I am running out of superlatives to describe the Tribe’s Corey Kluber. So this is what it’s like to have a real ace? The Indians haven’t seen anything like this since Cliff Lee’s 2008 Cy Young season. But even then, I don’t think we truly appreciated what we were watching. Lee was dominating with unbelievable command, but the Indians stumbled out of the gate and never were close to being a playoff team. CC Sabathia (Michael Brantley) and Casey Blake (Carlos Santana) were was sold off in July and another rebuild was about to begin. Kluber on the other hand, is driving the bus for a team suddenly surging, just two and a half games back of Toronto for the second AL Wild Card spot. He was money once again in the Tribe’s 7-1 series opening win against the Cincinnati Reds.
Watching Kluber work never gets old. He is so in control, so composed. Nothing seems to phase him on the mound—not even a Ryan Raburn spiked throw. The high level of dominance continued Monday night against a team that had not seen him yet this season. The Reds are a banged up and struggling bunch, yet they entered last night with the same record as the Indians. By the time the ninth inning rolled around, Reds manager Bryan Price lamented the blown chances his team received, thanks to some early shoddy Indians defense.
“What was disappointing and unacceptable tonight was the fact that we didn’t have our head in the game at all,” said Price. “Especially those first five innings. We had two guys that forgot how many outs there were, we had a pitcher that didn’t cover first base on a ground ball to the right side. We had five baserunners in the first three innings. That’s just not the way we play. We haven’t played that way all year. That lack of fight and lethargy, that’s just unacceptable type of play right there.”
You aren’t going to get many opportunities to get to Kluber and when you get them, you better take advantage. The Reds didn’t. Tribe shortstop Jose Ramirez made two fielding blunders in third which gave Cincinnati two extra outs, to work with, but Corey got cleanup hitter Devin Mesoraco to pop out and Brayan Pena to ground out to end the threat. That was their best chance to get to Kluber while the game was still in doubt. He wasn’t even close to his best, yet the right-hander held the Reds scoreless into the eighth.
The offense provided him with plenty of cushion. Facing All-Star Alfredo Simon, an average AL pitcher who changed leagues and suddenly has become effective, the Tribe went right to work. Kluber was staked to a 1-0 lead in the first. It was the old “get ‘em on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in” routine. Jason Kipnis led off with a double and was moved over to third by Mike Aviles, who now leads the AL with nine sacrifice bunts. Michael Brantley’s ground ball scored Kipnis. The scored stayed tied until the fourth.
Brantley and Carlos Santana started the frame with back to back singles, which brought Lonnie Chisenhall to the plate. After a red-hot June, Lonnie slowed down in July, but looks to be back on track now that the calendar has turned to August. He smoked a Simon pitched 411 feet to deep center for a three-run bomb. It was a no-doubter right that Chiz admired. An inning later, the bats continued to go.
Ramirez got thing started with a leadoff single and then stole second. Kipnis followed with a walk. Aviles once again moved both runners up, this time with a ground ball. Then it was that man again Brantley who singled the other way to stretch the lead to 5-0. A five-run lead with Kluber on the mound is essentially insurmountable these days.
“We scored,” manager Terry Francona said, “and he started really attacking the second time through the order and really became efficient and did exactly what you’re supposed to do with a lead.”
Corey came out for the eighth but gave up two singles sandwiched around a Todd Frazier strikeout. Francona emerged from the dugout and lifted his horse after 110 pitches. The crowd rose as one with a standing ovation. Kluber’s 17-inning scoreless streak would end as Nick Hagadone entered and gave up an RBI double to Pena. John Axford relieved the lefty and got the last two outs to kill any comeback attempt.
“He’s (Kluber) human after all,” said Axford, who got the final five outs for his first save since May. “We didn’t get to quite kick back and relax (in the bullpen) the entire time today, but we’ll take seven-plus every time.”
Yan Gomes added to the party with a two-run bomb in the eighth, his 15th of the season. Nobody outside of Cleveland is talking about him, but quietly The Yanimal is having perhaps the best season of any AL catcher. I will sign up for .283/.325/.475 with 15 and 48 all day long when you add in his exceptional defense behind the plate. Once again, I would like to thank the geniuses in the Toronto front office for handing Yan and Aviles over to the Indians for a reliever that they DFA’d last week.
Kluber knows this team has to get more consistent and stay hot if they are going to make a return to October.
“That’s what we need to do now,” Kluber said. “For most of the season, it’s been, play good, then we’ll falter a little bit, then we’ll play good, then we’ll falter. We can’t really afford to do that anymore.”
The Wahoos now go for their fifth straight with Josh Tomlin (5-7, 4.47 ERA) on the mound. It won’t be easy as they have to face Cincinnati’s best in All-Star Johnny Cueto, who enters the game with a sparkling 2.05 ERA.