The Chicago Cubs had no answer for Corey Kluber on extended rest in Game 1 of the World Series. The Cubs had no answer for Kluber on short rest in Game 4 either, as the Cleveland Indians came back from an early deficit to defeat the Cubs for the second straight night at Wrigley Field, 7-2, to put the Tribe just one win from a World Series championship with three possible games left to play.
The storybook season for the city of Cleveland continued on Saturday night as the underdog Indians went into the Cubs legendary home and drove a dagger into the hearts of Chicago fans hoping to end their 108-year title drought. The Indians had one thing on their minds – ending their own 68-year streak without a championship – and have just one win standing in their way.
Kluber got the start for the Tribe against the veteran and playoff experienced John Lackey, a former member of manager Terry Francona’s club in Boston with the Red Sox during his tenure there. While Lackey had helped lead two different clubs to titles in his career, he was unable to do his part to get the Cubs closer to their own piece of history.
After Lackey set the Indians down in order in the first, retiring Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor on swinging strikeouts, the Cubs took the lead just three batters into the bottom of the first, giving the loyal bleacher creatures of Wrigley some false hope. Dexter Fowler fouled off several pitches before slicing a double the opposite way just out of the reach of left fielder Rajai Davis. Kluber retired Kris Bryant on a pop to short, but Anthony Rizzo singled to right-center and celebrated at first base as the Cubs claimed a 1-0 lead before Kluber retired Ben Zobrist and Willson Contreras to send the game to the second.
Carlos Santana deflated the crowd to lead off the inning. After Lackey worked the count full, Santana slugged a solo blast over the ivy in right to put the Indians on the board while tying the game at one. An out from Jose Ramirez brought up Lonnie Chisenhall, who reached safely at first on a throwing error by Bryant. Roberto Perez grounded back to the mound, moving Chisenhall into scoring position with the second out. Tyler Naquin was walked intentionally with first base open and the pitcher on deck, but Kluber aided his own cause with a slow roller to third. The throw from Bryant was not in time, allowing Chisenhall to score with the go ahead run as Naquin advanced to third on the second error of the inning by Bryant. Davis grounded into a fielder’s choice force at second, but the Indians were on top, 2-1.
They never looked back.
Kipnis doubled to lead off the third and scored on a single to right-center from Lindor to push the lead to 3-1. The Cubs threatened in the bottom half with two outs as Bryant walked and Rizzo was hit by a pitch, but Kluber fought through a grueling at bat with Zobrist to strike him out swinging to strand a pair.
Lackey left for a pinch-hitter to lead off the bottom of the fifth after retiring eight straight batters. A better bat provided nothing different, as the Cubs were retired on six pitches.
Mike Montgomery entered in relief of Lackey to start the sixth and promptly walked Lindor. Santana reached safely on a single in the infield and Ramirez grounded into a force at second, putting runners on the corners with one out for Chisenhall, who lifted a fly ball to center, deep enough to score Lindor to give the Indians a 4-1 edge.
Chicago started the home half of the sixth with a big double from Rizzo, but the stoic Kluber put down the next three in order, getting a fly from Zobrist, a strikeout of Contreras, and a grounder from Addison Russell to leave a big run standing at second base.
Justin Grimm returned to the mound for the seventh after retiring pinch-hitter Brandon Guyer to end the previous inning. Coco Crisp grabbed a bat for Kluber and delivered again with a big leadoff double to right-center. He moved to third on a wild pitch by Grimm before the right-hander plunked Davis with a pitch, putting runners on the corners for the red hot Kipnis. The Chicago area native cut and clobbered a no-doubter to right – the three-run shot plated Crisp and Davis and the Indians had a commanding 7-1 lead.
Despite the big lead, Andrew Miller took the mound after warming up in what was, at the time, a three-run advantage. He worked a quick seven-pitch bottom of the seventh and came back out for the eighth, giving up a leadoff homer to Fowler for the first earned run of his playoff career. He bounced back and got Bryant to ground out before striking out Rizzo and Zobrist swinging to send the game to the ninth.
Dan Otero got the rare appearance in the final frame, getting a grounder from Contreras before Russell singled to center. Jason Heyward popped up the next pitch, retired by Lindor at short for out number two. Javier Baez returned the 1-2 offering from Otero back to the sender, as the Indians reliever flipped to Mike Napoli at first base for the final out.
The Indians hold a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven series with the Cubs, with one final game to play in Chicago on Sunday night. If the Cubs come away victorious, the series will return to Cleveland for possible games six and seven on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
SHORT REST IS NO PROBLEM FOR KLUBER
Starting on just three days rest, Kluber showed little negative effects of pitching in an abnormal situation. It was just the second time in his Major League career that he had started on less than regular rest, with the other coming in Game 4 of the ALCS against Toronto.
