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  • The nerves are tense in Cleveland after the Indians' Game 4 flop against the Yankees, but Corey Kluber is set to try and save the day in Game 5.
By Tom Verducci
October 10, 2017

NEW YORK — Legends Hospitality, the food and beverage service provider for Yankee Stadium, reserved enough champagne and beer for the Cleveland Indians to pour all over themselves Monday night. All the Indians needed to do was win one game at Yankee Stadium, and avoid losing a second straight game for the first time in 47 days. The celebration never came close to happening. The bubbly never even entered the Indians’ clubhouse.

How dry they are. Over the past two decades, no team has kept champagne bottles corked like the Indians. Since Game 7 of the 1997 World Series, a night that still makes Clevelanders wince, the Indians have played 21 games to clinch a postseason series and lost 17 of them, the most in baseball, including five in a row.

The Indians extended a miserable narrative with a miserable performance. In losing 7–3 to New York, the Indians joined the infamy of the 2002 Athletics, the 1986 Angels and the 1921 Cardinals as the only teams to allow at least six unearned runs in a potential clincher.

If that wasn't enough, they whiffed 14 times, the most ever by a Cleveland team in the postseason.

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What is left for Cleveland is only one game, one way and one man to end this odd prohibition: Corey Kluber. If you had given me the choice of one pitcher to win one game before this postseason began, my choice would have been Kluber. The Yankees did crack his veneer by knocking him around in Game 2, but the pedigree remains. The Indians have not lost two straight Kluber starts the entire second half of the season.

How might Kluber approach such a big game?

“Big game, small game, going to lunch, doesn't matter,” Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. “Stoic. I think he's going to be sharper.”

Indians manager Terry Francona pushed all of his chips for this series on Kluber in Game 5. With Kluber’s preference for getting an extra day of rest after the regular season and for making his second start on his usual fifth day, Francona chose Trevor Bauer to start Game 1, then rushed him back on short rest for Game 4.

The next time somebody tells you it's no big deal for someone to start on short rest in the postseason, our especially if they want to sell you on it as a great idea, just laugh at such nonsense. As pitchers make more and more starts on five days of rest—that’s the majority of starts these days, not four—pitching someone on three days rest is just dumb.

The Indians wanted us to believe that Bauer was some kind of rubber-armed freak who actually preferred pitching with three days of rest. He even bragged about it after Game 3. Well, here you go: Bauer has now started three times on short rest, lost them all, and lasted a total of nine innings.

The last 13 times a manager used a starter on short rest In a second or third start in the same postseason series, those pitchers are 2–5.

Bauer had a terrific second half and was superb in Game 1, but this was not a spot for him to succeed.

“At first when he came out I thought his stuff was great,” catcher Roberto Perez said. “Even better than Game 1. But we made mistakes and they took advantage of them.”

Bauer had one out in the second when third baseman Giovanny Urshela was hit in the leg with a rocket hit by Starlin Castro. It easily could have been scored a hit because of its fury, but Urshela was saddled with an error. Bauer whiffed Chase Headley, but hung a curveball to Todd Frazier, who swatted it toward the left field corner. Where the ball landed told you everything you needed to know about where this night was going: smack dab on the chalk of the left field line.

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Another cruel twist for Cleveland: the next batter, Aaron Hicks, appeared to whiff on a half swing. But the umpires ruled he checked it in time.

“He swung,” Perez said. “I came back in and looked at the replay. It was a swing.”

Instead of being off the field in a 1–0 game, the Indians watched the inning deteriorate.

“He hung the next pitch and they capitalized,” Perez said.

Hicks smacked a single into center for one run. Brett Gardner singled. Bauer shook off a pitch away to throw Aaron Judge a fastball up and in, and Judge crushed it off the wall in left. A 1–0 lead suddenly became 4–0, and the champagne was never in jeopardy of being spilled.

More trouble came the next inning. With two outs and the bases loaded, Gardner hit a ground ball to Urshela. Now there is only one play to make here: throw the ball to first base and get off the field. Urshela was playing deep and off the line against a left handed hitter, so there is no thought about the runner headed for third. The first baseman, Carlos Santana, was playing deep and behind the runner at first, the speedy Aaron Hicks, who without being held on has a big lead and big secondary lead. So there is no need to think about second.

Urshela caught the grounder and looked to second. Uh-oh. He realized he had no play, then turned toward first, but didn't have time to step into his throw. It was high, and Gardner was safe. Five unearned runs to nothing.

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Asked what happened. Urshela, referring to second baseman Jose Ramirez and his resemblance to Juan Uribe, said, “it was a miscommunication between me and Mini-me. After that I was a little rushed.”

It was hard to explain the most complete team in baseball laying such a big egg in such a big spot, but shortstop Francisco Lindor gave it a try.

“The ball is round and it comes in a square box. Anything can happen,” the young philosopher said.

Anything can happen. The Yankees can go 3–0 in elimination games in one week, while the Indians have gone 0–7 in such games in the two decades since the Game 7 nightmare in Miami.

On Wednesday, a sudden death game, it is up to the home team, Cleveland, to stock up on the champagne and beer. It will be poured this time in somebody’s clubhouse. Where it falls will not be up to karma or history or Jose Mesa. It will be up to the one man the Indians trust more than anyone, the one man whose place in this game determined the entire strategy of Franconia in this series. One way or another, wet or dry, this game belongs to Kluber.

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