CLEVELAND — With Corey Kluber on the mound, the Indians feel like if they score one run it is enough to get them a win. That wasn’t the case though on Friday. They needed two.
Kluber was strong for 7 2/3 innings against Baltimore but the Orioles tied it in the eighth with three straight singles. The Indians though were able to win it in the 11th on the first walk-off homer of Mike Aviles’ career.
"The way Klubes went out there to the eighth inning and give us the ultimate chance to win. It’s unfortunate we were unable to score more runs and give him the win but the bottom line is he’s done what he has all year." Aviles said.
In his last eight starts, Kluber is 6-0 with a 1.31 ERA with 70 strikeouts and only nine walks. Opponents are batting only .176 against him. He hasn’t lost since the Dodgers beat him 1-0 on June 30.
The right-hander is certainly in the mix for Cy Young consideration as ballots went out to writers this week. Manager Terry Francona though might be at the point where he is running out of different ways to say how dominant Kluber has been.
"My vocabulary is not that good but I would attempt to," said Francona when asked about running out of adjectives. "He’s so good. He’s just worked himself into being one of the premier pitchers in the game."
In six second-half starts, Kluber has allowed only four earned runs in 47 2/3 innings. At 116 pitches, Nelson Cruz singled to left-center to prolong the eighth and chase Kluber. Bryan Shaw came in and allowed singles to Delmon Young and J.J. Hardy, which allowed Cruz to score the tying run.
The run by Cruz marked just the second earned run allowed over the right-hander’s past five starts. Against the Orioles, Kluber allowed five hits and two walks while striking out 10. It was his eighth double-digit strikeout game of the season, which is the first time a Tribe pitcher has done that since Dennis Eckersley in 1976. The only other pitcher in the Majors with that many this season is David Price with 10.
"I think Yan (Gomes) did a good job of keeping them off balance. We mixed in some offspeed and worked both sides of the plate," Kluber said.
For the first seven innings, the only threat the Orioles were able to mount came in the third when singles by Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Shoop along with a walk to Nick Markakis loaded the bases. Kluber beared down after that and struck out Chris Davis and Adam Jones to end the inning.
After that, the only thing that appeared to slow down Kluber was a filibuster by Orioles manager Buck Showalter in the eighth. With one out, Jones squared up to bunt, began to offer and then pulled back. Showalter thought that Jones was hit by the pitch but the fact that Jones offered at the pitch rendered that moot. The umpires still reviewed it even though they weren’t supposed to. During the five-minute delay, Kluber threw nine warmup pitches to stay loose.
Jones ended up hitting a weak ground out but the next batter, Cruz, started the Orioles’ rally with a single and ended Kluber’s night.
Francona said it was the equivalent of a coach in football icing the kicker.
"I thought that was handled poorly. It shouldn’t have been challenged," he said.
Added Kluber: "It was pretty lengthy. I don’t think that’s why we have the replay system to go out there and interrupt the flow of the game. That’s really all I have to say about it."
Aviles’ fourth homer of the season came on a 1-2 curveball from Brian Matusz to lead off the 11th. Going into that at-bat, Aviles was 1 for his last 13. That is why he said the only thing he was trying to do was get contact on the ball instead of driving it into the Home Run Porch in left.
"I’ve got (Michael) Brantley behind me and the way he’s been swinging it all year and with the way runs have been hard to come by, I was just trying to get on base," Aviles said. "It was a pitch that stayed up a little bit higher than normal. I was able to dig it out a little bit and keep it there."
The Indians have won four of five but remain five games back in the Wild Card race. One of the more encouraging notes as of late is that the rotation has a 0.84 ERA in the past five games, allowing just three earned runs in 32 innings with 37 strikeouts and only five walks. Carlos Carrasco tries to keep it going on Saturday against former Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez.
"When runs are that hard to come by you have to play really good baseball and we did that. We haven’t put up a ton of runs the past four games but we’re 3-1 and that shows you what good pitching and playing the game right does for you," Francona said.