If only Corey Kluber could start every game for the Indians……
Last night I was fortunate enough to attend the matchup of aces at Progressive Field. Felix Hernandez, currently the favorite to win the AL Cy Young Award took the mound for the Seattle Mariners. Kluber, the Indians clear number one, opposed him. If you are a baseball purist and love pitchers duels, this was your night.
I took both of my kids with me to the game. My seven year old son kept score for all nine innings, afterwards, I told him to save that scorecard. As I said to both him and his younger sister, “you may never see a pitching performance like this ever again.”
Kluber was filthy. Nasty. Disgusting. Un-hittable. Untouchable. Whatever adjectives you want to come up with that can describe a great outing, that was Kluber last night. On the same day the Indians traded their former top dog Justin Masterson, their true ace showed everyone what a top of the rotation starter looks like. As a homage to their departed teammate, the Indians all pulled their socks up. Everyone emerged looking like Masterson, except for Kluber.
“No one let me know about it so I had to run up here and change after I warmed up,” said Kluber. “I didn’t want to be the only one with them down. It was a little late notice.”
Once the socks came up, Corey pitched the game of his life. He and Hernandez traded zeroes for the first four and a half innings. Kong Felix actually was better to that point. He was perfect. But then the offense did just enough to give Kluber all he needed.
Carlos Santana walked to end the perfect game in the fifth in front of a Lonnie Chisenhall double. A strange infield single by Nick Swisher loaded the bases. After David Murphy’s groundout forced Santana at home, the Tribe’s hottest bat, Yan Gomes, came up with the only hit of the night that truly mattered. The Yanimal slapped a double the other way past a diving Logan Morrison at first, scoring two. He continues to make the Indians look like geniuses for stealing him away from Toronto for nothing.
The two runs were all Kluber needed. His four pitch arsenal was on full display. The Mariners had nothing for him. They rarely worked him deep into the count. Kluber only had one three-ball count and threw just 16 balls all night. Think about that for a minute.
“That’s always my game plan,” Kluber said, “try to get that early contact and just try to stay the course. They came out of the gates aggressive and they got more aggressive in the middle of the game.”
As the game got longer, Kluber just kept getting better. After Morrison’s one out single in the fifth, the Tribe ace retired the final 13 batters in a row on the way to his first career complete game shutout.
“There have been three or four times when I’ve seen him like this,” said pitching coach Mickey Callaway. “In his last two starts, after he warmed up in the bullpen, I came in and told Tito, “He’s going to pitch pretty good tonight.’ The key for him is fastball command. He’s throwing 95 mph and putting it where he wants.”
In baseball circles, a “Maddux” game is almost as revered as a no-hitter these days because they are so rare and impressive. A “Maddux,” in reference to Hall of Fame starter Greg Maddux, is a complete game shutout of less than 99 pitches. What Kluber did was a Super Maddux – Nine innings, zero runs, three hits, eight strikeouts, and zero walks in a tidy 85 pitches.
“It’s almost just as good as a perfect game or no-hitter,” Gomes said of Kluber’s stellar night. “I was actually getting kind of nervous in the ninth. I’m like, ‘This is good — can’t mess this up.'”
Here are some numbers that truly put put into perspective just how amazing this was:
Nobody has thrown a 9-inning shutout with fewer than 17 balls since 1998. Corey Kluber just did with 16.
— Jacob Rosen (@WFNYJacob) July 31, 2014
Since 1988, this was just the 20th complete game shutout of 85 pitches or less. Only four of those instances saw the pitcher strikeout eight or more batters. The last to do it was Rich Harden over none years ago. Let us not forget that Kluber did all of this coming off of nine innings in Kansas City where he didn’t allow an earned run. That brings us tho this:
Corey Kluber 1st pitcher in MLB history to face 28 batters or fewer in back-to-back starts of at least 9 IP. — Jordan Bastian (@MLBastian) July 31, 2014
“Our guys were battling their butts off. That guy is good,” said Seattle skipper Lloyd McClendon. “I’ve faced him many times in the past [with Detroit] and what he did tonight was not a fluke, trust me.”
Kluber and Hernandez made such quick work of their opponents that this one ended in two hours and 10 minutes. One thing that may go unnoticed here but certainly won’t nationally; King Felix has now set a new Major League record with 14 consecutive starts of seven innings or more with two earned runs or less. That is Hall of Fame kind of stuff. But in this one, he was the losing pitcher.
“Rarely do you see two guys that are that good and then on top of their game to boot,” said Francona. “The way Felix is throwing, the only way you’re going to win is by somebody doing something pretty special. And that’s what Klubes did.”
Despite the incredible performance from Kluber, there was still an air of sadness within the clubhouse, knowing that they had lost one of their favorite teammates. The high socks and Kluber gem were a fitting send off for Masterson.
Said Kluber: “He’s (Masterson) been a big part of helping me learn to be a big leaguer and learn to pitch up here. Hopefully I can pass along some information he’s given me along the way. I think we all accept a little bit more responsibility now. He was the quote, unquote leader of the staff. Guys looked to him. Now, we have to do a little bit more.”
The 2-0 win stemmed the tide for now, but the Indians still have a lot of work to do. Today’s 4 PM trading deadline could see shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera go or another veteran piece come in. You just never know with this team. Tonight they will lookm to take the series by sending Zach McAllister to the mound to face off with Seattle right-hander Chris Young.
SIDE NOTE: During last night’s game, a foul ball tip from Jason Kipnis got loose and ended up in Asdrubal’s hands. I held up my four year old girl and yelled “Cabby.” He looked right at me, pointed to her, and threw the ball my way. A man in front probably two seats to my left, leaned across three people and caught the ball. Then didn’t give it to my daughter. It was clearly meant for her. The guy never even wavered or turned around despite being heckled by many sitting around us. I hope he slept well last night.
(photo via Thomas Ondrey/The Plain Dealer)