- the last on a 3-2 back-foot slider that fooled -- to get out of the jam and preserve the 3-0 edge that the Indians would build on with Perez's second blast in the eighth.

When Ross went down, not even the Klubot could contain himself. He pumped his fists and let out a roar of approval, no bot about it. But as is typically the case with Kluber, his words and his expressions were not nearly as dynamic as his pitching.

"He's just special," Miller said. "This is as big a spotlight as he can possibly be in, and he's stepped up. I don't think anybody's surprised."