CLEVELAND — In the long break between the league championship and the World Series, the Indians began combing through their various pitching options. It didn’t take long to reach an obvious conclusion.
To upset the Cubs, the Indians’ best path would be to have ace Corey Kluber pitch three times in the World Series. When manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway summoned the former Cy Young Award winner to gauge his willingness, they were beaten to the punch.
“It was funny because he kind of started it,” Francona said before Game 7 on Wednesday night. “He said, ‘Hey, before you say anything . . . I’m kind of going into this figuring I’m going 1, 4, and 7.’ So that kind of made it easy.”
What wasn’t easy, however, was the assignment itself. For the first time in the postseason, Kluber looked mortal, the effect of his pitches clearly diminished by his workload.
After allowing a homer in the fifth inning, he was pulled from Game 7 of the World Series, with the Indians trailing 4-1.
Kluber accepted the assignment despite working with every disadvantage. For the second straight game, the righthander worked on short rest. And for the third time in seven games, he was tasked with taming a Cubs offense that roared back to life.
The combination proved insurmountable.
Kluber had posted an 0.89 ERA this postseason, seemingly validating the Indians decision to make him the first pitcher to start three World Series games since Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals in 2011.
Game 7 could not have started more poorly for Kluber. On his fourth pitch of the game — a two-seam fastball that caught far too much of the plate — Cubs leadoff man Dexter Fowler smacked a solo shot to straightaway centerfield.
In the stands, a large contingent of Cubs fans made Progressive Field sound like Wrigley Field. On the mound, Kluber looked down at a fresh baseball and brushed off the setback, retiring the next eight in a row. But signs of trouble loomed.
Typically, Kluber racks up strikeouts and keeps the ball on the ground. By the end of his outing, he had only generated three swings and misses and one groundball out.
In the third, Kris Bryant tagged up from third base on a shallow fly to center, where Rajai Davis let loose a high throw. Bryant’s slide took him between the legs of catcher Roberto Perez. Willson Contreras followed by smoking a double off the fence in rightcenter.
Already staggered, Kluber took the mound again for the fifth inning, a decision that appeared ill advised the moment Javier Baez’s solo homer landed in rightcenter. Kluber departed without a strikeout, his quest to become just the 10th starter to win three World Series games officially finished.
Corey Kluber failed in his attempt to join these pitchers who earned three wins as a starter in a single World Series:
Pitcher, Team Year
Mickey Lolich, Det. 1968
Bob Gibson, St.L 1967
Lew Burdette, Mil. 1957
Stan Coveleskie, Cleve. 1920**
Jack Coombs, Phila. 1910
Babe Adams, Pitt. 1909
Christy Mathewson, NYG 1905
Deacon Phillippe, Pitt. 1903*
Bill Dinneen, Boston 1903*
**Cleveland won best-of-nine series, 5-2.