By Richard Cuicchi | November 06, 2016 at 09:36 PM EST | No Comments
Before the World Series started, Cleveland Indians’ manager Terry Francona had announced he would start his ace pitcher Corey Kluber three times if the Series went the full seven games. It was a tall order for the 30-year-old right-hander, since it meant he would have only three days’ rest between his second and third starts. The last time a pitcher drew three starts in a World Series was in 2001, when Curt Schilling took the hill for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the New York Yankees.
Francona’s decision about Kluber was driven by the fact his pitching staff was without two of his regular starters, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco, during the post-season due to injuries suffered during the regular season. Francona managed to avoid the shortage problem, when the Indians surprisingly swept Boston in three games in the division championship series and then handily defeated Toronto in five games in the league championship.
The American League Cy Young Award winner in 2014, Kluber led all Indians’ pitchers with 18 wins during the 2016 regular season, helping the Indians to their first Central Division title since 2007. Then in his first-ever post-season start, he won Game 2 of the ALDS by tossing seven scoreless innings against a good Red Sox team. He drew the starting assignment in Game 1 of the ALCS against the Blue Jays and turned in another gem with 6 1/3 scoreless innings to capture the win. However, in his ALCS Game 4 start, Kluber took the loss by giving up two runs in five innings, as the Blue Jays won their only game of the series, 7-1.
Kluber got the starting nod in Game 1 of the World Series against the Cubs, which the Indians won, 6-0. He responded with a six scoreless innings that included nine strikeouts, eight in the first three innings, which set a World Series record. Despite his outstanding performance through six innings, Francona replaced Kluber with reliever Andrew Miller, thereby saving more pitches for Game4.
With the Indians ahead in the Series, 2-1, Kluber started Game 4 on three days’ rest and turned in another sterling performance. He picked up his second win of the Series, yielding only one run in six innings pitched and striking out six batters. Kluber kept the Indians hitters off-balance with his wide variety of pitches. Kluber’s victory gave the Indians a commanding 3-games-to-1 lead over the favored Cubs.
However, the resilient Cubs resurrected themselves with wins in Game 5 and 6, creating their third consecutive winner-take-all scenario in Game 7.
Francona indeed followed his script of needing to use Kluber for three games. With his start in Game 7, Kluber was chasing individual World Series immortality, as the Indians team was chasing its first World Series championship since 1948.
Fatigue and familiarity became Kluber’s adversaries in Game 7. Pitching again with only three days’ rest, he wasn’t as sharp as he was in his two previous games. Plus, the Cubs’ batters finally adjusted to his breaking pitches. Perhaps Dexter Fowler’s leadoff home run in the top of the first inning portended the trouble he would he would run into. Kluber wound up giving up four earned runs, including another solo home run in the top of the fifth inning, after which he exited the game for reliever Andrew Miller. The Indians eventually tied up the game in the eighth inning, getting Kluber off the hook for a losing decision, but eventually the lost the deciding game in the tenth inning.
The last pitcher to start and win three World Series games was Mickey Lolich of the Detroit Tigers in 1968. Bob Gibson of the St. Louis Cardinals had accomplished the feat the year before. Remarkably, both of them pitched three complete games in those Series.
Since the league division series was instituted by Major League Baseball in 1969, only two pitchers, in addition to Schilling, have started three games in a World Series—Luis Tiant in 1975 and Bruce Hurst in 1986.
In 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson was the last pitcher to win three games in a World Series, although his third win came through an heroic relief appearance in Game 7 after getting starts in Games 2 and 6.
Kluber really can’t be faulted for his failure to put away the Cubs for a third time in the Series. In some respects, Francona didn’t put him in a position to be successful in the final game. However, it was Francona’s best option, and he was hoping his ace could pull off a rare hat trick on the baseball diamond.