Corey Kluber was overwhelming in the early going of Game 1 of the World Series between the Cleveland Indians and Chicago Cubs. He struck out eight batters in the first three innings, more than any pitcher in World Series history had ever done so quickly (the old mark of seven was shared by Bob Gibson, Randy Johnson, and Orlando Hernandez). Those eight strikeouts also set a new franchise record for strikeouts in a World Series game, previously shared by Orel Hershiser and Jaret Wright.
After the explosion of strikeouts at the onset of the game, Kluber transitioned into generating a fair amount of weak contact, getting multiple easy grounders as well as a couple pop fouls. He only added one more strikeout to his total, but his pitch efficiency in innings four through six was excellent, allowing him to hand the game over to Andrew Miller without having reached 90 pitches, which is significant, because Kluber is expected to start Game 4 on short rest.
Kluber's final line of the night: 6+ innings pitched, zero runs on four hits and no walks, with nine strikeouts. That's too brief to be considered a postseason masterpiece, but even being a bit on the brief side, as great pitching performances go, it was one of the very best-pitched World Series games in the Indians have ever had.
Last night was the 31st World Series game the Indians have ever played in, so we're not talking about a massive sample of games, but here are what I consider the brightest highlights from the Tribe's 30 World Series starts prior to Kluber's:
- Duster Mails (Game 6 in 1920)
- Stav Coveleski (Game 7 in 1920)
- Gene Bearden (Game 3 in 1948)
These are the team's three World Series complete game shutouts. The first two were the final two games of the Indians' first World Series appearance, in a year when it was a best-of-nine series. Mails gave up only three hits, and walked two. Coveleski gave up five hits, all of them singles. Bearden gave up five hits, one of them a double, but he was also facing a better offense then the two others did. Coveleski also pitched two other complete games in the 1920 World Series, allowing only one run in each of them, and he certainly has the strongest World Series resume of any pitcher in franchise history.
Jim Bagby (Game 2 in 1920), Bob Lemon (Game 2 in 1948), and Steve Gromek (Game 4 in 1948) each also pitched a nine-inning complete game, each of which featured only one run allowed. Bagby gave up 13 hits, which makes his allowing just one run something of a miracle. Two other complete games: Bob Lemon pitched 9.1 innings in Game 1 in 1954, losing in the tenth. (They probably should have gone to the bullpen before then.) Bob Feller pitched all eight innings of the Indians' 1-0 loss in Game 1 in 1948, in which no bottom of the ninth was needed.
You may notice that all those games came from the team's first three World Series appearances. During the 1995 and 1997 trips, Orel Hershiser's eight-inning outing in Game 5 in 1995, in which he allowed two runs (one earned) on five hits and an intentional walk, with six strikeouts, is both the longest and best start any Tribe pitcher had. Kluber's Game 1 didn't last as long as Hershiser's Game 5, but it was a better overall performance.
I'd say only the three shutouts belong ahead of Kluber's work last night. In addition to setting the franchise strikeout record, he allowed only four base runners, which is fewer than were allowed in any of those shutouts, and fewer than in any other Indians World Series game with the exception of Game 3 in 1920, in which Ray Caldwell also allowed just four base runners... while recording only one out before being pulled from the game.
Kluber had the most dominant six innings any Tribe pitcher has ever had in a World Series game, especially when you consider that this Cubs team has a better offense than any of the Tribe's five previous World Series opponents.
In summation: Corey Kluber was awesome last night, and the relative brevity of his awesomeness was about bringing him back in three days for Game 4, not any sort of late-inning fade he was experiencing.