Indians counting on more heroics from Kluber, Perez

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Cleveland (AFP)

Cleveland pitcher Corey Kluber and catcher Roberto Perez humbled the hard-hitting Chicago Cubs in Tuesday's World Series opener, but will be called upon again as the Indians try to end a 67-year title drought.

Both made historic efforts in their World Series debuts to give Cleveland the first opening shutout since 1990 in Major League Baseball's best-of-seven championship final.

Perez, in addition to telling Kluber which pitches to throw and where, became the first player to smash two home runs from the last spot in a batting order in a World Series game.

"His hands are so soft and he's confident to boot. That's a good combination," said Indians manager Terry Francona. "What he did at the plate, my goodness. That was exciting to watch."

Kluber struck out nine over six scoreless innings, retiring eight over the first three innings to set a World Series record.

Only one other pitcher since 1919 has thrown six scoreless innings with nine strikeouts in his World Series debut.

"He prepares so well before the game, his routines and work ethic," Francona said. "That's why we're here late into October and the needle on the gas tank doesn't point towards empty."

It's also why Francona might rely upon Kluber to possibly pitch on short rest in game four and a possible game seven rather than go on his usual break in game five.

"We need him and we're going to need him more," Francona said regarding why he lifted the right-hander after only six innings. "We're planning on bringing him back so I didn't want to overextend him."

In his first career attempt pitching on short rest against Toronto in the American League finals, Kluber allowed two runs on four hits in five innings to take the loss.

"I'll pitch whenever he asks me to," Kluber said. "It's all about doing whatever we can to get to four wins before they do. If that means pitching on short rest, then I'm more than willing to do that."

Kluber and Perez were connecting on their signals and precision pitches, Kluber's deceptive breaking balls mystifying Cubs batters as Perez ordered his throws well.

"He did an unbelievable job. It's almost like he knew what they were looking for," Kluber said of Perez. "He had them off balance for the majority of the night. Really, the only time they got hits was when I didn't execute.

"His confidence, you can see it growing every day, every game with him and with the team."

The Indians have been a distant second to the Cubs in attention, Chicago trying to end an American sports record title drought since 1908 overshadowing the Tribe's 1948 mark.

But Francona, who managed the Boston Red Sox in 2004 when they snapped a title drought dating to 1918, played for the Cubs in 1986 and understands why long-suffering Cubs fans have become America's darlings.

"I actually think they deserve it," said Francona. "They have won 103 games. And the Cubs are the Cubs. I get it. I played there. That's just the way the Cubs are."

But Francona warns that Cleveland, which had its first sports title since 1964 when the NBA Cavaliers won the crown last June, craves an end to baseball misery with its own special passion.

"If we can win," he said, "this city will go bananas."