In sports, there is no greater crucible than Game 7.

It’s the mother of all small samples. On such a limited, glaring stage, peons can rise and the great sometimes wilt.

On Wednesday against the Chicago Cubs at Progressive Field, Cleveland Indians right-hander Corey Kluber will have a chance to ascend from great to legendary.

It’s one start. And the stakes couldn’t be higher.

Cleveland could have secured its first championship since 1948 on Sunday, but lost 3-2 at Wrigley Field. After heading back to Ohio on Halloween, the Indians endured a nasty trick in Tuesday’s Game 6, as Chicago pounded them 9-3 to knot the series at three games apiece.

Chicago was shut out twice in the series’ first three games, but the club’s offense has stirred from its hibernation. The Cubbies have momentum, fleeting as it is, after winning two straight.

Now, it falls on the stout shoulder of Kluber, who has been mostly excellent since the calendar flipped to October.

Scratch that. Kluber has been mostly excellent, period.

A Cy Young Award winner in 2014 and an All-Star this season, Kluber has eclipsed 200 innings and 200 strikeouts each of the past three years.

The 30-year-old has been equally impressive in his first postseason go-round, posting an 0.89 ERA while allowing just 22 hits and eight walks with 35 strikeouts in 30.1 innings. His arsenal of pitches—the power sinker, cutter and sweeping breaking ball—have been working to devastating effect.

He’s already 2-0 in this World Series after pitching the Tribe to victory in Games 1 and 4. It’s been a throwback showing, as Jayson Stark spelled out:

The ace has started Games 1 and 4, and won Games 1 and 4by giving up a total of one run in 12 innings. It’s no big deal to him. But who does this in the modern world of pitch counts, innings thresholds and third-time-through-the-order phobias? Nobody does this. That would be your answer. He’s the first starting pitcher to win Games 1 and 4 of any World Series since Jose Rijoin 1990.

If Kluber cashes in another gem Wednesday, he won’t merely give the title-parched city of Cleveland its second major sports parade of the calendar year after the Cavaliers hoisted the NBA trophy in June. He’ll etch his name, indelibly, in the annals of World Series lore.

Only 13 pitchers have won three games in a single Fall Classic, according to Benjamin Hoffman and David Waldstein of the New York Times. The last man to do it was Randy Johnson for the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2001. That was a decade-and-a-half ago. Johnson has a bust in Cooperstown.

On October 24, before the World Series began, yours truly argued the Indians needed Kluber to do his best Madison Bumgarner impression. 

With Cleveland’s rotation depleted by injury and facing a deep, hungry Cubs lineup, it made sense for the Indians to saddle and ride an unflappable stud the way the San Francisco Giants rode Bumgarner in 2014.

These narratives rarely unfold so neatly. Yet here we are, with Kluber one step away from joining the firmament of postseason demigods.

He will be throwing on short rest. The specter of fatigue hangs in the air like an autumn mist. 

On the other hand, manager Terry Francona didn’t call on either Andrew Miller or Cody Allen in the Indians’ Game 6 shellacking, meaning the Tribe’s two-headed bullpen monster will be rested and ready to gnaw through the late innings.

If Kluber can give the Indians five or six solid frames and exit with the lead, he’ll have done his job.

That assumes Cleveland can dent Cubs starter and reigning MLB ERA king Kyle Hendricks, who has allowed just three earned runs in 20.2 innings this postseason. It also remains to be seen what Chicago closer Aroldis Chapman has left in the tank. 

As Game 7s go, this should be a doozy. The Indians believe they have the right man on the hill.

“Conversations with him, the way he treats his body, the way he works his routines,” Francona said of his confidence in Kluber’s stamina, per Colleen Kane of the Chicago Tribune. “Good players, good pitchers can do special things. He’s in that category.”

Good is one thing. Legendary is another. Kluber will be gunning for the latter.

He’ll do it against a Cubs offense that’s suddenly humming. He’ll do it in front of a home crowd whose vibrating, long-suffering anticipation is surpassed only by the fans rubbing rabbits’ feet on Chicago’s North Side.

This World Series is all about overcoming history. On Wednesday, in the ultimate crucible, Kluber can make some of his own. 


All statistics current as of Tuesday and courtesy of and unless otherwise noted.

Read more MLB news on