NEW YORK -- Trevor Bauer stood on a small portable platform in the middle of the visitors' clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, making it easier for the large pack of reporters to circle him Monday night. As Bauer answered questions, Indians ace Corey Kluber sat unbothered at his locker, lacing up his dress shoes for the trip back to Cleveland.
Kluber and his teammates had hoped to be uncorking champagne bottles in that clubhouse, but a 7-3 loss to the Yankees in Game 4 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan delayed any celebration. If Cleveland is going to clinch and move on to the AL Championship Series presented by Camping World, it will be back home at Progressive Field, and it will be with Kluber on the mound, just as manager Terry Francona planned.
"It's hard to imagine giving it to somebody better," Francona said.
Francona was hit with some criticism before the ALDS began when it was announced that Bauer, not Kluber, would start Game 1 of this best-of-five series against the Yanks. Kluber started Game 2, and the manager had his well-thought-out reasons. If a Game 4 was necessary, Bauer was the best-equipped starter to bounce back on short rest. Then, if a Game 5 scenario arose, the Tribe would have its ace and AL Cy Young Award favorite going on normal rest.
As the Indians now prepare for Game 5, which is scheduled for 8 p.m. ET tonight in Cleveland, there is an additional storyline that was unexpected. In his Game 2 start against New York on Friday, Kluber struggled mightily with his command and allowed six runs in 2 2/3 innings. The Tribe is counting on that being a one-outing outlier and not a sign that the right-hander's incredible run has hit an ill-timed snag.
Kluber said he has spent the past several days poring over video and studying how the Yankees' hitters approached him in that game in Cleveland. Asked if he identified an issue in need of addressing, Kluber cracked a slight smirk.
"Mm hmm," Kluber replied.
The ace had no words to offer on that topic.
That, of course, was true to Kluber's character. The pitcher is a man of few words, but of intense preparation. His mannerisms both on the mound and behind the scenes are robotic. With Kluber leading the way, Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway has said his staff has become one of the best in baseball at keeping their emotions in check.
Outfielder Jason Kipnis, who has known Kluber for several years, laughed when asked what the pitcher is like to be around before big games.
"Same way he is on small games and the same way he's going to lunch," Kipnis quipped. "Stoic. Monotonous. Very routine-oriented. You know what? He'll be the first to tell you. I don't think he's going to go into this start looking to change everything he's done just because they got to him the first game.
"What he does works. I think he's just going to be sharper. I think he's going to have a game plan. He's going to adjust accordingly. I think he's going to be ready."
That was the whole idea.
During the season, when Kluber went 18-4 with a Major League-best 2.25 ERA, he turned in a 1.67 ERA in the 17 starts he made on a normal five-day schedule. Kluber told Francona he did not care when he was scheduled to pitch in this ALDS -- he even said he was willing to come out of the bullpen, if necessary -- but the righty's comfort with that routine played a role in how the rotation was aligned.
In Game 3 in New York on Sunday night, Carlos Carrasco was brilliant on the mound, but Cleveland dropped a 1-0 decision. During Game 4, Bauer felt as strong as he did in his stellar Game 1 showing, but a handful of miscues by the Tribe's defense led to a heightened pitch count and an early exit. So here the Indians are, facing the Game 5 scenario that they planned for so many days ago.
"We tried to set up for a five-game series with plans and contingency plans," Francona said. "There's been a lot of things that happened, and we go to Game 5. We're at home, and we have Kluber. We're looking forward to it.
Kluber is prepared for the assignment.
"Regardless of whether it's ideal or not, it is what it is," Kluber said. "It's kind of the cards that you're dealt. But things shook out this way, so we'll go out there and try everything we can to win the ballgame."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.