CHICAGO — Talk about an October surprise. An Indians team dismissed and all but ignored throughout the postseason is on the brink of a championship that few saw coming.
With Corey Kluber again flummoxing hitters and Jason Kipnis driving a stake through the heart of his hometown team, the Indians beat the Cubs, 7-2, in Game 4 of the World Series on Saturday night in front of a Wrigley Field crowd of 41,706 that by the latter innings was church-quiet.
The Indians, who haven’t won a World Series since 1948 — they own the second-longest drought in the sport behind the Cubs, who haven’t won one since 1908 — lead 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Indians manager Terry Francona, one victory away from his third championship, lifted his World Series record to 11-1.
“It’s not an ending yet,” said Kipnis, a native of the Chicago suburb of Northbrook. “We’ve got one more to get and it’s probably going to be the hardest victory of the year. But this is a special night for me and this team.”
In the final game at Wrigley Field this season, Cleveland will send Trevor Bauer to the mound against Jon Lester in Game 5 Sunday night.
Kluber, the story much of the postseason for an Indians pitching staff that brought a 1.65 ERA into the game, allowed one run and five hits in six innings despite pitching on three days’ rest for only the second time in his career. Though not as dominant as he was in Game 1, when he threw six shutout innings, the 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner consistently kept the Cubs off-balance. Kluber, who entered the game 3-1 with a 0.74 ERA in his first four starts of this postseason, walked one and struck out six.
“He’s certainly showing everybody how good he is,” said reliever Andrew Miller, who allowed a meaningless solo homer by Dexter Fowler in the eighth that made it 7-2. “He might be a little bit under the radar for some reason, but he’s as good as they come.”
After Kluber allowed his run in the first inning, Carlos Santana quickly tied it with a solo homer in the second, and two errors later in the inning contributed to a run that made it 2-1.
“They’ve been outstanding through the entire postseason, and you can see it,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “We’re obviously having a tough time, like the other teams did.”
Cubs righthander John Lackey allowed three runs (two earned) and four hits in five innings and departed with his team trailing 3-1.
With the Indians leading 4-1, Kipnis drained the remaining energy from the crowd in the seventh when he hammered a three-run homer to rightfield off lefty Travis Wood.
“To do it in my hometown in front of family and friends, I was smiling ear-to-ear on the inside,” Kipnis said. “You can’t draw this up. Everyone makes that situation in tee-ball or whiffle ball in the backyard, and I actually just got to live it.”
The Cubs’ primary accomplishment was scoring against Miller. The lefthander hadn’t allowed a run in 15 innings this postseason, with 27 strikeouts and four walks.
Maddon is looking for some kind of lift for his team, which he thinks could come if the Cubs can win Game 5. At that point, he would have Jake Arrieta lined up for Game 6 and Kyle Hendricks for Game 7. Josh Tomlin would go for the Indians in Game 6, with Kluber back for Game 7.
The 1985 Royals were the last team to come back from a 3-1 deficit and win a title (against the Cardinals) and the 1979 Pirates were the last team to do it on the road (against the Orioles).
“We just need that offensive epiphany somehow to get us pushing in the right direction,” Maddon said. “And if we do that, I really think based on what they have left pitching-wise, going back over there and what we have, I kind of like our chances.”