The turning point, as it turned out, of Game 1 of the Cubs’ first World Series in 71 years, came in the first inning. Corey Kluber had retired the Cubs in order in the top of the inning. That wasn’t unexpected — Kluber is, after all, really, really good.
Jon Lester matched him — for two batters. Then Francisco Lindor singled. You knew what was coming, and Lester and David Ross couldn’t stop him as he stole second.
Still -- one runner on, two out, Lester should be able to retire his old teammate Mike Napoli, right? Uh... no. Napoli walked. Then Lester walked Carlos Santana.
That should have set off alarm bells. Lester doesn’t walk two in a game very often, much less back-to-back in the first inning. With the bases loaded, Jose Ramirez hit a little dribbler down the third-base line.
Now, you could argue that Lester could potentially have made a play on that ball, but I doubt it. Even a good-fielding pitcher likely couldn’t, and neither could any other Cubs fielder. Ramirez couldn’t have rolled it out there with his hand better than that. The perfectly-placed hit made it 1-0.
And then former Cubs minor leaguer Brandon Guyer did what Brandon Guyer does best, get hit by a pitch. This is something he’s been pretty good at for a while, even back to his days in the Cubs system (13 HBP in 88 games at Peoria in the Midwest League in 2008). He led the American League in HBP in 2015 and the major leagues in that category in 2016 — without having more than 338 plate appearances in either year.
This was very uncharacteristic Lester, but in a game like this, against a pitcher as good as Kluber, there’s no margin for error. It was 2-0 after one inning and essentially, the game was over, though we did not know it at the time. The Indians went on to win 6-0 and take a 1-0 lead in the World Series. Here, want to feel better about that? Some historical comparisons:
The last team to lose 6-0 in Game 1 of the World Series came back to win it all — the 1975 Cincinnati Reds.— Mark Potash (@MarkPotash) October 26, 2016
And, the last time the Cubs lost 6-0 (Game 3 of the NLCS), they came back to win three straight (and that series) by scores of 10-2, 8-4 and 5-0.
There were some good things that happened for the Cubs in this game despite the shutout, so let’s focus on those.
First was the presence of Kyle Schwarber, something unexpected even as recently as a few days ago. And in his first at-bat, he struck out. But even that was a pretty good at-bat against one of baseball’s best pitchers, as he ran the count full before striking out on a nasty sinker from Kluber.
His second at-bat, in the fourth inning, was much, much better. His double off the right-field wall [VIDEO] missed being a home run by only a couple of feet. I don’t think anyone knew exactly what to expect from Warbird in this game, after not facing top big-league pitching all year. Yet he saw Kluber just once and slammed a double off him. Beyond impressive, and this will be a fun fact for all time:
Kyle Schwarber history alert! He's the first position player ever to get no hits all season but then get one in a World Series game.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) October 26, 2016
Unfortunately, Javier Baez flied out to end that threat.
In the bottom of that inning, Indians catcher Roberto Perez homered off Lester to make it 3-0.
This is Indians catcher Roberto Perez, who hit .183/.285/.294 with three home runs in 153 at-bats during the regular season. I mean... that’s Koyie Hill territory (Hill’s numbers in 2012 for the Cubs were very, very similar to Perez’s 2016 regular-season stats). Perez did homer in the division series vs. the Red Sox, but before that hit he had been 4-for-24 (.167) in the postseason.
We should have known right there it wasn’t going to be the Cubs’ night, particularly because everyone knew it would soon be Andrew Miller’s turn to pitch.
Kluber completed six innings, allowing four hits and striking out nine, and then it was Miller time.
The Cubs really should have scored off Miller, who had never allowed a postseason run entering this game. They loaded the bases with nobody out. Ben Zobrist — who had a very good night with three hits — singled. Schwarber walked and Baez singled.
I don’t know. Maybe you try a squeeze here, just to get something, anything, going? Willson Contreras batted for Chris Coghlan and hit a fly to center, but too shallow to score a run, and Schwarber nearly got himself caught off second base. Halfway to third when the ball was caught by Rajai Davis, Schwarber was able to get back to second only because Davis, focused on preventing a run, threw home. Perez thought briefly about throwing to second to get Schwarber but held the ball — a smart play, because if he does, Zobrist probably scores.
Miller then struck out Addison Russell and Ross to end the Cubs’ only real threat. Here are all the plays from that inning:
Give the Cubs credit. Most teams — including the Red Sox and Blue Jays in the A.L. playoffs -- can’t hit Miller at all. The Cubs got two more runners on off Miller in the eighth, on a walk drawn by Kris Bryant and Zobrist’s third hit of the night. That brought up Schwarber.
