In the defense of his 2014 Cy Young win, Corey Kluber’s 2015 season did not play out as he might have expected.
Sure, there were lots of high expectations on the Tribe’s fourth winner of the award and the newly crowned staff ace to start the year. Some shaky outings early in the season, paired with minuscule run support, left Kluber on the losing side of the slate more often than not.
But every now and then throughout the season, Kluber showed that pitcher of old who took home the game’s top pitching honor and on August 14th, the Minnesota Twins got to see the Indians right-hander at his best.
The Indians were in a weird place. They opened August by losing five of their first six games. Their roster had been shuffled with the deck of the Columbus Clippers to make a hodge-podge of remaining veterans, players with something to prove, and youthful energetic guys getting their first taste of the big league life.
With the Twins in town, the Indians won a decisive 17-4 game over Minnesota and won four straight beginning the Saturday after the Tribe front office cleared two overpaid and underperforming veterans off of the roster. They claimed the series against the Twinkies and took two of three from New York before hitting the road for an eleven-game, four-city vacation. With the last place Indians slowly lurching back towards the .500 mark, Kluber took the mound against the Twins’ Trevor May at Target Field and put on a show.
In the early going, it looked like it would not be the usual game for Kluber on the bump as he was given early run support from the new look offensive lineup. With an out in the top of the second, one of the newest Indians on the roster, Abraham Almonte, tripled to center. Another fairly fresh face from Columbus, Giovanny Urshela, drove him in with ease with a two-run homer to left-center to give the Tribe the early 2-0 lead.
The Indians worked some two-out magic in the fourth to push across another run. Urshela reached on a single to center and moved to second on a wild pitch. Lonnie Chisenhall advanced him to third with a single to short and Mike Aviles drove him home with a single to left. Jose Ramirez would walk to load the bases, but Francisco Lindor grounded back to the pitcher to end the inning.
Kluber, meanwhile, had faced the minimum through three. A leadoff walk by Miguel Sano was erased in the second on a double play ball from Trevor Plouffe. With two outs in the fourth, Joe Mauer stepped to the box and cut into the Indians’ three-run lead with a homer to deep right.
“He’s just a good hitter. He took advantage of a mistake tonight,” said Kluber at the end of his night. “I threw a bad pitch. He’s a really good hitter and he made me pay.”
Kluber popped up Sano to end the fourth inning and breezed through the fifth.
“He hung a breaking ball to Mauer and he hit the home run,” said Tribe manager Terry Francona afterwards. “Miguel Sano was the next hitter. Klubes hung a breaking ball to him and he fouled it. You could see Klubes hitting himself on the thigh and after that he didn’t hang anything.”
Little did the fans in attendance know that that swing would be the extent of the Twins offense for the day.
The Indians doubled their support of Kluber after Almonte hit a ground-rule double to start the sixth. Chisenhall scored him with a single to center off of reliever J.R. Graham and Aviles doubled home Chis off new reliever Michael Tonkin. Lindor singled with two outs to push across Aviles and the Indians had a 6-1 lead.
It would be more than enough for Kluber, who was economical at best on the mound. With rare run support, he locked in, striking out a pair and inducing a groundout to face the minimum in the sixth. He flipped the script in the seventh, getting a pair of groundouts and striking out Sano on just ten pitches. He needed only nine in the eighth, striking out Plouffe and Eduardo Escobar to bookend a groundout by Torii Hunter.
In the ninth and with his pitch count still well in his favor, he got Kurt Suzuki to fly out to right, struck out Eduardo Nunez looking, and induced a groundout to short by Aaron Hicks to end it with under 100 pitches tossed.
The final line for Kluber: nine innings pitched, one complete game, one run allowed, one hit, one walk, and seven strikeouts. He threw 98 pitches, 69 of which were for strikes, and faced just one batter over the minimum while earning his eighth win of the season.
“A hit is a hit,” said Kluber. “But hold on a minute…I guess I’d rather give up a single because then they don’t score.”
He entered rare territory for the club, becoming the first Indians pitcher with complete games against the same opponent in consecutive starts since 1994, when Dennis Martinez accomplished the feat against the Chicago White Sox.
“He was in command the whole time,” said Francona. “It shows you when we score some runs, he can put it in overdrive.”
For the Tribe, it was the fifth different time in 2015 that they had held an opponent to just one hit in a game. Trevor Bauer and three relievers combined on a one-hitter on April 9th in Houston. Kluber and Cody Allen notched the second one, a shutout, on May 13th against St. Louis. Carlos Carrasco came within one out of a no-hitter and combined with Austin Adams for one hit in an 8-1 win in Tampa on July 1st. Danny Salazar and Allen worked a 2-1 one-hit win on July 31st in Oakland.
It would not be the final one-hitter of the season for the Tribe.
Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images