Kluber could become 1st since Lolich to win 3 Series starts
CLEVELAND (AP) — Indians ace Corey Kluber is a throwback to the old days.
After beating the Chicago Cubs twice already, he will take the mound in Game 7 on Wednesday night with a chance to become the first pitcher to win three World Series starts since Detroit’s Mickey Lolich in 1968.
“The game has changed,” the 76-year-old Lolich said Tuesday. “It’s a totally different game than what we played back in our days. It just doesn’t happen.”
Cleveland is hoping for its first title since 1948. Meanwhile, major league ERA leader Kyle Hendricks can pitch the Cubs to their first championship since 1908. Climbing back from a 3-1 Series deficit, Chicago won 9-3 on Tuesday night to force a deciding Game 7.
Kluber is 4-1 with a 0.89 ERA in four postseason starts, starting with 16 consecutive scoreless innings against Boston in the Division Series and Toronto in the AL Championship Series.
A 30-year-old right-hander, Kluber started on three days’ rest for the first time in his big league career in Game 4 against the Blue Jays. He left after five innings with the Indians trailing 2-1 in a 5-1 defeat, then threw 88 pitches over six innings to beat the Cubs 6-0 last Tuesday in the Series opener.
He came back on three days’ rest in Game 4, needing 81 pitches for six innings of one-run, five-hit ball in a 7-2 win that gave Cleveland a 3-1 lead.
“Obviously, he’s a special guy,” Hendricks said. “You can just see it, the way he takes to the mound. He’s always locked in.”
Nine pitchers have won three starts in a single Series, none since Lolich went 3-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 21 strikeouts while tossing three complete games against the St. Louis Cardinals.
“Good players, good pitchers, can do special things. He’s in that category,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “It was kind of an easy decision after talking to him.”
The 2014 AL Cy Young Award winner, Kluber was 18-9 with a 3.14 ERA this season as Cleveland won the AL Central for the first time since 2007. His win in the All-Star Game at San Diego in July gave the American League home-field advantage in the Series.
“I never connected those dots at that point in time,” he said.
Already, he is the first pitcher to win Games 1 and 4 in the Series since Cincinnati’s Jose Rijo in 1990. Chris Carpenter of the Cardinals was the last to even make three starts, winning the 2011 opener against Texas, getting a no-decision in Game 5 and then, after rain pushed back Game 6, coming back on short rest to win Game 7.
“Those are things you’ll probably look back on after the fact and not during the middle of it,” Kluber said.
After Lolich had a pair of complete-game victories for Detroit in the 1968 Series, he remembered manager Mayo Smith turning to him during the Tigers’ 10-run third inning in Game 6.
“Can you start Game 7? I only want you to pitch five innings,” Lolich recalled Smith asking.
“Sure, that wouldn’t bother me at all,” the pitcher remembered responding, then quickly added: “Well, you know the rest of the story.”
Lolich allowed six hits in Game 2 and nine hits on three days’ rest in Game 5, then pitched shutout ball into the ninth inning of Game 7. His five-hit, 4-1 win defeated Bob Gibson, who had beaten 31-game winner Denny McLain in Games 1 and 4 for a 3-1 lead.
The only others to win three Series starts were Charles “Deacon” Phillippe of Pittsburgh and Bill Dinneen of the Boston Americans (1903), the New York Giants’ Christy Mathewson (1905), the Philadelphia Athletics’ Jack Coombs (1910), Pittsburgh’s Babe Adams (1909), Cleveland’s Stan Coveleski (1920), Milwaukee’s Lew Burdette (1957) and Gibson (1967).
Arizona’s Randy Johnson beat the New York Yankees in a pair of starts in 2011, then won Game 7 with 1 1/3 innings of relief, a day after throwing 104 pitches over seven innings to win Game 6. Boston’s Smoky Joe Wood (1912), Urban Faber of the Chicago White Sox in 1917 and the Cardinals’ Harry Brecheen (1946) also won a pair of starts and once in relief.
Giants ace Madison Bumgarner won two starts in the 2014 Series before throwing five shutout innings in Game 7 for a save at Kansas City.
Hendricks, a 28-year-old right-hander, went 16-8 and didn’t get a decision in his Game 3 Series start, when he allowed six hits in 4 1/3 scoreless innings of a 1-0 loss.
“This is the ultimate dream,” he said. “When you’re out in your backyard as a kid, playing Little League at the field with your friends, this is the moment you dream about: Game 7, 3-2, two outs, something like that, bottom of the ninth. But it’s always Game 7 of the World Series.”
AP investigative researcher Randy Herschaft contributed to this report.