CLEVELAND — It’s pretty simple for the Indians.
If ace and Cy Young award front-runner Corey Kluber pitches like he did over the final five months of the regular season, they’re in business.
If he pitches like he did in Game 2 of the American League Division Series, it’s curtains.
Kluber offered up a rare poor outing, but Cleveland’s offense rescued him in a 9-8, 13-inning win Friday to take a 2-0 series lead. The right-hander has the opportunity to return the favor tonight at Progressive Field when the Indians and Yankees square off in a series-deciding Game 5.
New York, which will start former Cleveland ace and Cy Young award winner CC Sabathia against Kluber for the second time, comes in riding momentum after evening the series at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees are also feeling confident against Kluber, who was asked Tuesday what he needs to do differently in the rematch.
“Everything,” said Kluber, who allowed six runs on seven hits — two home runs — in lasting only 2 2⁄3 innings in Game 2. “I didn’t pitch well, didn’t have good command, didn’t throw the ball where I wanted to. So that’s kind of what it boils down to.”
After watching Kluber pitch so poorly, there was speculation he was injured. It was bolstered by manager Terry Francona’s decision to start Trevor Bauer in Game 1, while giving Kluber another day of rest before making his postseason debut.
The Indians continue to contend that the move was made in order for Kluber to be on regular rest should the series advance to five games.
“I think we tried to be prepared for just about every scenario that could be thrown at us,” Francona said. “And I think we feel real comfortable with how we went about everything and we wanted Kluber if we got to this game. We got to this game. We have a lot of information at our hands that we’re supposed to have, and we make the best judgments for our ballclub always, and I’m comfortable with where we are.”
Kluber, who does have a regimented prestart routine, said rest and health weren’t factors in his bad outing.
“I think that throughout the course of the year, there’s numerous times where you’re not on your regular five days,” he said. “I mean, the beginning of the season, everything’s jumbled up with all the off days, things get moved around. At the All-Star break, the roster expanded in September, things can get moved around. There’s numerous times where you’re not always on that five days, so we’re used to not being on our normal routine.
“We do it enough to where we have ways to try to get ourselves to where we want to be that day we pitch, and I don’t think that had anything to do with the last time I pitched. Like I said, I just didn’t pitch well and I look to correct it (tonight).”
The Indians were unable to build on their momentum from series-opening wins. Now, the Yankees look to keep theirs from series-changing ones in New York tonight in a winner-take-all affair.
“I think it’s our responsibility and our challenge to not let that happen,” Francona said. “I don’t think it’s wrong to be honest about it, like I listen to other coaches talk, other managers talk. I think being honest is probably the best way to go about it. (I) would much have preferred us to have won and move on. We didn’t do that. Now, saying that, we have a really exciting game that’s in front of us. I think the day off helps us. We can regroup a little bit. And the challenge is to, by the time you get to the first pitch, to have everything behind you so you can play your best game.
“And just watching the guys show up (Tuesday), we’ll be in a good place. I mean, we’re playing a good team and we respect that. They’ve showed that. But our challenge is to play the best game we can and I think we will.”
“There’s the obvious that the winner advances and the loser goes home,” Kluber said. “I think aside from that, it’s still the game of baseball. You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to, as a pitcher, execute your pitches. And hitters are going to try to take advantage of your mistakes.
“It boils down to it’s still the same game, still 27 outs, all that kind of stuff. There’s a little more, maybe, emotion, things like that. But when it comes down to it, it’s still the same game.”
The Indians hope it’s still the same Kluber and not the one they saw the first time around.
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