CHICAGO—Things began well enough for the Cubs on Saturday night.
John Lackey worked a 1-2-3 first inning with a pair of strikeouts. Anthony Rizzo stroked an RBI single in the bottom of the first to put the Cubs up. Wrigley Field was rocking, and Chicago could feel its World Series fortunes changing.
Then, Corey Kluber happened.
Kluber settled in to allow only one run over six innings, delivered the infield single that led to the go-ahead run in the second inning to boot, and the Indians rode their ace to a 7-2 victory in Game Four of the World Series.
“I thought he had to work early,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He didn’t have his best breaking ball, he had to find it, but I thought later he did. I think he’s proving over and over just how good he is.”
The Indians lead the best-of-seven series 3-1 and can wrap up their first World Series title since 1948 with a win in Game Five on Sunday night.
Kluber, the 2007 fourth-round pick from Stetson traded from the Padres to the Indians in 2010 as a lightly regarded Double-A prospect, put Cleveland in that position with his second World Series victory this week.
Pitching on three days’ rest, Kluber fought through an 18-pitch first inning—featuring a leadoff double by Dexter Fowler and Rizzo driving him home two batters later—to deliver another sterling postseason performance.
He threw 58 of 81 pitches for strikes. He struck out six and walked one. He didn’t allow a runner past second base after the first inning. He finished at his best, retiring seven of his final eight batters.
“First inning they hit two balls pretty softly that just happened to find holes, so I really didn’t try to change to much after that,” Kluber said. “Just make pitches and stick to the game plan. Obviously they scored a run which we didn’t want, but in retrospect it wasn’t because they were hit all over the yard or anything.”
By the time he departed after the sixth inning, Kluber had moved his postseason ERA to 0.89.
“What I care about is us finding ways to win,” Francona said. “I know when he pitches we feel really good.”
While Kluber settled in, his Cubs counterpart Lackey unraveled. Staked to a 1-0 lead, the veteran righthander immediately served up a long home run to Carlos Santana to lead off the second. After an error and intentional walk, Lackey allowed an infield single to Kluber, a career .118 hitter, instead of putting him away with two strikes, and the go-ahead run scored on Kris Bryant’s wild throw to first after Kluber beat out the chopper.
Lackey hung a breaking ball that Jason Kipnis ripped for a double to lead off the third and, after reacting demonstrably in disagreement with a call by home plate umpire Marvin Hudson, hung another breaking ball that Francisco Lindor lined into center field to make it 3-1 Indians. Lackey had words with Hudson as he backed up the plate over the previous pitch, a 2-2 fastball he perceived to be strike three against Lindor. MLB’s Statcast technology showed the pitch was, in fact, outside the strike zone.
“The thing we try and teach our guys is we’re good enough that even if an umpire misses a pitch, we can work through that,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “You have to anticipate a call is not going to go your way. That happens to both sides, every night. You can’t go there mentally. You’ve just got to keep moving through the moment.”
Lackey reset to get a key double-play ball to end the third and retired the side in order in the fourth and fifth innings before being lifted for a pinch-hitter, but it was too late with Kluber on the other side. Especially for a Cubs offense that is now hitting .204 in the World Series.
“We have to do more offensively to give ourselves a chance,” Maddon said. “You’re going to make mistakes on occasion. You have to be able to play out of those tough moments by doing something offensively. We haven’t been able to do that.”
Kipnis, a Chicago-area native and Cubs fan growing up, added a three-run homer off Travis Wood in the seventh to make it 7-1 Indians and turn the close game into a rout.
Dexter Fowler’s eighth-inning solo home run off previously untouchable reliever Andrew Miller was the only consolation the Cubs could muster.
“The guys are having fun in the dugout and everyone is at ease and playing loose,” said Kipnis, who finished 3-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs scored. “The pitching staff deserves all the credit in the world. They’re the ones who got us to this point. It was nice to finally be able to return the favor and allow them to go on cruise control and pitch with a nice lead.”