By Shane Nicholson
The Chicago Cubs first foray in the World Series since World War Two saw them drop Game 1 at Cleveland’s Progressive Field 6-0, with Jon Lester taking the loss against Corey Kluber.
The Northsiders went 1-2-3 in the top of the first, the highlight being both a stark reminder of the long arc of history and an indictment of just how long it’s been since the Cubs saw the World Series stage: Dexter Fowler became the first black Cubs player to grace baseball’s championship round.
The Indians looked set to follow with a quick bottom half before a two-out walk to shortstop Francisco Lindor. Right as rain, Lindor made fast work of stealing second off Lester before a pair of walks loaded the bases. A Jose Ramirez swinging bunt – one that any pitcher in the league, save Lester, would’ve at least made an effort to field – and a hit-by-pitch gave the Indians a 2-0 lead after the opening frame.
Ben Zobrist, getting the start in left field, led off the Cubs second with a double, only to be stranded when Kluber struck out Schwarber, Javy Baez and Chris Coghlan to kill the threat. A match up of aces ensued, as playoff baseball is wont to provide. Kluber struck out eight in the first three innings, eclipsing a record shared by Bob Gibson, Orlando Hernandez and Randy Johnson. Lindor reached first against with one out in the Indians’ third being gunned down attempting to steal second on the Lester-David Ross battery again.
Kyle Schwarber, playing his first game since tearing two knee ligaments in April, put a charge into one with two outs in the top of the fourth only to see it crash high off the wall in the right-center-field gap as a pair of Cleveland outfielders looked on. His hesitance on the bases was evident as he gingerly strode into second ahead of a throw before being stranded by Baez.
Schwarber became the first non-pitcher in baseball history to not record a single hit in the regular season prior to grabbing one in the World Series, according to stat-guru Ryan Spaeder (on Twitter @theaceofspaeder).
Nine-hitter Robert Perez provided a wall-scraper of a one-out home run for Cleveland in the bottom half, finding the railing just over the top of the 19-foot-tall left field wall. Lester worked his way through the rest of the fourth without any further damage.
Lester hung in the game through two outs in the sixth before being lifted in favor of righthander Pedro Strop, who struck out that man Perez to end the Indians threat. Kluber was pulled by Terry Francona after a lead off single in the seventh with a 3-run lead intact. The game was in the hands of two very deep and capable bullpens, with ALCS MVP Andrew Miller taking over on the hill for Cleveland.
But the lefty walked Schwarber on a full count before giving up a single to Baez. The Cubs had the bases loaded with nobody out, and Cleveland looked set to give up their first runs in more than 14 innings of postseason play.
Willson Contreras, pinch hitting for Coghlan, showed bunt on ball one before flying out to Rajai Davis in short center, who fired home to prevent Zobrist from scoring, looking past both Schwarber and Baez who were caught well off their bags. What should have been an easy double-play was converted to a simple F8 and the pressure remained.
But Addison Russell went down on strikes before Ross came to the plate, facing some of the final at-bats of his career in this World Series. The Cubs catcher worked the count full before being cut down on a down-and-in slider from the Cleveland bullpen maestro that he couldn’t lay off. The home side’s 3-0 lead remained. Bases loaded, nobody out, and ultimately nobody across.
Strop, Travis Wood and Justin Grimm combined to retire the Indians in the bottom of the seventh, with Lindor left standing on second after a two-out double.
Following a walk to Bryant and a base hit by Zobrist, Schwarber came to the plate with two out in the eighth. The Cubs DH worked Miller 2-2 before striking out swinging.
Grimm started the eighth, retiring two before exiting with runners on first and second. But righthander Hector Rondon hung a 2-2 breaking ball to Perez. The catcher, having earlier barely edged a round-tripper, sent a no-doubt home run deep into the left field bleachers.
Cleveland closer Cody Allen closed out the Cubs in the ninth, sealing the 6-0 win and giving the Indians the 1-0 lead in the series.
For the various curse chasers on either side of the divide, Lindor became the youngest player since shortstop Edgar Renteria to record three hits in the World Series since Renteria did it for the then Florida Marlins in 1997. Renteria ultimately drove in the winning run for the Marlins in that Game 7, sending Cleveland to their second World Series defeat in three years.
Perez became the first catcher since Gary Carter in 1986 to hit at least two home runs in one World Series game. Carter’s Mets won that championship, as did the teams of the three prior catchers to achieve the feat.
And 16 teams prior to Tuesday night had been shutout in Game 1 of a World Series; nine of them came back to win. The readers can decide if these notes are good or bad curse-wise for the Cubs.
Game 2 will start an hour early on Wednesday as MLB hopes to get it in ahead of some predicted rain storms. Jake Arrieta takes on Cleveland’s Trevor Bauer as the Cubs look to even the series before heading back to Wrigley Field on Friday.
Coverage will start on FOX at 5 p.m. First pitch is at 6:08 p.m. on FOX39 and WSCR 670AM.