CLEVELAND — It seemed the Indians played the first two rounds of the postseason under the condition of anonymity as the Cubs’ quest to break the drought of championship droughts captured the vast majority of interest nationwide.
The Indians emphatically introduced themselves to the late-comers Tuesday night.
Behind another postseason gem from ace Corey Kluber, two shaky but scoreless innings from reliever Andrew Miller and two homers from catcher Roberto Perez, the Indians beat the Cubs in Game 1 of the World Series, 6-0, in front of a bundled up but boisterous crowd of 38,091 at Progressive Field.
“Listen, I’ve seen Kluber before,” said Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who managed the Rays from 2006-14. “That does not surprise anybody that’s seen him before . . . He’s in a different league.”
With the defending NBA champion Cavaliers raising a banner and receiving their rings across the street at Quicken Loans Arena, the 30-year-old Kluber, the AL Cy Young winner in 2014, delivered on the biggest sports night in this city’s history.
“We need him,” said Indians manager Terry Francona, who pulled Kluber after 88 pitches and hinted he may well bring him back on short rest for Game 4 and, if necessary, Game 7. “And we’re going to need him more.”
Said Kluber: “I’ll pitch whenever he asks me to. If that means pitching on short rest, then I’m more than willing.”
Kluber, using a killer two-seam fastball and nasty curveball, outpitched annual postseason stud Jon Lester, throwing six shutout innings in improving to 3-1 with a 0.74 ERA in four starts this postseason. The righthander allowed four hits and no walks. Kluber struck out nine, eight in the first three innings to set a World Series record.
“His ball was moving too much today,” said Perez, a pitch-framing master who helped Kluber get six called third strikes. “He’s so consistent.”
Perez, 27, remarked during BP how much he disliked hitting in cold weather, but he homered in the fourth to make it 3-0. He cracked a three-run shot with two outs in the eighth to make it 6-0, becoming the first catcher to hit two homers in a World Series game since Gary Carter did it for the Mets in Game 4 of the 1986 Series.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Perez, who hit three homers and slugged .294 in 61 games this season. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a night like that.”
Lester, 2-0 with a 0.86 ERA in three postseason starts this season and 8-6 with a 2.50 ERA in the playoffs in his career, allowed three runs, two in the first inning, and six hits in 5 2⁄3 innings. The lefthander walked three and struck out seven.
Miller, the ALCS MVP who had not allowed a run in six postseason appearances — striking out 21 and walking two in 11 2⁄3 innings — came on for Kluber after Ben Zobrist led off the seventh with a single.
The lefthander stepped into trouble, loading the bases with none out, but his slider helped him step out of it.
Miller walked Kyle Schwarber and Javier Baez singled to load the bases. Pinch hitter Willson Contreras flied to short center — the Indians had a straying Schwarber doubled off second but centerfielder Rajai Davis fired home instead — and Miller struck out Addison Russell on three pitches. Miller fell behind David Ross 3-and-1 before striking the catcher out with a slider.
Two batters reached in the eighth against Miller, who ended up having to throw 46 pitches in the game that puts his availability for Game 2 in question, but he struck out Schwarber to end the threat.
Maddon, whose club struck out 15 times — tied for second-most by a team in a nine-inning World Series game — was far from panic mode.
“I have no concerns,” Maddon said. “Kluber was outstanding but I thought we did a good job against Miller . . . If we can continue to work these same kind of at-bats, I feel good. I just thought we actually did better than that all looked tonight. So I’m eager to get back out there and play again tomorrow.”
Catchers with two homers in a World Series game:
Yogi Berra, Yankees 1956 Game 7
Gene Tenace, A’s 1972 Game 1
Johnny Bench, Reds 1976 Game 4
Gary Carter, Mets 1986 Game 4
Roberto Perez, Indians 2016 Game 1