CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Indians could not have asked for a better scenario than the one that played out on Friday night.
Cleveland relied heavily on their bullpen in Game 1, getting 4 1/3 innings out of Andrew Miller, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen to pick up the victory, but needed a combined 80 pitches from Miller and Allen to get it done.
Whatever. They’ll take it, as long as it means clinching an all-important playoff win.
But of course, there were ramifications from that decision centered on winning today and crossing tomorrow’s bridge when they arrived on Friday. The biggest desire? The Indians needed a solid performance from their ace.
What they got in Friday’s 6-0 win over the Red Sox was better than they could have hoped for.
Kluber took the ball — he hadn’t pitched in 11 days after coming off his mild quad injury — and looked fantastic, shutting down the potent Red Sox offense over seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits, walking three and striking out seven, pitching into the eighth and tossing 104 pitches before handing the ball over to Dan Otero.
And Otero promptly came on and stranded the pair of runners on base when Kluber exited to a well-deserved standing ovation, saving any runs from being added to the righty’s strong effort.
The Indians got a very ace-like performance from their top hurler, which truly surprised no one in the Indians’ dugout. After all, they’ve seen Kluber perform during far more desperate times. He’s become the team’s consistent and reliable option.
And on Friday, he locked down the AL’s top scoring club.
“We talked before the game about would he be a little bit rusty or would he be really good,” manager Terry Francona said. “I think he answered that question. He was terrific.”
And his performance took a huge load off the bullpen’s shoulders, knowing an off day on Saturday should provide plenty of time for Cleveland to enter the potential close-out game at Fenway Park on Sunday at full rest and ready to contribute.
“I think we all kind of knew that could happen, so maybe that’s why the bullpen was used a certain way yesterday,” Otero said. “Fortunately he was able to do it, pitched into the eighth inning, that’s what he’s done the whole season, his whole career.”
Jason Kipnis, who has been a teammate of Kluber’s since he came up in 2011, could not be any less surprised by the big-game effort by the talented righty. And if you ask him, it’s certainly no accident that Kluber is yet again one of the leading candidates for the AL Cy Young Award in 2016.
“The guy is our ace, a bona fide ace,” Kipnis said. “This team loves when he’s on the mound for us. We feel very confident when he’s out there.”
Confidence has never seemed to be an issue for Kluber. Nor did the playoff stage prove to be too big for the dominant right-handed pitcher.
“In the end, it’s still the same game,” Kluber said. “And I think that so far we’ve been able to just go out there and play as we usually do, and that’s what we’re going to be doing going forward.”
And it certainly doesn’t hurt knowing if Boston is capable of forcing a Game 5 by winning the next two games, Kluber looms in the potential do-or-die ballgame.
“He’s pitched so many big games for us,” Francona said of Kluber. “He’s been our guys for the last three years. He takes the ball every five days and he’s ready to pitch.”
Of course, Cleveland would certainly prefer their ace’s next start take place in the ALCS, and that will be the goal as the Indians head to Boston with a chance to end the Red Sox’s season in Game 3.