CLEVELAND — A pair of Indians Cy Young award winners will take the mound tonight for Game 2 of the ALDS at Progressive Field — only now one pitches for the New York Yankees.
Right-hander Corey Kluber takes on veteran left-hander CC Sabathia, Cleveland’s former first-round draft choice (20th overall in 1998) and No. 1 starter when the Indians’ present collides with the past.
“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Sabathia, who won the Cy Young while pitching for the Indians in 2007. “Obviously, it’s exciting to come back to Cleveland. I kind of grew up here. To be able to pitch in the playoff game here is going to a lot of fun, even if it’s on the other side. So we’re excited, and I think it will be fun (tonight).
“I usually get a good reception here. I got traded from here. So it wasn’t like I left. So I still know everybody that works down under here, and a lot of people that still work in organization. So I’ve been treated pretty well here, as a visitor and even better when I played here. I loved it here.”
Both pitchers are at different points in their careers. Kluber, an All-Star the past two seasons, is at the peak of his — in line to win his second Cy Young award after posting an 18-4 record and major league-low 2.25 ERA over 29 starts.
Since 2014, Kluber has been one of the game’s top starters.
“When he got on his run, he just, everything came together,” manager Terry Francona said. “There’s so much power to his pitches. Now, years later, he brings his breaking ball into a game earlier, and he still maintains his fastball late. You rarely see him tired out there. I mean, he conditions himself so well that sometimes just the score of the game dictates coming out because he never really looks like he’s tired.”
“Probably just learning how to continue to improve as a pitcher,” said Kluber of his progression to elite status. “I don’t know if I have one magic answer for that. But I think it’s just kind of continually trying to find ways to improve and make yourself better.”
Sabathia has been on Kluber’s level before, but at 37, is in the twilight of his career. Still, after down years from 2013-15, he’s been effective the past two seasons, overcoming a career-threatening knee injury this year to post a 14-5 record and 3.69 ERA over 27 starts.
“I think it was a good year for me up until that point with the health-wise,” Sabathia said. “Had that scare in Toronto. Didn’t really know what the future would hold. Getting home and talking with my wife, just talking with the training staff, being able to get back 10 days later and be able to pitch and help the team get into the playoffs. Feels good to be sitting here.”
Francona has not been surprised by Sabathia’s resurgence.
“He’s such a good athlete, and I don’t think people give him credit for that,” Francona said of the 6-foot-6, 300-pound Sabathia. “I know his knees hurt at times and they’re a little creaky, but, no, he’s a really good athlete, and he can manipulate the ball.”
Francona surprised many by opting to start right-hander Trevor Bauer rather than Kluber in Game 1 on Thursday night. Kluber said the Indians brought the plan to him and that he signed off.
“They gave their ideas for it and why they had their ideas for it, and I didn’t have a problem with it,” he said. “To me, it’s not about me wanting to pitch the first game or wanting to pitch the second game. It’s about us winning three games before they do. Whichever way that happens, and if it happens and we advance, it doesn’t matter who pitches when, in my mind.
“I think that regardless of whether you pitch Game 1 or Game 4, whatever it is, you’re going to go out there, and you’re going to try to win that game. I think that, from my point of view, if you’re out there worrying about which game it is or what the games are in the series, things like that, that’s the kind of stuff that you don’t really have control over, and it’s going to end up, in my mind, taking away from what you’re trying to do out there, which is get guys out.”
Kluber and Sabathia will be facing two of the AL’s most potent offensive teams.
“I think they’re a very versatile lineup,” Kluber said of the Yankees. “They’ve got youth. They’ve got experience. They have power. They have speed. I mean, there’s a lot of different ways they can score runs. I don’t think you can necessarily just sit here and say we’re going to get them out by doing this. I think that it comes down to us executing pitches and executing our game plan, and if we don’t, they have a very good lineup that probably will make us pay.”
“It’s a good lineup. Top to bottom, they do everything,” Sabathia said of the Indians. “They run. They got power. They make you throw a lot of pitches. It’s going to be tough to face them, but (I) just look to be aggressive like I always do in the strike zone and try to get them to mishit some balls.”
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