If Hollywood dramatists wrote scripts for the World Series, Schwarber, with his team down 3-0, would have hit a home run. It would have crashed off one of the toothbrush-shaped light towers at Progressive Field and smashed out some lights, a la The Natural.
Sadly, this script was not written that way. Schwarber struck out.
I kept thinking the Cubs might have had a chance against Indians closer Cody Allen in the ninth, but after two runners reached in the bottom of the eighth off Justin Grimm, Joe called on Hector Rondon.
Hector’s slider wasn’t working, either that or Roberto Perez just knew what was coming, because he hit his second homer of the night off Hector to make it 6-0. I’m quite concerned about Rondon, as he just doesn’t look like the same guy since his return from the injury that put him on the shelf for several weeks late in the regular season. He had a poor September (9.82 ERA, 2.045 WHIP in 7⅓ innings with two home runs allowed) and he’s now allowed three runs in four postseason innings.
The Cubs did get a hit in the ninth, a double by Contreras, but Allen wound up striking out the side to end it. The Cubs K’d 15 times in all. We’ve seen this script before, but the Cubs usually wind up coming back after a game where they strike out this much to score bunches of runs.
One more thought about all the K’s: Kluber’s good, but he got some help from Larry Vanover’s extremely wide strike zone — which appeared to be wide only for Kluber, not Lester. Also, Vanover’s strike call is usually delayed, a lot:
it is the year 2145. humans have destroyed earth. the last survivors are leaving for mars. larry vanover has just finished his strike 3 call— travis sarandos (@travis_mke) October 26, 2016
This led, at one point, to Bryant heading to first base thinking he had walked, only to be called out on strikes. Umpires need to make swift, decisive calls in cases like this, I think, especially on that pitch, which was borderline:
Probably a strike, or close enough to make it so. But with the delayed call, Bryant thought it was ball four. It wasn’t the worst-called game I’ve ever seen ... but there have certainly been better-called ball-and-strike games.
The short version of all this is: The Cubs were going to have a tough time winning this game even if Lester had been sharp. Kluber just carved through Cubs hitters. On the other hand, they made Miller work — a lot. The 46 pitches he threw is the most he’s had in any game since he became a fulltime reliever in 2012, and the Cubs were the first team all year to have multiple hits and multiple walks off him in a single appearance. You’d think that would make Miller unavailable in Game 2, but that isn’t generally the way the World Series works. With only a handful of games left in the season, you can bet Terry Francona will call on Miller if he thinks he needs him. Going in back-to-back games with that many pitches thrown, though, might mean Cubs hitters could hit him -- and now they’ve seen him for two innings and 10 batters faced, valuable experience, I’d say, for a team that had never seen him before.
When a team goes into a ballpark in any playoff series without the home-field advantage, the conventional wisdom is that if you can come out of there with a split, you’ve done pretty much all you can do. And so if the Cubs can accomplish that with a victory in Game 2, I’d say I agree with that wisdom -- especially since Francona has strongly hinted he might come back with Kluber on three days’ rest for Game 4. Kluber’s never started on three days’ rest — ever.
So in the end, it’s disappointing to lose this game. But it’s a best-of-seven series and far from over.
I’ve got a few thoughts on the TV broadcast, since Game 1 was the first time this postseason I’ve watched the Cubs on TV instead of being at the game.
Honestly, I don’t get the Joe Buck hate. He’s certainly not my favorite broadcaster, but he calls a competent game and I don’t think he favored either team. The Fox crew stayed away from gratuitous celebrity shots in the stands and covered the game well from a visual standpoint, I thought. John Smoltz is slowly becoming one of the game’s best analysts. And did you notice this? Check out the Fox scorebox in the first inning:
The Cubs are listed as “CHC,” the standard abbreviation used on national broadcasts when they’re involved. But by the second inning, Fox had changed it:
I like that better, I think. It stayed that way for the rest of the game, and I assume it’ll look like that for the rest of the series.
Also, I would highly recommend skipping Fox’s pregame show and watching the pregame show on MLB Network. They focus more on baseball than on the nonsense coming out of Pete Rose’s mouth, and I rather like Mark DeRosa’s commentary.
A reminder that MLB has moved up the start time of Game 2 an hour. It will now begin at 6:08 p.m. CT, due to a forecast of rain later in the evening. That might actually give Fox better ratings on the East Coast — Game 1 ended at 11:45 Eastern time. On the other hand, I know it makes it somewhat more difficult for those of you in the Pacific time zone to catch the whole game, since it will begin shortly after 4 p.m. out there.
Jake Arrieta will take the mound for the Cubs when that earlier game begins, and Trevor Bauer goes for the Indians. Win this one and the Cubs will have accomplished what they likely set out to do — take back the home-field advantage they should have had anyway, with the majors’ best record.
Keep the faith. This series is far from over.