It was a happy Kluber Day in downtown Cleveland on Wednesday afternoon, but the highlight of the game was not Indians starter Corey Kluber, but instead was a steady fireworks display created by five home runs in a 12-4 rout of the Texas Rangers.
Edwin Encarnacion celebrated a beautiful day at Progressive Field with three home runs while driving in half of the Tribe’s run production for their ace, who needed far less support to take home his fifth straight win on the mound. Jason Kipnis and Francisco Lindor added shots of their own as the offense erupted for a dozen runs to take the series from the Rangers.
The Indians got the offensive machine up and running early against Rangers left-hander Matt Moore, making his first start since April 23 while last appearing in relief a few days ago in light duty while Texas tried to sort out its six-man rotation. After Kluber struck out a pair in the opening stanza, Kipnis got things going with a one-out double off of Moore. He moved to third on a single by Lindor and came on in to score on an RBI-single to center by Michael Brantley to give Cleveland the quick 1-0 lead. Encarnacion gave the club its fourth straight hit, getting a changeup that caught far too much of the plate and the slugger slammed a three-run blast halfway up the bleachers in left to give Kluber and the Indians a sizeable four-run advantage.
Nomar Mazara got the Rangers on the board with a response run leading off the second. He sent a high sinker high and deep to right for a solo shot, cutting the Indians lead to 4-1 before Kluber retired the next three in order.
The Tribe effectively put the game out of reach in their second trip to the box. Erik Gonzalez, getting the start at third base for Jose Ramirez, doubled to deep right. A single by Rajai Davis moved him to third and the pair trotted home on Kipnis’ first home run of the season, a three-run shot to right-center. The Indians were hardly done, as Lindor singled and moved to second on a passed ball. Brantley lined to center for the second out, but Encarnacion stepped in and pounced on a first pitch fastball low and away, driving the ball to the bullpen area in right-center to push the Indians lead to 9-1.
For the second straight inning, the Rangers responded to the Indians’ scoring outburst, but would do little more. Just as was the case in the second with Mazara, Juan Centeno started the frame with a solo homer to right. The Rangers would get a pair of one-out singles from Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo, but Kluber struck out Jurickson Profar and got Mazara to ground to second to end the threat.
The Indians continued to see the ball and hit the ball well off of Moore, who remained on the mound to save the depleted Texas ‘pen. Brandon Guyer doubled to lead off the third and Roberto Perez walked. A single by Gonzalez loaded the bases for Davis, who hit a sacrifice fly to center to score the tenth run of the afternoon. Kipnis and Lindor each grounded into fielders’ choices to strand runners in scoring position.
Moore pitched through the fourth, finally holding the Indians scoreless in what would be his final inning of work. Nick Gardewine took over for the fifth and worked around some trouble after DeShields misplayed a shot to center by Gonzalez into a one-out triple, but pinch-hitter Bradley Zimmer struck out, Kipnis was hit by a pitch, and Lindor flied to center to end the inning. Gardewine allowed a leadoff double to Brantley to start the sixth, but followed with three outs in the air.
Kluber retired eleven straight Rangers until the seventh, when Joey Gallo hit the third homer of the day off of the Tribe’s right-hander. Kluber would finish the inning with a double play grounder to erase a one-out infield single by Ronald Guzman in what would be his final inning of work.
Jesse Chavez took the ball for manager Jeff Banister in the seventh, striking out the side. The Rangers cut another run off of their deficit in the eighth, as Drew Robinson doubled, moved to third on a groundout, and scored on a single by Choo off of reliever Dan Otero.
Chavez remained on for a second inning of work in the eighth, but the Indians opted for some more fireworks. With one out, Lindor slammed a changeup 444 feet to the bleachers in right-center to make it 11-4, and one out later, Encarnacion notched his third home run of the day with a 425-foot shot to the edge of the bleachers adjacent to the Home Run Porch to give the Indians a dozen runs on the day. The Rangers would draw a leadoff walk in the ninth, but were retired in order afterwards to secure the Tribe’s 12-4 shellacking.
The Indians (16-13) maintained their three-game advantage in the AL Central, as second place Detroit was victorious in extra innings over the Tampa Bay Rays by a 3-2 final in 12. The Rangers (12-20) fell back to the .500 mark on the road this season at 8-8. They remain in last place in the AL West.
KLUBER AN AFTERTHOUGHT
It was just another day at the office for Kluber, but on this day, his friends came out to play. Backed by a dozen runs, he coasted to an easy win while staked to a big lead early. He worked seven innings, allowing three runs (all on solo homers) and six hits in total, issuing no walks while striking out six.
MOORE FALLS ON SWORD
Moore had a bad day at Progressive Field, with the bulk of the damage coming in the first two innings of his outing. He worked four full innings, allowing a career-high ten runs on eleven hits. He walked a pair of batters, struck out one, and gave up three big home runs that quickly changed the outcome of the afternoon for the Rangers. His bullpen was better, to a degree, giving up just two runs on four hits with four strikeouts in four innings of relief.
Seven of nine Indians starters recorded at least one hit as Cleveland tallied 15 total on the afternoon against Rangers pitching. More importantly, the club hit and hit and hit with runners in scoring position, going 7-for-15 in the ball game.
Encarnacion was the easily the key to the victory as he broke out with his biggest and best game of the season. He was 3-for-5 at the plate with a solo homer, a two-run homer, and a three-run homer to give him six RBI on the day and the team’s lead in long balls with nine.
Lindor had a three-hit game, going 3-for-5 with three runs scored and an RBI on his fifth homer of the year. Gonzalez had a three-hit game off of the bench, making the spot start at third for the banged up Ramirez, who is expected to return to the lineup on Thursday. He came up a homer short of hitting for the cycle while scoring one run. Brantley and Kipnis each had two hits, with the latter driving in three and scoring twice while supplying his first home run of the season.
Both clubs made roster moves ahead of the afternoon finale to help bolster their bullpens.
Texas placed right-hander Chris Martin on the 10-day disabled list with a right forearm cramp. Fellow right-hander Gardewine was recalled from Triple-A Round Rock and worked a pair of scoreless innings in the loss.
The Indians made a more complicated move, designating veteran right-hander Matt Belisle for assignment. He was replaced on the roster by fellow spring training addition Ben Taylor, whose contract was selected from Triple-A Columbus. Like Gardewire, he made a scoreless appearance of his own, pitching an easy ninth while working around a leadoff walk.
The Indians will wrap up the final day of their ten-day homestand with a doubleheader, welcoming back in the Toronto Blue Jays, who were washed out of the final two games of their series in April after taking the opener of the series, 8-4. The Rangers have no easy task ahead of them, as they return home to Arlington to host one of the hottest teams in MLB, the Boston Red Sox.
Cleveland and Texas will resume their six-game season series in July, when the Indians visit the Lone Star State.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images