Kluber worked six innings on the night, needing 81 pitches to contain the Chicago lineup once again. He allowed a first inning run and five hits in the game while walking one, hitting one batter, and striking out six. He took home the victory, his second in the World Series and his fourth of the playoffs.
In five postseason starts, Kluber is 4-1 with a 0.89 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP and has struck out 35 batters in 30 1/3 innings.
Despite a commanding lead in the series, Kluber kept his usual composure when asked about it after the game.
“I think we like the position we’re in, but the task isn’t done yet,” he said. “We still have one more game to win, and we’re going to show up tomorrow and play with the same sense of urgency we’ve played with until this point. We don’t want to let them build up any momentum and let them get back in the series.”
According to the Associated Press, Kluber’s 0.89 ERA is the second-lowest in one postseason by a pitcher (with a minimum of 30 innings worked). The only man in his way is Burt Hooton, who posted a 0.82 ERA during the 1981 playoffs for the Los Angeles Dodgers when he allowed just three earned runs in 33 innings of work and was named the MVP of the NLCS. Hooton spent his first five MLB seasons with the Cubs (1971-75), throwing a no-hitter in his fourth Major League game, a wild seven-walk affair in the second game of Chicago’s 1972 season.
Kluber also matched the Indians team record for strikeouts in a postseason with 35, equaling the number set down by Orel Hershiser during Cleveland’s 1995 playoff run.
STARTED AT THE TOP
The two, three, and four hitters in the Indians lineup did the bulk of the damage to the Chicago staff on the night, starting with the local boy Kipnis, who went 3-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored.
He had a single, a double, and a dagger three-run home run as he put together a game that he will never forget.
Lindor was 2-for-4 behind him with a walk, scoring one run and driving in another with a pair of singles. He is now 7-for-15 (.467) in the series with six singles and a double and has added a pair of walks to his stat sheet.
Santana got the Indians going in the second inning with a homer in his first at bat. He added two more singles the rest of the night, going 3-for-4 at the plate with a run and one RBI out of the cleanup spot.
MILLER SETTING RECORDS, TOO
With two strikeouts on Saturday night, the left-handed reliever Miller established a new record for strikeouts by a relief pitcher during the playoffs with 29. The ALCS MVP passed the previous record holder Francisco Rodriguez, former Angels closer and reliever this season for the Detroit Tigers, who struck out 28 for Anaheim in 2002. Miller has eight strikeouts in the World Series thus far.
Miller has struck out 29 batters in 17 innings of work this postseason. The home run allowed to Fowler was the first run he has allowed this postseason or in any postseason, for that matter.
LACKEY COULD NOT HOLD LEAD
The early lead was not enough for Lackey on Saturday, as some defensive miscues in the field behind him helped give the Indians the lead with two quick response runs.
Lackey made his longest start of the 2016 postseason, but the results were little different. He lasted five innings, allowing three runs (two earned) on four hits with a walk and five strikeouts on the night. While the game was still close at the time he exited, each of the first three relievers out of the bullpen were charged with runs as the Indians kept their collective feet on the pedal to tally a series single-game high seven runs, nearly matching the team’s combined output of the first three games against Chicago.
Fowler had a double, a homer, two runs scored, and one RBI on the night for the Cubs, providing all of the offense for Chicago out of the leadoff spot. Number three hitter Rizzo was 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI, while Heyward was 2-for-4 in the seventh spot.
Sunday, 10/30/16* (8:00 at Wrigley Field) – RHP Trevor Bauer (12-8, 4.26 ERA) vs. LHP Jon Lester (19-5, 2.44)
Tuesday, 11/1/16* (8:00 at Progressive Field) – TBD
Wednesday, 11/2/16* (8:00 at Progressive Field) – TBD
Lester and Bauer will throw in the Game 5 matchup from Wrigley Field on Sunday night.
Lester was dealt the first World Series loss of his career in Game 1 when he went five and two-thirds innings against Kluber. He allowed three runs on six hits with three walks and seven strikeouts on the night. It will be his fifth start of the 2016 postseason – he is 2-1 with a 1.69 ERA and 0.94 WHIP over 26 2/3 innings with 21 strikeouts and five walks.
Bauer made his third start of the postseason on Wednesday at Progressive Field in Game 2 and took his first loss in the playoffs. He worked three and two-thirds innings and gave up two runs on six hits with two walks and two strikeouts on 87 pitches to 18 batters. It was his first outing since October 17 against Toronto, when he earned a no-decision and faced just four batters in the infamous bloody finger start. He had previously worked four and two-thirds innings in the ALDS opener against Boston, allowing three runs on six hits with no walks and six strikeouts in a no-decision. He will pitch on just three days rest.
First pitch of Game 5 is scheduled for just after 8:00 PM ET from Chicago.
Photo: Ezra Shaw/Getty Images