CLEVELAND — You had LeBron James with a triple-double in the building next door. And you had Corey Kluber raising him at Progressive Field.

King them. The out-of-town guys never had a chance. Not even if the Chicago Cubs had waited 71 years for this night. Imagine, waiting seven decades for something and then playing tree to a wood chipper. That’s how good Kluber—the Klubot—was as the World Series returned to Cleveland on Tuesday for the first time since 1997.

The guy threw a dizzying array of sliders and sinkers that had Cubs from Kris Bryant to Anthony Rizzo jumping, twitching, leaning and flinching. And there was nothing they could do about it. What they got was an up-close view of the same thing American League clubs have tasted since Kluber’s breakout Cy Young Award season in 2014.

So Cleveland draws first blood, 6-0, and that’s before Trevor Bauer—Drone Boy—even takes the mound for Game 2. Look out. If Bauer spills as much blood as he did last time out against Toronto, this World Series could turn R-rated real quick.

Longtime Clevelanders were calling Tuesday as great of a sports night as there’s ever been in this town.

“Without a doubt,” longtime Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto said. “There’s not even a close second.”

The Cavaliers opened defense of their NBA crown and received their championship rings. The Indians opened the World Series and accomplished one enormous key: win when Kluber is on the mound, and figure out the rest.

How good was Kluber? The Cubs this postseason have faced Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Matt Moore and Clayton Kershaw.

“He’s probably the best of all the ones you just mentioned,” Bryant told me when I asked how the Cleveland right-hander compares. “You don’t hear much about him. But he was really good tonight.

“We’ve faced some pretty good ones this postseason. It’s tough being a hitter.”

Particularly right now, in this autumn, against this team.

The Indians have not allowed more than one run in an inning in 79 of their 80 postseason frames this month. In the seventh inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, Toronto squeezed two runs across. Otherwise, Cleveland’s staff has thrown up a whole bunch of zeroes and allowed one run here and there.

Kluber became the first pitcher since 1966 and just the sixth overall to work at least six scoreless innings and whiff at least nine in his first World Series start, according to MLB Communications. There was Moe Drabowsky of Baltimore in ’66. And Cincinnati’s Hod Eller in 1919. And, well, the other three came in 1903, 1905 and 1906. In other words, before the Cubs’ last World Series title in 1908.

Kluber also became only the third pitcher in World Series history to strike out at least nine batters and allow zero runs in a Game 1 start, joining St. Louis Hall of Famer Bob Gibson in 1968 and the Yankees’ Allie Reynolds in 1949.

“It’s not anything new,” Andrew Miller, Cleveland’s relief ace, said. “He’s won a Cy Young. He’s going to get a lot of votes this year and might even win another Cy Young.

“He didn’t magically discover a new pitch down the stretch. To those of us lucky enough to see him all the time, it’s nothing new.”

Kluber struck out eight of the first 11 Cubs he faced. He whiffed nine of the first 16 hitters he saw, six of those looking at called third strikes. Bryant looked at a four-seam fastball for strike three in the first inning, swung and missed at an 83 mph curve in the third and fouled meekly behind the plate to catcher Roberto Perez in the sixth.

Anthony Rizzo? Weak pop to third base, then he fouled out to the catcher and popped out to the catcher. Dexter Fowler? Looked at a wicked sinker for strike three in the first inning. Swung through a disappearing sinker for strike three in the third.

“It was my first time facing him,” said Cubs shortstop Addison Russell, who was frozen by a curveball for a called strike three in the third. “I was looking for something away.”

For all this, the Cubs can thank their own general manager, Jed Hoyer. Before rejoining Theo Epstein, the president of baseball operations in Chicago, Hoyer was the GM of the San Diego Padres for two brief seasons, 2010 and 2011. In that time, during a rare winning year for the Padres in 2010, he dealt a young prospect named Corey Kluber to the Indians for a veteran outfield bat, Ryan Ludwick.

Whoops. Epstein and the Cubs front office still regularly give Hoyer grief over that one.

Except Tuesday night, it wasn’t so funny.

Bryant was chasing pitches out of the zone, looking like a guy trying to put a net over a butterfly. It was all Cleveland, all the time.

“He did an unbelievable job,” Kluber said of Perez, who became the first player ever to smash two home runs while batting in the No. 9 spot in the lineup, all in the midst of calling a whale of a game. “It’s almost like he knew what they were looking for. He had them off-balance for the majority of the night.”

Kluber’s stuff was so silly that Perez actually said: “I think his ball was moving too much today.”

He exited to a standing ovation in the seventh inning, having thrown just 88 pitches. The importance of that: Manager Terry Francona has named his starting pitchers only through Game 3. There is every reason to believe he’s going to bring Kluber back on short rest for Game 4 on Saturday. Which would make Kluber available, if needed, for Game 7 if this World Series stretches that far.

With Miller and closer Cody Allen coming out of the bullpen, along with assorted other weapons, that’s the path to victory for Cleveland.

“We’ve still got to win four games,” Indians center fielder Rajai Davis said. “I guess he was on a relatively short leash, only 88 pitches. He’s got more pitches in him, I suppose, for the other games.”

Not that the Cubs view that as an impossible task. Hey, it was their first look at both Kluber and Miller this season. And though they could not follow through with a couple of threats against him, they did squeeze 46 pitches out of the big lefty in two innings.

Manager Joe Maddon was extremely pleased with the at-bats even though they produced no runs. He liked that they made Miller work. He liked that they battled Kluber.

“He stands on the first base side of the rubber,” Russell said. “He looks like his ball is coming at you, and then it goes back to the middle of the zone. He slows it up, he speeds it up, he changes the shape of it.

“It was good to see.”

Remember the way the Cubs roughed up Kershaw in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Saturday in Chicago after seeing him earlier in the series? This isn’t to say Kluber will be an easy draw the next time around, but the Cubs will have some stored information from which to draw.

“We just need to split the games here,” Bryant said. “It was pretty dang loud tonight, and seeing the Cavs playing and so many people out [downtown], it was pretty exciting.”

Short-term, because of a significant threat of rain Wednesday night, MLB moved the start time of Game 2 up an hour, to 7:08 p.m. ET.

As for now, this series is starting just the way the Indians would have drawn it up.

“We’re going to ride him as hard as we can,” Miller said of Kluber.

Yeah, somebody mentioned, but he can’t pitch every day.

“He can’t?” Miller quipped.

Well, no, but expect to see the 30-year-old ace soon.

“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.”


Scott Miller covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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