Tuesday, December 12, 2017
Tampa Bay Rays

In World Series run, Kipnis' contributions to Indians obscured by Lindor's rise

CLEVELAND — With his radiant smile and his unbridled joy to go along with his rare talent, Francisco Lindor has become the face of the Indians franchise.

If the Fox television network uses side-by-side photos in its promos for Tuesday's World Series opener, Lindor will likely represent the Tribe. The 22-year-old shortstop is blooming into a superstar on the national stage, even though manager Terry Francona took issue with the "S" word recently, saying, "We don't talk like that here."

Talk or not, Lindor may be famous by the time the calendar turns to November.

That means second baseman Jason Kipnis will quietly continue to go about his business, trying to help push the Indians to their first championship since 1948. The epitome of the Tribe's scrappiness, Kipnis embodies the heart that has carried the Indians past the favored Red Sox and Blue Jays and into their first World Series in 19 years.

Even when Kipnis hasn't hit he's dazzled in the field, silencing doubters who wondered about his defense. In Game 1 of the American League Championship Series on Oct. 14, his diving stop of a Kevin Pillar liner and his throw to first to just nab Pillar helped preserve a 2-0 home victory over Toronto. Although Kipnis carries a .167 postseason average in eight games, he has four RBI and two of his five hits have been home runs.

That comes on the heels of arguably his best season in the majors. Kipnis set career highs in home runs (23), extra base hits (68) and runs scored (91) and his 82 RBIs fell two shy of his personal best. He led the Indians in runs and hits and tied the Astros' Jose Altuve for first among American League second baseman with 41 doubles.

When Lindor said before Friday's workout at Progressive Field that "someone is going to step up" in the World Series, Kipnis may have been one on Lindor's mind.

"Kip's had one of the better years since I've been here," said Francona, who came to Cleveland in 2013. "I mean, from start to finish, he's been so good. People are starting to be used to that because he's done it now for a number of years. It doesn't mean that we don't appreciate it. It just means people come to kind of expect it because that's what he can do."

But Kipnis means more to the Indians than his numbers indicate. Over the course of two seasons, he's become the clubhouse spokesman, the Tribe's steady leader and almost the de facto captain of a team that relies on several veterans.

If the Indians ever have a captain in the Derek Jeter mold, that will be Lindor. But until Lindor is ready for that kind of leadership, Kipnis will help keep the accountability high and the clubhouse loose. It's no surprise his locker is separated from Mike Napoli's by a Jobu shrine, made famous in the movie Major League.

While Lindor brings the joy, Kipnis brings the fire. A stationary object in the visitors clubhouse in Tiger Stadium in 2014 likely paid the price after Kipnis' first career ejection. Not long afterward, T-shirts showed up in players' lockers reading "JK Construction" on the front and "I Break It. You Fix It" on the back.

"Lindor is the face, the young kid, the up-and-coming star," first baseman/designated hitter Napoli said. "Kip just comes here and does his thing and plays the game the right way. He doesn't need that extra publicity. He just comes here and does his job."

Kipnis took pride in the "dirtbag" tag given to him by Francona's predecessor, Manny Acta, and it helped him become a two-time All-Star. Few may call him by that nickname any more, but Tribe ace right-hander Corey Kluber said Kipnis hasn't changed.

"I guess in a way nobody in here is afraid to do the dirty work, and you could say he epitomizes that," Kluber said. "He's not afraid to do the little things to help the team win, even if it means sacrificing a hit for himself."

Kluber said the outside world may be dazzled by Lindor's flash, but the contributions of Kipnis do not go unnoticed inside the Indians clubhouse.

"That could just be perception," Kluber said of the fixation on Lindor. "I don't think people in here think it's under the radar."

His teammates know they will need Kipnis to win a World Series, even if he comes through with a crucial bunt, sacrifice fly or stolen base instead of a home run.

To Kipnis, it won't matter if it's not a long ball. It never has. If he's drenched in champagne and beer and lighting a cigar, he'll be happy.

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