Bert Blyleven vs. Jack Morris: The 1987 ALCS

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No, I’m not going to go over the entire candidacies of both. Suffice to say I support Blyleven for the Hall of Fame and not Morris. Those who have it the other way around say that Morris was better than his statistics and Blyleven worse. And, sure, there are cases in which statistics don’t tell the whole story. I don’t really believe this is one of them.

What most don’t remember is that Blyleven and Morris actually met in a big game. And the supposed big game pitcher didn’t fare so well.

In Game 1 of the 1987 ALCS, the Tigers started Doyle Alexander, who had performed so brilliantly down the stretch after being acquired from the Braves for John Smoltz. Alexander had a rough night, though, and Frank Viola pitched the Twins to an 8-5 victory in the Metrodome.

Morris and Blyleven got the call in Game 2. Morris, still in his prime at 32, had just finished one of his best regular seasons, going 18-11 with a 3.38 ERA in a year in which offense had increased dramatically.

Blyleven wasn’t quite as good in his age-36 campaign, finishing 15-12 with a 4.01 ERA. He led the majors in homers allowed for a second straight season, coming in at 46 in 267 innings. Still, his 115 ERA+ was perfectly solid, if slightly below his career mark. Morris had come in at 126.

Game 2 opened with a scoreless first inning. The second saw Morris handed a two-run lead thanks to a single from Matt Nokes and Chet Lemon’s two-run homer. However, it didn’t last. Gary Gaetti, Tom Brunansky and Tim Laudner all doubled in the bottom of the inning, and the Twins went up 3-2.

The Twins went on to add two runs in the fourth and one in the fifth. Blyleven shut the Tigers down until the eighth, when he was pulled after a Lou Whitaker homer and a Darrell Evans single with one out. Juan Berenguer came in and retired five straight to give the Twins a 6-3 win. Morris went the distance for Detroit in what was his first career postseason loss after three wins.

That was it for Morris in 1987. Blyleven came back on three days’ rest in Game 5 and outpitched Alexander as the Twins claimed the series 4-1. Morris was held back for a Game 6 that never came. The Twins went on to win the World Series, and Blyleven ended up 3-1 with a 3.42 ERA in his four postseason starts.

As much attention as Morris’ postseason record gets, Blyleven also deserves credit for going 5-1 with a 2.47 ERA when he got the opportunity. Yes, he made the postseason just three times and barely pitched in one (he made one relief appearance as a 19-year-old for the Twins in 1970 ALCS), but he does have two World Series rings to go along with his fine regular-season record. Morris, who has three rings, went 7-4 with a 3.80 ERA in his 13 postseason starts.

Video: Jonathan Lucroy who? Roberto Perez homers twice in World Series opener for the Indians

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Roberto Perez #55 of the Cleveland Indians hits a three-run home run during the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
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Back in July, then-Brewers catcher Jonathan Lucroy vetoed a trade that would have sent him to the Indians, helping the club make a significant upgrade behind the plate after losing Yan Gomes to an injury. At the time, Roberto Perez had only played in 11 games, batting .043. Gomes had hit .165 before his injury, and Chris Gimenez batted .202 over 42 games. It was not much of a logical leap to think the Indians would eventually falter due to a lack of production at the catching position.

But here the Indians are in the World Series facing the Cubs. In Game 1 on Tuesday night, Perez — who finished the season with a .183 average and three home runs in 184 plate appearances — drilled a pair of home runs, accounting for four of the six runs the Indians would score in a shutout win over the Cubs.

Perez’s first blast was a solo that that just cleared the left field fence at Progressive Field, coming on an 0-1 fastball from starter Jon Lester. That padded the Indians’ lead to 3-0.

The second homer put the game away, as he punished reliever Hector Rondon for hanging a 2-2 slider with two runners on base, slugging this one enough to clear the left field fence by plenty. That doubled the Indians’ lead to 6-0, the score by which they would eventually win.

Perez is the first catcher to homer twice in a World Series game since Gary Carter did it for the Mets against the Red Sox in the 1986 World Series. Perez is the first Indian to homer twice in the same playoff game since Jim Thome in the 1999 ALDS against the Red Sox.

Corey Kluber dazzles as Indians blank Cubs 6-0 in Game 1 of the World Series

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 25:  Corey Kluber #28 of the Cleveland Indians throws a pitch against the Chicago Cubs during the first inning in Game One of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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From the moment Kris Bryant struck out looking for the second out of the first inning in Game 1 of the World Series, the Cubs knew Indians starter Corey Kluber brought his A-game and that they were in for a long night. Bryant was Kluber’s second strikeout victim in as many batters and he would go on to strike out eight batters through the first three innings, setting a World Series record.

The Indians, meanwhile, gave Kluber an early cushion, scoring twice in the bottom of the first inning. Francisco Lindor hit a two-out single, then stole second base against starter Jon Lester. Lester proceeded to walk Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana to load the bases. Jose Ramirez brought one run home with an infield single to the left of the pitcher’s mound. The lefty then hit Brandon Guyer with a pitch to force in another run, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead.

The Indians scored one more run in the fourth inning when catcher Roberto Perez snuck a solo home run over the fence in left field, victimizing Lester yet again.

The Cubs struggled to get any kind of momentum going, wasting a leadoff double by Ben Zobrist in the second inning and a two-out double by Kyle Schwarber in the fourth. Through six innings, Kluber yielded only three hits with zero walks and nine strikeouts. He took the mound to start the seventh but departed after Zobrist led off with a single to left field.

Reliever and ALCS MVP Andrew Miller entered the game, but the Cubs seemed to have a better time against him. Schwarber drew a walk and Javier Baez singled to left, loading the bases. At the very least, it seemed, Miller would give up at least one run, if not two. The average team scored two runs with the bases loaded and no outs, according to Baseball Prospectus. But Miller showed why he was named the MVP of the ALCS, getting Willson Contreras to fly out to shallow center. Schwarber thought the ball would drop, so he was way off the second base bag, but center fielder Rajai Davis didn’t notice and fired home to ensure a run didn’t score. Despite the mistake, Miller rebounded by striking out Addison Russell and David Ross to escape the inning with no damage done

Miller returned to the mound for the eighth inning for his second inning of work. After getting Dexter Fowler to fly out, he walked Bryant. Miller got Anthony Rizzo to fly out to shallow center, but Zobrist singled to center to put runners on first and third with two outs. On his 46th pitch of the night, Miller struck out Schwarber to escape the inning.

Perez decided to double the Indians’ lead to 6-0 in the bottom of the eighth. Cubs reliever Justin Grimm walked Guyer and allowed a single to Lonnie Chisenhall, forcing manager Joe Maddon to replace him with Hector Rondon. Rondon hung a 2-2 slider and Perez crushed it, this time clearing the fence by plenty for a three-run homer. He’s the first catcher with two homers in a World Series game since Gary Carter in 1986.

Closer Cody Allen, who thought he was going to be used in a save situation, took over in the top of the ninth. After striking out Baez, Contreras doubled to right field. Allen then struck out Russell as well as pinch-hitter Miguel Montero to end the game in a 6-0 victory for the Indians.

Game 2 of the World Series will start an hour earlier than usual on Wednesday due to forecasted inclement weather late at night. Jake Arrieta will make the start for the Cubs opposite the Indians’ Trevor Bauer.