(Vancouver, B.C) - Minutes after Cleveland Indians pitcher Corey Kluber walked off the mound at Wrigley Field, hoping his team was minutes away from taking a three-games-to-one lead in the 2016 World Series, many had already pegged the fourth rounder from the 2007 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft as the Championships Most Valuable Player. That remains to be seen, but it's a long way from his first professional season that just happened to have a Vancouver connection.
To the time machine we go!
It was a warm Oregon night on August 27th, 2007, where in Eugene, the Canadians were wrapping up a three-game series against the Emeralds out at historic Civic Stadium. Today, the stadium has long burned down, but the memories of that warm evening nestled in the heart of Oregon are many.
Canadians starter Scott Hodsdon would get torched for five runs in the bottom of the first inning as Eugene sent eight hitters to the plate with three of them hitting doubles that broke the game open before most fans had put the last line of mustard on their hot dogs.
Down by a quintet of runs, Vancouver took to the offense for a second straight inning against a young, beardless pitcher from Birmingham, Alabama who would end up with nine strikeouts on the night. His name was Corey Kluber. The same Corey Kluber that just days ago stuffed the Chicago Cubs World Series aspirations into a small tin of pessimism as Cleveland did in fact, move to within a lone game of a Championship.
Kluber against the Canadians would strikeout nine, and allow just two hits before handing off the ball to manager Greg Riddoch who would proceed to watch his bullpen blow up in his face as Vancouver would score 13 of the games next 14 runs to wallop the Emeralds 13-6. Kluber's efforts washed down the drain, but the memories of the struggle remain real.
In the top of the second inning in that game, Kluber struck out 1B Dan Hamblin, CF Grant Desme and DH Dusty Napoleon with just ten pitches. The last pitch he ever threw against the Canadians hit SS Walt Correa as his seventy-fifth and final pitch was the limit imposed by the Padres organization.
Now, we won't speak of the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays passed on Corey Kluber nine times back in 2007, instead opting to take such baseball standouts as SS Kevin Ahrens, RHP John Tolisano, RHP Alan Farina and CF Eric Eiland - because that draft year, the Canadians were affiliated with the Oakland Athletics who also passed on Kluber for the likes of RHP Travis Banwart, RHP Sam Demel and RHP Donald Simmons. Don't think that Cleveland was smarter than either Toronto and/or Oakland because they too passed on the 2014 American League Cy Young Award recipient for 1B Beau Mills and well, that's it because they didn't have any second or third round picks.
The team that saw the potential was San Diego who took Kluber in the fourth round, sending him to Eugene shortly after signing him out of Stetson University (DeLand, FL).
Now, we won't mention that the Padres sent Kluber to Cleveland in a three-way deal that garnered them Ryan Ludwick in return near the trade deadline in 2010. Kluber in 2010, was pitching for the Akron Aeros of the Eastern League and was a modest 2-2 with a 3.76 ERA in five games. The year before he was 9-13 between Class-A Lake Elsinore and Double-A San Antonio. Mind you, Kluber did have 159 strikeouts to just 70 walks, in 154 innings.
Ryan Ludwick, by comparison, was a Major League All-Star (2008) and a much more marketable piece for San Diego at the time so as the story goes - the trade was made.
Kluber pitched for Eugene 10 times going 1-1 with a 3.51 ERA and 33 strikeouts against just 15 walks in 33 1/3 innings of work. He should have been 2-1 having been given a 5-0 lead back on August 27th against the Canadians - but baseball has a crazy way of balancing things out, and with his current Cleveland team a game away from a World Series, I think Kluber is finally ready to let his Emeralds teammates off the hook for costing him that victory.