The saying goes that sometimes you just have to tip your hat and go on to the next game. This was one of those games.
Corey Kluber is a very good pitcher. He’s not normally as good as he was tonight, but he is capable of turning in a performance like tonight’s and there wasn’t much the Cubs could do. Kluber struck out eight batters in the first three innings and five of them were looking. Was he getting calls? Sure. But when you’re around the plate like Kluber was with a cutter that nasty, you’re going to get borderline calls. The Cubs weren’t going to hit those pitches anyway, which is probably why they took so many of them. Kluber finished the night with 6+ scoreless innings. He gave up just four hits, walked no one and struck out nine.
The Indians got two runs in the first inning off of Lester after two were out. Francisco Lindor singled up the middle and promptly stole second base, as we all knew he was going to do. Still, that’s wouldn’t have been a big problem had Lester not walked the next two batters. Lester then got Jose Ramirez to hit a weak ground ball. Unfortunately, it was too weak and it died in the infield for an RBI single. Next, Lester threw a hard cutter to former Cubs minor leaguer Brandon Guyer on an 0-2 count. Unfortunately, it broke too much and hit Guyer in the back foot to force in another run. Lonnie Chisenhall then fouled out to end the inning on a pretty nice catch by catcher David Ross.
The Indians tacked on another run off of Lester on a solo home run by catcher Roberto Perez with one out in the fourth.
The Cubs got a rally going in the seventh inning when Ben Zobrist led off the inning with a single off of Kluber. Indians manager Tito Francona then went to his not-so-secret weapon in the bullpen, Andrew Miller. Kyle Schwarber, who had just missed a home run off of Kluber earlier in the game, drew a walk. It was the second time Miller had walked a left-handed hitter all season. Javier Baez then loaded the bases with no outs when he reached out for an 0-2 slider and stroked it into left field for a single.
But that’s when Andrew Miller turned back into the Miller we’ve seen all season. He got pinch-hitter Willson Contreras to hit into a shallow fly out to center field. Then he struck out Addison Russell and David Ross to end the Cubs only real threat of the game.
The Cubs got another rally going off of Miller in the eighth inning. Bryant walked with one out and after Rizzo flew out to center, Zobrist hit his third single of the game to put runners on the corners with two outs. But once again, Miller struck out Schwarber to end the threat.
Hector Rondon came on to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning and Rondon has not looked right for most of the playoffs. Tonight he gave up a three-run home run on a hanging slider that Roberto Perez deposited over the wall in left-center field.
Perez hit three home runs in the regular season for the Indians. He hit two tonight. It was that kind of night.
If there’s a silver lining to this game, it’s that the Cubs made Miller throw 46 pitches, and made him look like just a very good pitcher and not the Asgardian warrior he was in the ALCS. That’s the most pitches Miller has thrown in any appearance in five years. He probably won’t be available for game 2 and if he is, his effectiveness could be limited.
The other piece of good news here is that this game was close to a must-win game for Cleveland. The Indians have only one dependable (healthy) starter in Kluber. If they had lost this one, then they’d really be in trouble. As it is, the Indians hold serve and the Cubs will be looking to even things up tomorrow.
There is rain in the forecast for tomorrow, so the game has been moved up to a 6:08 Central start time. Right-hander Jake Arrieta will take the mound for the Cubs and he’ll be opposed by noted drone enthusiast Trevor Bauer. It will be the first time Bauer takes the mound since the bloody mess of game 3 of the ALCS. Even if healthy, however, Bauer is not intimidating. I won’t say game 2 is a must-win game for the Cubs, but it’s pretty darn important.
No one said this would be easy.