World Series: Indians take a commanding 3-1 lead
World Series 2016 got off to a jubilant start for fans in Cleveland on Tuesday night, as the Indians used home field advantage and their ace pitcher Corey Kluber to shut out the Chicago Cubs, 6-0. The combination of Kluber as starter with Andrew Miller as relief pitcher proved to be overwhelming, both in Game 1 on Tuesday and in Game 4 tonight. (See below.)
But perhaps a more significant development in Game 1 was the return of Cubs young slugger Kyle Schwarber to the lineup. After spending virtually the entire 2016 season on the disabled list, he was recently given medical clearance to pinch hit or serve as designated hitter, but not to play on defense in the field. The lack of any recent playing time affected him not the least, as he belted a towering double to right field, almost clearing the fence. He wasn't able to score, but his slugging really charged up the Cubs' morale.
In Game 2 on Wednesday night the Cubs took an early lead thanks to a single by Kris Bryant and a double by Anthony Rizzo. They might have had a play at the plate, but the throw went to second, to no avail. The Indians' pitcher Trevor Bauer* did better than his last appearance, but could not contain the Cubs, who scored again in the third inning, and took a 5-0 lead in the fifth. Kyle Schwarber led the Cubs with two RBI singles. On the offensive side, the Indians did not get their first hit until the sixth inning -- the longest no-hit bid in a World Series game since 1969, when the Mets' Jerry Koosman went six innings. Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta was cruising, but his pitch count had reached 98, so manager Joe Maddon replaced him with Mike Montgomery. The Cubs won that one, 5-1.
* Bauer grabbed attention in the ALCS when he was removed from the game before completing the first inning, as blood from a finger wound was dripping steadily. That was appalling! MLB rules prohibit the use of bandaids or any other attachments to the throwing hand. Bauer had cut his finger while repairing a miniature drone aircraft, which is apparently one of his hobbies. Not smart.
Having split the first two games, the Cubs were feeling pretty confident returning home to the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field in Chicago. Their starter in Game 3 on Friday night was Kyle Hendricks, and he had the lowest ERA (2.13) in the major leagues this year. But for whatever reason, he just wasn't up to his usual level of performance, giving up six hits in 4 1/3 innings, while the Indians' pitcher Josh Tomlin held the Cubs to only two hits over 4 2/3 innings. Not many people expected Tomlin to go toe-to-toe with Hendrick in such a pitchers' duel, albeit an abbreviated one. Relief pitcher Andrew Miller (acquired from the Yankees in July and usually the closer) got the final out in the fifth inning, snuffing out a Cubs rally. In the top of the seventh, the Indians' Roberto Perez hit a lead-off single, then reached second base on a sacrifice bunt, and then reached third on a wild pitch by Carl Edwards. When the pitcher was due up to bat, Indians manager Terry Francona had to decide whether to have Andrew Miller bat or have somebody pinch hit. The fact that there was only one out and a runner on first made him opt for the latter. Up to the plate came diminuitive veteran Coco Crisp, who swung at the first pitch and put the ball into right field for a single, thus batting in the only run of the game. Final score: Indians 1, Cubs 0.
In Game 4 tonight (Saturday), Corey Kluber was back on the mound for the Indians, after only three days' rest. It was a lot like how the Dodgers used their ace pitcher Clayton Kershaw, pushing him to the limit of his physical endurance out of desperation. But in this case, Terry Francona was not desperate but seemed rather to be making a strategic calculation. The gamble paid off, as the Cubs failed to follow up their early success after Dexter Fowler scored on an RBI single by Anthony Rizzo in the first inning. The Indians answered that with a lead-off home run by Carlos Santana in the second inning. Then followed a weird sequence of events including two throwing errors by third baseman Kris Bryant. Pitcher Corey Kluber, who only had four at bats all season, singled and Lonnie Chisenhall scored as the Indians took a 2-1 lead. They added five more runs over the next five innings, capped by a three-run homer by Jason Kipnis, who grew up in the Chicago area as a Cubs fan. How ironic. In the bottom of the eighth Dexter Fowler hit a solo homer, but that was it. Indians 7, Cubs 2.
In tomorrow night's game at Wrigley Field, the Cubs will be under heavy psychological pressure to avoid not just elimination but outright disgrace. After waiting 71 years for the World Series to return, Chicago Cubs fans have a right to expect at least one victory at home. The last time a World Series champion team came back from a 3-1 series deficit was in 1985, when the Kansas City Royals beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the last three games. In other words, it's an uphill climb. Nothing against the Indians, but ...
Go Cubs, Go!