The Houston Astros proved that Cleveland starter Corey Kluber was both robot and human as four early runs and a second night of offensive struggles sent the Indians to a 4-3 loss on Tuesday night.
After nearly two months of dominance, Kluber was burned by a sudden bout of wildness and a hanging curveball. His offense, one that had shown signs of life over the first two series of the homestand, sputtered for a second game in row and was unable to make use of numerous opportunities with runners in scoring position. Even with the game-long struggles, the never-say-die Tribe made it interesting down to the final out.
The issues at the plate started right out of the gate, as the Indians stranded a pair after Carlos Santana singled and Jason Kipnis doubled off of Houston spot starter Brad Peacock, making his first start of the season for the Astros. Three straight outs failed to get the runs home.
After retiring the first five in order, Kluber walked Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus with two outs in the second. Marwin Gonzalez, who had delivered a game-winner in Houston against Cleveland earlier in the season, slugged a hanging curve deep into the right field seats for a three-run blast to give the Astros a big early lead.
The Indians cut it to 3-1 in the bottom of the second after a leadoff double from Lonnie Chisenhall. Coco Crisp moved him to third on an out to right and Tyler Naquin drove him in on a grounder to first.
Houston got the run right back on back-to-back extra base hits to start the third. George Springer doubled to right and scored on a triple by rookie Alex Bregman to make it a 4-1 Astros lead.
As Kluber settled in and ran up his strikeout total, his teammates could not get anything going against Houston or its bullpen. Kipnis was stranded at second after a leadoff walk in the third. Naquin was left in the same spot the following inning when reliever James Hoyt came on for Peacock with two outs.
The Houston bullpen retired ten straight before Santana homered off of Luke Gregerson to lead off the bottom of the eighth, making it a two-run game with his 29th blast of the season. Gregerson retired the next three in order to push the streak to 13 of 14 batters retired by the bullpen.
In the ninth, Ken Giles entered and showed some of the same issues that Miami’s Fernando Rodney had when the Indians walked off on Sunday, possibly giving the Tribe and its fans hope of another on-field celebration. Giles allowed a single to Jose Ramirez to start the frame and advanced him to second on a passed ball. After striking out Chisenhall, Giles uncorked a wild pitch, moving Ramirez to third before he walked Crisp. With Naquin at the plate, Gattis threw wildly attempting to catch Crisp stealing second, allowing Ramirez to score with the tying run standing at second. Naquin flied to left for the second out and the last chance stepped to the plate in pinch-hitter Brandon Guyer, who hit an excuse-me check-swing dribbler down the first base line for the final out of the contest.
For Giles, it was his ninth save of the season.
The Indians (79-58) have lost two in a row but remain 6-2 on their current ten-game homestand. Making the loss a little more palatable, the Detroit Tigers were defeated in Chicago by the White Sox, reducing Cleveland’s magic number while keeping its division lead at four and a half games.
Houston (74-64) gained no ground on the victorious Texas Rangers in the AL West, but pulled within a game of matching the Detroit Tigers in the AL Wild Card race. Both clubs remain on the outside of the AL East-dominated battle.
THE CLUTCH IS STICKING
After a dreadful 1-for-10 performance with runners in scoring position in the opener, the Indians were even worse on Tuesday, going 0-for-12 in the run scoring opportunities while stranding six. Naquin, Ramirez, and Mike Napoli were each 0-for-2, while Chisenhall, Crisp, Guyer, Lindor, Santana, and Roberto Perez each failed to get a hit in their lone chances.
Naquin was credited with an RBI on his groundout in the second.
“Obviously that was a big turn of events,” manager Terry Francona said of the missed opportunity in the first inning by his lineup. “We have second and third and nobody out, don’t score, and then they come back with three. That’s a big turnaround.”
CURVEBALL HAUNTS KLUBER
It took just one swing to spoil the night for Kluber (15-9, 3.16 ERA), who had been effective all throughout August at leaving runners on base. It was his back-to-back walks in the second that really hurt him the most as they supplied free runs to Houston on the long ball.
Despite the four early runs, Kluber gave the Indians seven innings on the mound and allowed just four hits. He walked just one runner outside of the second and struck out nine on the night, doing his part to save a bullpen that was used heavily on Monday night. He retired 15 of the last 17 hitters he faced.
“It wasn’t his best performance,” shared Francona, “but yet if not for a hanging 0-2 pitch he would have given up one. He’s pretty good.”
The loss ended his seven-game winning streak. It was the first loss for the Indians in a Kluber start since July 24 and Kluber’s first loss since July 3.
PEACOCK’S SHORT PERFORMANCE
Making his first start and sixth appearance for Houston this season, Peacock took a no-decision. He worked three and two-thirds innings in the start, giving up a run on five hits with a walk and two strikeouts.
Hoyt (1-0, 5.11), who entered in relief of Peacock in the fourth, worked an inning and one-third and struck out a pair to earn his first Major League win.
GONZALEZ GOES GONZO
Houston’s first baseman Gonzalez had himself a big night against the Indians while hitting eighth in the lineup. In addition to his second inning three-run homer, he doubled twice later in the game.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play against one of the best pitchers in the game,” said Gonzalez, “but I put a good swing on it.”
The day’s matchup was supposed to be a bit more significant as Dallas Keuchel, the AL’s reigning Cy Young Award winner, was scheduled to match up with the previous winner Kluber, but the southpaw was instead returned to Houston to have his left shoulder inflammation dealt with. He has been unable to even play catch while hindered with the ailment.
Carlos Carrasco (10-7, 3.06) will be tasked with the job of stopping the Astros on Wednesday as he takes on tall righty Doug Fister (12-10, 3.91). Carrasco is 2-1 in his career against the Astros with a 2.05 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP. It will be his fifth start and sixth career appearance against Houston. Fister, the former Tiger, is a familiar face to the Tribe. He is 5-3 in his career with a 2.72 ERA and 0.97 WHIP in 15 starts.
First pitch at Progressive Field is 7:10 PM ET.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images