The Indians owed it to Corey Kluber to make sure their starting pitcher earned a win Wednesday against the visiting Seattle Mariners.
Kluber deserved a victory in his previous start last Thursday in Kansas City in which he took a no hitter into the late innings but went on to lose that, then a shut-out bid on a crazy Ryan Raburn spiked ball allowed a run to score and John Axford dished up a walk-off hit in the 14th inning in a game in which Kluber dominated the Royals.
It’s safe to say the Indians were on a mission to make it up to their ace – even if meant beating one of the best pitchers in baseball in Mariner’s right-hander Felix Hernandez.
And that’s exactly what they did in handing Kluber two runs in the fifth inning, as the right-hander took care of the rest with a complete game, three-hit shutout that included eight strikeouts and ended in a quick 2-0 Indians victory.
“He threw 16 balls,” Indians manager Terrry Francona said. “My math is horrendous, but that’s like, what? Two (balls) an inning? I mean, you’ve got the finish the decimal.”
It was quite a daunting task, given that “King Felix” entered the evening’s action with an 11-2 record and 1.99 ERA. But with Kluber matching Hernandez zero for zero through the first four innings, the Tribe offense proved Hernandez is human after all.
In their two-run fifth, the Indians broke up a potential perfect game, a possible no-hitter and a shutout - all in one inning. Carlos Santana led off the inning by drawing his league-leading 73rd walk of the season. Lonnie Chisenhall followed with a double that put a pair of runners in scoring position.
Nick Swisher beat out an infield single on a head-first slide when Hernandez was late covering first base late to load the bases. The Mariners defense cut down two runners at home plate on fielder choice hits by David Murphy and Chris Dickerson, but Yan Gomes drove in a pair of runs before the inning came to a close with the Tribe leading.
Hernandez held the Tribe pat the rest of the way, allowing the two runs on four hits and two walks. He struck out five. The last time Hernandez gave up two or more runs was May 12th – and that was a rare rough outing for him in which he dished up four runs to the Tampa Bay Rays.
How good has Hernandez been? Consider that Wednesday’s performance made him the first major league pitcher to limit the opposition to two runs or less over seven innings in 14 consecutive starts.
But on this night, Kluber was better.
“That guy is good, what he did tonight was not a fluke - trust me,” Seattle manager Lloyd McClendon said. “He's shut down some pretty good offenses for the last couple of years, including one that I was a part of (with the Detroit Tigers). All the credit goes to him. He’s on quite a stretch.
While Hernandez went 103 pitches in his seven innings, Kluber still had only used 77 of his 85 pitches on the night through eight, as he continued to mow through the Mariners lineup.
The 14,863 fans in attendance were well aware of how special of an outing they were witnessing. As Kluber came out of the dugout and headed to the mound in the ninth inning, he earned a loud round of applause from the Tribe faithful, excited to see him finish the impressive effort.
“I didn’t hear it,” Kluber admitted. “I was locked in on my way back out there. But I appreciate it.”
But there was no way Kluber could have missed the loud standing ovation he received after inducing Dustin Ackley to ground out to end the game, as the fans recognized and appreciated his outstanding outing as he left the mound for the last time.
“He was awesome, “ Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “Hard to see a better game than that…He did everything you possibly want a pitcher to do – 0-0 strikes, 1-1 strikes, control the count, get ahead and pound the zone. He did everything today and it was fun to watch.”