CLEVELAND -- Indians ace Corey Kluber is nicknamed Klubot because of his robotic approach to his work. His teammates giggle a bit when talking about him. Kluber's undying dedication to his routine and his never-blinking personality make the Indians laugh a little -- but they respect him a lot.
Opponents don't find him nearly as humorous. Just ask the Cubs.
The Klubot dominated Game 1 of the World Series, a 6-0 Cleveland win over Chicago on Tuesday night. Kluber's city, elated by the Cavaliers' championship ring ceremony across the street at Quicken Loans Arena, gave Kluber a rousing salute as he left the Progressive Field mound after six-plus scoreless innings. He took a piece of history with him as he went, having struck out eight Cubs in the first three innings.
A few hours later, as Kluber departed, the sellout crowd of 38,091 went wild. Normal protocol is for a pitcher to acknowledge the applause with a doff of his cap or a wave. The Klubot, well, he just walked off like it was any other game. He is not programmed to think any stage is different than any other, which might be one of the reasons he has been so good during this playoff run.
“That’s him,” left fielder Brandon Guyer said with a smile when asked about Kluber's non-reaction. “He’s always the same guy. He is really even-keeled. It makes him such a good pitcher. He is a fun guy to play behind, even though it gets boring sometimes.”
After all the strikeouts in the first three innings, Kluber pitched three more scoreless innings while setting just one batter down on strikes. But the way his pitches darted in and out of the strike zone, the Cubs had little chance. In all, Kluber went six innings, allowed no runs on four hits, struck out nine and walked none.
“His ball was moving so much, it was really tough for the hitters to decide if it was going to hit them or if it was going to be a strike or if it was going to cut in,” center fielder Rajai Davis said. “He was really in and out, up and down, his ball had a lot of life. Just by their reaction, they couldn’t tell what was coming.”
The question now is whether Kluber will make starts in Game 4 and a possible Game 7. Indians manager Terry Francona said that would depend on how Trevor Bauer fares in Game 2 and Josh Tomlin does in Game 3.
No matter how Bauer and Tomlin pitch, how can Francona not go to Kluber in Game 4? Kluber threw just 88 pitches Tuesday, which is a fair amount for six innings, but it should leave him with enough to start again Saturday at Wrigley Field.
"I didn't want to overextend him," Francona said, hinting that his plan might be to use Kluber on short rest.
Francona will wait to see how the series unfolds, but his best option is to ride Kluber. Indians players in the clubhouse, to a man, seem to like the idea of putting Kluber out there as much as possible. He is clearly the best option.
"Phenomenal, incredible, whatever superlative you can come up with. We see it all the time. It's special. He's in Cleveland, and I know it is maybe not the spotlight of the big markets or whatnot, but he is as good as they come. He's only going to get better. That is the fun part, and he is as good a pitcher as there is in baseball." Andrew Miller
For Game 4, Danny Salazar is very talented, but he would be limited to 60 or 70 pitches, and though rookie lefty Ryan Merritt came through in the ALCS, it is hard to expect him to do that again. The Klubot is programmed to be ready whenever called upon.
"I'll pitch whenever [Francona] asks me to," Kluber said. "I think at this point in time, it's all about doing whatever we can to get four wins before they do. If that means pitching on short rest, then I'm more than willing to do that."
On Tuesday, Kluber's start was an awesome display. He kept firing sinkers, fastballs and curves as the Cubs either flailed at them or watched them, bewildered, as home plate ump Larry Vanover punched them out.
In the first inning, the first two Cubs struck out looking, then Anthony Rizzo meekly popped out. In the second, Ben Zobrist led off with a double, but Kluber sent down Kyle Schwarber, Javier Baez and Chris Coghlan looking. In the third, Kluber surrounded a single with three more strikeouts. Of all the aces in the history of the game who have pitched in the World Series, none recorded their first nine outs like the Klubot.
As always, he didn't change one bit. The World Series stage does not throw off the Klubot's wiring.
“He’s perfect for it because he is probably the most composed guy I’ve seen, and he has been like that forever,” closer Cody Allen said.
The next two games, the starting pitching favors the Cubs. Jake Arrieta faces Bauer in Game 2, and then Tomlin will be opposed by Kyle Hendricks in Game 3. In Game 4, the Cubs will have John Lackey, while the Indians would be almost crazy to not come back with Kluber.
“Phenomenal, incredible, whatever superlative you can come up with,” said Andrew Miller, who followed Kluber on Tuesday. “We see it all the time. It’s special. He’s in Cleveland, and I know it is maybe not the spotlight of the big markets or whatnot, but he is as good as they come. He’s only going to get better. That is the fun part, and he is as good a pitcher as there is in baseball.”
The Klubot was ready for the big stage. When his manager checked the gauges at the end of the night, Francona knew all the tedious work between starts had kept Kluber strong.
"He prepares so hard, and we're talking about before the game, his routines and his work ethic," Francona said. "That's why, here late into October, and the needle on the gas tank doesn't point towards empty."
On Tuesday, the Klubot picked up one win for the Indians -- and he's ready for more.