CLEVELAND -- Cleveland Indians starter Corey Kluber was cruising through Game 1 of the 2016 World Series when he allowed a base runner in the top of the seventh inning, but after just 88 pitches, manager Terry Francona pulled him and turned things over to the bullpen.
The Indians won Game 1 by a 6-0 count and took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series against the Chicago Cubs, and with the lower amount of pitches thrown, they could bring Kluber back on short rest if they need to in Game 4 at Wrigley Field Saturday night.
“He’s all set to pitch,” Francona said. “That was probably Plan A, but I didn’t want to be unfair to him. Part of taking him out then was with that in mind, that you start getting deeper into the game, and if they mount a rally, you’re really exerting.
“You’re up around 100 or so. I think that’s unfair to ask him to come back after doing that, so we got him out of there. He knew why and he’s ready to go.”
Over six-plus innings of work, Kluber surrendered just four hits to the offensive-minded Cubs. He registered nine strikeouts and did not allow a run or walk. It was the third time in four starts this postseason that Kluber did not give up a run.
Eight of those strikeouts came in the first three innings, which broke a World Series record. Orlando Hernandez and Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Randy Johnson each registered seven strikeouts over the first three innings of a World Series game.
Also, the nine strikeouts set the Indians’ franchise record for the most punch-outs in a World Series game. The previous record of seven was set by Orel Hershiser in the 1995 World Series and equaled by fire-baller Jaret Wright during Game 7 of the 1997 Fall Classic.
In what was a bounce-back year for Kluber record-wise after a 9-16 campaign in 2015, the right-handed ace regained his Cy Young form and went 18-9 with a 3.14 earned run average and 227 strikeouts against 57 walks over 215.0 innings of work.
Although Kluber’s strikeout numbers were down from each of the past two years, he allowed his fewest number of hits, 170, since 2013, when the Indians clinched one of the American League Wildcard playoff spots.
During the first two rounds of the postseason, Kluber registered 20 strikeouts against seven walks and allowed just two earned runs over 18.1 innings of work in three starts. Kluber has a 3-1 postseason record, with wins coming against the Boston Red Sox in the American League Division Series and the Toronto Blue Jays in the Championship Series ahead of Tuesday’s victory over Chicago.
If the World Series goes the full seven games and Kluber is on the mound for both Game 4 and Game 7, it would mark the first time Francona uses a starter three times in a series. However, with Kluber, Francona has plenty of confidence.
“I didn’t think it would help us,” Francona said of the past. “I think people lose sight of the fact that you’ve got to win four. You’re not trying to prolong the series, so you try to take stock of where you are, and I tried not to fall in ever to just relenting to, ‘We’re losing, so let’s move everybody up.’”