CLEVELAND -- It was creeping across the radar, a big green blob threatening the big green field of play. The forecast was foreboding enough that the start time for Game 2 of the World Series was moved up an hour, and the looming rain turned out to be an ideal metaphor for the storm that was approaching an Indians team whose run to this Fall Classic was nearly -- and, evidently, unsustainably -- free of flops.
The flop arrived on a bone-chilling, staff-rattling night in a 5-1 loss at Progressive Field, and now this best-of-seven Series between two teams trying to make history is tied at one win apiece.
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"That game wasn't televised, was it?" joked second baseman Jason Kipnis, whose two errors were only part of the ugliness displayed by the home club. "Because it would be pretty embarrassing."
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Well, Cleveland did avoid getting no-hit by Jake Arrieta, despite early signs to the contrary, so that was a positive. But that was quite literally the only high point of a loss that was the antithesis of everything that got them here.
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How the Indians got here was a tried-and-true formula of staking their starters to early leads, getting those starters at least through the fifth, and then handing it over to Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in the bullpen. The Tribe had scored first in seven of its first nine games this postseason and won all seven of those games. Cleveland's pitching staff had allowed just 15 runs in nine games.
It's hard to keep up that kind of pace, and it's doubly hard when the dude on the mound has only thrown 21 pitches in the past 19 days.
Trevor Bauer looked rusty, and it was not hard to put a finger (pun intended!) on the problem here. When it's three weeks into the October journey, and you've accumulated more pinkie stitches (10) than innings pitched (5 2/3), you are not especially well aligned for an awesome outcome.
Bauer wasn't awesome. The Tribe's offense wasn't awesome. The result wasn't awesome.
It's not a Series-killing loss, by any stretch of the imagination. But it is confirmation that the challenges faced by the Indians' staff aren't as easily surmounted as they made it look in the first two rounds. You could watch this one and understand why Cleveland announced beforehand that Corey Kluber will be starting Game 4 and, if necessary, Game 7 on short rest. His seamless 88-pitch effort in Game 1 is the kind of stabilizing solution they need to ride for all it is worth.
Kluber has thrown 24 1/3 innings in four starts this postseason. The rest of the Tribe's rotation is responsible for just 24 innings in six starts.
"He's got two more starts," Cleveland manager Terry Francona said of Kluber. "Man, you can rest for a while [after that]."
Back when Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco hit the shelf in succession in September, there stood the potential for restless nights for the Indians. But it's Bauer's finger issue that has been the chief source of intrigue, because everything associated with Bauer's spot in the rotation has fallen under the category of "TBD." How deep can he go? How sharp will he be? How much will the 'pen have the cover? All of these things were unknowns going into the Series.
The way the 'pen pieced it together when Bauer's Game 3 start of that American League Championship Series became a memorably bloody mess after just two outs still stands as the signature scene of the Tribe's MacGyver-like October. But when Bauer required 87 pitches to get 11 outs -- allowing a pair of runs in the process -- on Wednesday, the troubleshooting guide turned up only blank pages.
"I just wasn't sharp, for whatever reason," Bauer said.
Bauer's outing was a slog, setting the tone for a game that would take four hours and four minutes to complete. The strongest argument for a pitch clock would be a study of his pace with runners aboard, and the Cubs had at least one of those in every inning he pitched. And with the offense unable to mount so much as a base hit against Arrieta until the sixth, the margin for error was miniscule.
The metaphorical rains came in the fifth, before the literal ones arrived later in the night. Francona's bullpen finally betrayed him, not that it proved to matter much given the state of the bats. Zach McAllister walked Anthony Rizzo with one out and gave up an RBI triple to Ben Zobrist on a ball misplayed by Lonnie Chisenhall in the right-field corner. Bryan Shaw relieved McAllister and gave up an RBI single to make it 4-0. And when Kipnis extended the inning with a two-out error, the Cubs capitalized by loading the bases on Jorge Soler's walk and then bringing home their final run on Addison Russell's four-pitch walk from Shaw.
"We gave up nine hits, eight walks, two errors, and we only gave up five runs," Francona said. "We're probably pretty fortunate, because there was traffic all night. For us to win, we generally need to play a clean game, and we didn't do that."
Well, at least the Indians didn't have to stage a simulated session afterward to get their relievers some necessary work, as they did after Game 2 of the ALCS at this ballpark. This was an "all hands on deck" affair on the part of the 'pen, and so it was an opportunity -- albeit an unwelcomed one -- to shake off the rust for the lesser-used and lesser-known members of the relief corps.
Of course, the Tribe's game plan revolves around us not even seeing those lesser-known members of the relief corps. On the non-Kluber days, Cleveland needs early offense and a five-and-fly before the bullpen door swings open and a giant lefty comes out to the mound to lock down the lead.
Bauer and the bats couldn't make good on that game plan in Game 2. And for the first time this postseason, inclement weather arrived for the Indians.