CHICAGO — One more win and baseball fans everywhere might finally believe in these Cleveland Indians.
That’s all it will take for Corey Kluber & Co. to clinch this World Series.
Kluber pitched six sparkling innings on short rest for his second victory this week and the Indians beat the Chicago Cubs 7-2 Saturday night, taking a 3-1 lead and nearing their first championship since 1948.
Jason Kipnis hit a three-run homer in his hometown and Carlos Santana connected for the first of his three hits as manager Terry Francona’s team won for the second straight day at Wrigley Field.
Trevor Bauer gets the ball Sunday night when the visiting Indians try for the franchise’s third World Series title against Jon Lester and the faltering Cubs.
“I think we like the position we’re in, but the task isn’t done yet,” Kluber said. “We still have one more game to win, and we’re going to show up tomorrow and play with the same sense of urgency we’ve played with until this point. We don’t want to let them build up any momentum and let them get back in the series.”
Still, not bad for a team that seemed like an underdog all year long.
The Indians topped the defending champion Royals and star-studded Tigers for the AL Central title, then came the postseason. No one thought they would beat Big Papi and Boston, outslug Toronto or ever end their drought before the charmed Cubs, who led the majors with 103 wins.
Well, look who is on the brink of hoisting the hardware.
“We’ve got one more to get and it’s probably going to be the hardest victory of the year, but this is a special night for me and this team to take the first two here,” said Kipnis, who grew up a Cubs fan on the north side of Chicago.
Kipnis had three hits and scored two runs as Cleveland moved to 10-2 in this postseason. Francisco Lindor contributed an RBI single, helping Francona improve to 11-1 in the World Series.
The Indians now will try to bring another crown to Cleveland, adding to the one LeBron James and the Cavaliers earned earlier this year.
“We have a ways to go. We’re not done,” Francona said.
Dexter Fowler doubled and scored in the first for the Cubs, and then homered against Andrew Miller in the eighth. Fowler’s drive to left-center was the first homer for Chicago in the World Series since Phil Cavaretta connected in Game 1 in 1945 and the first run allowed by Miller during his dominant postseason.
In between Fowler’s two hits, the Cubs came up empty every time they had a chance to put any pressure on Cleveland.
“So we made mistakes. Absolutely, we made mistakes tonight,” manager Joe Maddon said. “That was part of it. But then again, we just have to do more offensively to give ourselves a chance.”
The Indians won for the second straight day at Wrigley — those two wins matched the Cubs’ entire total of World Series victories in more than a century of playing at their famed ballpark.
“They’re obviously doing something right, taking advantage of our mistakes and my mistakes,” Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant said.
Pitching on three days’ rest for the second time, Kluber allowed five hits, struck out six and walked one. The steady, stoic right-hander, who struck out nine in a dominant performance in Game 1, improved to 4-1 with a 0.89 ERA in five playoff starts this year.
Francona put Santana at first after starting him in left in Game 3, and Mike Napoli was out of the starting lineup for the time in the playoffs. And just like the rest of October, the decision worked out quite well for the Indians.
Santana led off the second with a drive to right against John Lackey, tying it at 1. Santana’s third homer of the playoffs silenced the crowd of 41,706, and the Indians seized the momentum from there.
Two throwing errors on Bryant, including one on Kluber’s infield single, led to an unearned run that put Cleveland ahead to stay. Kipnis connected for his second playoff homer in the seventh, pointing to his friends and family in the stands after powering the Indians to a 7-1 lead.
“We’re mortals. We’re baseball players. It’s what we live for,” Kipnis said. “At this kind of stage it’s what we all dream about.”
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Kluber’s 0.89 ERA is the second-lowest for a single postseason for pitchers with at least 30 innings. Burt Hooton allowed three earned runs in 33 playoff innings for the 1981 Dodgers. Kluber is tied with Orel Hershiser (1995) for the Indians record for most strikeouts in a single postseason with 35.
“Just an unreal job by Kluber on three days’ rest,” Lindor said.
Cubs right fielder Jason Heyward made his first start of the World Series and responded with two hits. The 27-year-old Heyward, who signed a $184 million, eight-year contract with Chicago last winter, was just 2 for 31 in 12 playoff games coming into the night.
Indians: Bauer lasted just 3 2/3 innings in Game 2, allowing two runs and six hits. The right-hander had a career-best 12 wins during the regular season, but is 0-1 with a 5.00 ERA in three playoff starts.
Cubs: Lester dropped to 3-1 with a 1.35 ERA in four career World Series starts when he allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings in the opener Tuesday night. The left-hander was the co-MVP of the NL Championship Series, going 1-0 with a 1.38 ERA in two starts against the Dodgers.