A five-run third inning by the Astros against Corey Kluber and the Cleveland Indians was more than enough for Mike Fiers as he and two Houston relievers combined on a three-hit, 7-1 victory on Monday night.
Kluber started off strong in his first start since throwing a complete game shutout over the Detroit Tigers in his last appearance. After striking out the side in the first on 12 pitches and using 13 pitches to work around a one-out walk in the second, Kluber could not adjust to a much more aggressive Astros order the second time through.
Luis Valbuena led off the third with a single to right-center on the second pitch of his AB. Jason Castro shattered his bat with a screamer down the left field line the opposite way for a two-pitch double. Jumping on the first pitch, Jose Altuve doubled both home with a double to the wall in the left to give the Astros the early 2-0 lead. George Springer walked on four pitches and Carlos Correa worked the count full before singling to left-center to load the bases. Colby Rasmus knocked in two more first ball swinging with a single to right to double the Houston lead to four, capped by a head first slide from Springer just around the tag of catcher Yan Gomes. Marwin Gonzalez grounded back to Kluber near the foul line for the first out of the inning, seven batters in, but a fifth run crossed the plate. After another groundout to Kluber, Carlos Gomez drew a five-pitch walk and Kluber exited with runners on the corners and still just two outs in the third.
Kyle Crockett struck out Valbuena, the tenth man to bat in the inning, to end the avalanche of runs.
The Indians did little with the few opportunities that they had against Fiers.
Jose Ramirez’s two-out double was wasted in the second on a liner from Gomes to center. Carlos Santana was erased trying to steal second after his two-out single in the third. Jason Kipnis made it all the way to third on a pair of groundouts after his leadoff walk, but was left stranded on a strikeout from Mike Napoli in the fourth. Finally in the sixth, they scratched a run across as Rajai Davis doubled, moved to third on a groundout, and scored on a grounder from Kipnis to make it 5-1.
Sloppy play gave that run right back in the top of the next inning as Houston responded with their sixth run of the game. Michael Brantley misplayed a single from Valbuena that the official scorer strangely ruled a double. The former Indians utility man moved to third on a throwing error from Gomes, who was trying to pick off the Astros base runner. He scored easily on a deep fly to right field off of the bat of Altuve. They tacked on another for good measure in the eighth off of Dan Otero as Preston Tucker doubled to start the inning and scored on a single to center from Gomez one batter later.
The Indians (15-14) continue to play uninspired on the road of late, having now lost six of their last seven road contests to fall to 7-8 away from home this season. They had started the season 6-2 on the road, including a sweep in Detroit. The Astros (13-20) pull back to even at Minute Maid Park at 9-9 and improve to 6-3 in May.
The high from his last outing was short-lived, as Kluber (2-4, 4.14 ERA) failed to replicate the gem he tossed against the Tigers in his last outing. He left with two outs in the third, having allowed five runs on five hits with three walks and three strikeouts. All three strikeouts came in the first inning.
After throwing his second career complete game, Kluber followed it with his shortest outing since September 1, 2014, also a two and two-thirds inning effort against Detroit in a 12-1 loss.
FIERS TOO MUCH TO HANDLE
Fiers (3-1, 4.65) gave Houston seven strong innings, limiting the Indians to just three hits while winning his third straight. He struck out four Indians hitters and walked a pair on the night.
The one run he allowed late ended his shutout, but still marked a season-low for him on the mound.
WIN THE OPENER
Monday’s win for the Astros was their first win in a series opener in their last seven series.
SCORE FIRST OR GO HOME
The Indians fell behind in the third and never challenged. Cleveland falls to 2-10 when failing to score the first run of the ball game.
The heart of the Indians order failed to provide any sort of punch against Fiers or his two bullpen teammates on the night. Kipnis, Francisco Lindor, Brantley, and Napoli combined to go 0-for-14 with five strikeouts, including three from Napoli. The Indians mustered just three hits on the night – a single from Santana and doubles from Ramirez and Davis.
ROLAIDS SPELLS RELIEF
The Indians bullpen had allowed just one run in four and one-third innings of relief with a pair of walks before Otero allowed two hits and the final run in the eighth. Five relievers appeared in the contest to bridge the gap after Kluber’s short outing. Crockett struck out both men he faced, using eight pitches to do so. Tommy Hunter needed ten pitches, eight of which were strikes, to retire the side in order in the seventh.
GOMEZ ENDS HITLESS STRETCH
Houston outfielder Gomez ended an 0-for-12 skid at the plate with his RBI-single in the bottom of the eighth inning.
Trevor Bauer (2-0, 5.14) will take the mound for the Tribe in Tuesday’s middle game between Cleveland and Houston in his new offseason home. Rookie right-hander Chris Devenski (0-1, 1.46) will oppose for the Astros. It will be his third consecutive start after beginning the season in the Houston bullpen.
First pitch is scheduled for 8:10 PM ET.
Photo: Bob Levey/Getty Images