CLEVELAND -- For the first time this postseason, Indians stalwarts Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller were something less than overwhelmingly dominant, and it happened at the wrong time. The Cubs won their first World Series championship in 108 years Wednesday night with a thrilling 8-7 win in Game 7.
The Cubs took an early lead over the Indians by tagging Kluber for four runs on six hits in four-plus innings. His night started with a home run and ended with another home run.
Dexter Fowler opened the game with a leadoff homer, the first ever in a World Series Game 7.
.@DexterFowler out here making #Game7 history. pic.twitter.com/n7MwVPjxMt— MLB (@MLB) November 3, 2016
Javier Baez then ended Kluber's night with a home run to start the fifth inning. Three of the six hits Kluber allowed went for extra bases and all three drove in runs. There were the two homers as well as Willson Contreras' run-scoring double to center in the third inning.
Kluber started Game 7 on short rest for the second consecutive start and it was evident his stuff was not as crisp as usual right in the first inning. It's not just the Fowler homer either. Kluber normally averages 93-94 mph with his sinker, but it was down closer to 92 mph in Game 7.
From Baseball Savant:
Also, Kluber did not miss many bats. He threw 57 total pitches and got only three swings and misses. That's a 5.3 percent whiff rate. It was 12.6 percent during the regular season. Not surprisingly, Kluber failed to record a strikeout in Game 7.
Corey Kluber ended with no strikeouts for the first time in his Major League career.— Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) November 3, 2016
On top of the lack of strikeouts, Kluber had trouble preventing the Cubs from lifting the ball in Game 7. You can survive without missing bats in today's game. You just need to keep the ball on the ground to compensate. Instead, Kluber faced 18 batters, and only two hit the ball on the ground. Two! And one of the two turned into an infield single.
Kluber is one of the game's truly great starting pitchers. We've seen it all throughout the postseason. He came into Game 7 with a 0.89 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in five starts and 30 1/3 innings in the postseason. He had struck out 35. Had Kluber won Game 7, he almost certainly would have been named World Series MVP. He refused to admit it, but it's hard not to think pitching on short rest in back-to-back starts hurt him in Game 7.
"Good enough," Kluber said when asked how he felt during his Game 7 start. "I just made a few mistakes, and they were able to hit home runs off of them. Those are a couple runs that are hard to swallow, but that's the way it is."
Once Kluber was out of the game, manager Terry Francona turned things over to Miller, who also wasn't especially sharp. Three of the first four batters he faced reached base (two singles and a walk) to create a run; then, in the fifth, Miller served up a solo home run to David Ross. A dead center field shot too.
Check it out:
Say goodbye, @D_Ross3. #Game7pic.twitter.com/lJLblgpvlB— MLB (@MLB) November 3, 2016
Yikes. That's not the Andrew Miller we've seen for most of the postseason. He threw 2 1/3 innings in Game 7, struck out only one and put five men on base. Miller put three men on base in the entire ALCS.
This is the first time since moving to relief full-time in 2012 that Andrew Miller has allowed 4 hits in a game. pic.twitter.com/OzlaVE75rx— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) November 3, 2016
Was fatigue an issue? Perhaps, even after having the previous three days off. It is very late in the season, after all, and he has been worked hard the past few weeks. Though, to be fair, everyone is running on fumes this late in the season, and Miller refused to use fatigue as an excuse.
"I felt pretty good," he said. "I felt like my command was there. My fastball velocity was there. I didn't really spin it as well as I wanted to today, but that's something you have to work around. That happens in May. I don't think there's any excuses about this time of year. It's pretty easy to get up for these games."
Whatever it was, Miller was not sharp at all in Game 7, and that wasn't part of the plan. Neither was Kluber being something less than excellent. The perfect world scenario was seven (or more) innings of brilliance from those two before handing the ball to Cody Allen, and at that point, whatever happens happens.
Kluber and Miller being charged with six runs in 6 1/3 innings all but eliminated any hope the Indians had of winning Game 7. Yes, they came back to tie the game in the eighth, but taking a loss when you score seven runs with your ace on the mound in Game 7 is tough to swallow.
For these Indians, as good as they are, Kluber and Miller being human in Game 7 was a little too much to overcome against a team as good as the Cubs. The Tribe needed their best players to be at their best in Game 7, and when that didn't happen, the game got away quickly.
"For our starters to have the guts to take the ball like Corey Kluber -- three times in a series -- and our relievers to be available for that much, that often and be that effective, it's not luck," Francona said. "It's will. I think at times tonight they proved they're human. But without them, we don't get anywhere close to here."