Aces Kluber, Lester face off in Game 1

By Tom Williams


Indians pitcher Corey Kluber described tonight’s World Series opponent as “the best team in baseball all year.”

He’s planning to do his best to block out the hype and the dazzle as two ballclubs with long-term championship droughts face off tonight at Progressive Field.

For Game 1, Kluber will take the mound against Chicago Cubs starter Jon Lester, a World Series champion (2007, 2013) with the Boston Red Sox.

Kluber and his teammates are hoping they are through with the recent injuries they’ve overcome to reach the World Series for the first time in 19 seasons.

Indians manager Terry Francona said on Monday that he expects second baseman Jason Kipnis, to start. The infielder injured his left ankle celebrating their American League Championship Series last Wednesday in Toronto.

“He’ll be fine, he’s doing much better today,” Francona said before Kipnis took some grounders and ran a few bases. “He might not be 100 percent [healthy], but who is?”

Francona expects Danny Salazar, who hasn’t pitched since Sept. 9 because of tightness in his forearm, will be on the team’s 25-man roster that will be released this morning. “Nothing’s official,” Francona said. “So if we have another drone incident or anything with model airplanes or anything, we reserve the right till we have to turn it in.”

Francona was referring to the pinkie starter Trevor Bauer injured two weeks ago. Bauer is scheduled to start Wednesday’s Game 2.

All eyes will be on Kluber (2-1, 0.98 earned-run average) when tonight’s game begins. The stoic 30-year-old righthander, a six-year veteran, doesn’t seem fazed by the hoopla of Monday’s Media Day.

“For me at least, it’s all about getting prepared and being ready when it is time to throw that first pitch,” Kluber said.

“They’ve got a lot of good hitters through their lineup, one through nine,” Kluber said. “It’s not really much of a different story than we had the last two series.”

The Indians advanced to their first World Series since 1997 when they swept the Boston Red Sox 3-0 and ousted the Toronto Blue Jays 4-1. They are 0-3 in the World Series since they defeated the Boston Braves in the 1948 Fall Classic.

The Cubs needed four games to defeat the San Francisco Giants and six to bounce the Los Angeles Dodgers. Their drought dates to 1908.

Josh Tomlin has the Game 3 start for the Indians. Francona said Salazar, an All-Star with 11 wins his season, or rookie Ryan Merritt could start in Game 4.

“Neither one would pitch a full game,” said Francona, who expressed admiration for Lester (2-0, 0.86) that will be put aside by game time.

“He’s one of my favorites, he’s one of everybody’s favorites,” said Francona who managed the Red Sox to World Series championships in 2004 and 2007. “I won’t be pulling for him [tonight] but he’s very special.”

Lester (19-5, 2.44 in the regular season) was on the Red Sox from 2006-14 and joined the Cubs last season.

Lester has fondness for Francona, citing his manager’s support during his recovery from cancer in 2006.

“We have a unique friendship and a unique bond,” Lester said. “I grew up with him ... I was part of his family.”