Plutko and Tribe Bullpen Combine on Three-Hit Shutout of Cubs; Indians 1, Cubs 0

Adam Plutko held the Chicago Cubs hitless through the first six innings of his second career start and an RBI-single from Michael Brantley provided the game’s only run in a 1-0 shutout by the Cleveland Indians from Wrigley Field on Wednesday night.

The respective top scoring teams in each league during the month of May played their final game of the season against one another on Wednesday, but the two high-scoring offenses combined for just one run in a well-pitched ball game between Plutko and Cubs veteran Jon Lester.

The Indians (24-23), one night after putting up ten runs on the Cubs and averaging 6.4 runs per game in the month, played the fourth and final game between the two clubs in the split home-and-home set. Chicago came in with a National League high 5.5 runs scored per game, but just one night after squeezing a ninth inning solo home run for their only tally in a 10-1 blowout, the Cubs would struggle to put a dent in Plutko, who was recalled prior to the game to take Josh Tomlin’s spot in the rotation.

Walks plagued Plutko early, as there may have been some jitters about pitching at the historic Wrigley Field, making his second MLB start, appearing to have a place in the Indians rotation on a regular basis, or even the notion of having to step into the batter’s box for the first time since high school. The defense behind him, however, helped him out in the early going by doing its job nicely. After Plutko walked the first batter of the game, a double play ball erased the mistake. He walked the first two in the second, but got a big assist in the outfield on a leaping catch at the ivy by Rajai Davis to rob Addison Russell of a potential RBI-hit. Plutko would load the bases with another free pass with two outs, but with Lester at the plate, the Cubs could not produce a run as he grounded to short.

Plutko – Jon Durr/Getty Images

The Indians had men on base in the first two innings, but could do nothing against Lester. Francisco Lindor started the game with a single to left but was gunned down by Kyle Schwarber trying to stretch it to two. Brantley followed with his own single (extending his hitting streak to an MLB-leading 12 straight), but was stranded. In the second, Yan Gomes singled to right with two down, but Jason Kipnis flied out to right to end the inning.

In the third, the Indians finally cashed in on base runners with a manufactured run with Plutko aiding greatly in the cause. Davis singled to left-center and the Tribe right-hander, hitting for the first time since his junior season in high school, dropped down one of the better bunts by an Indians player this season to move Davis into scoring position. Lindor popped to short for the second out, but Brantley delivered his second hit in as many at bats to knock in Davis with the first run of the night.

With a one-run lead and his at bat under his belt, Plutko retired his walk issues and cruised through the next four frames. He struck out the final two in the third and two more to start the fourth. He added one more in the fifth. The Indians could not pad his lead, however, as they stranded a one-out single by Davis in the fifth and a leadoff walk by Brantley in the sixth.

Plutko returned for the seventh with a no-hitter intact and with 13 consecutive batters retired, but the first batter of the inning, Anthony Rizzo, doubled into the right field corner to end the bid for history. A second hit, an infield single to a sliding Kipnis at second by Willson Contreras, put two on and brought manager Terry Francona out of the dugout for Andrew Miller. With runners on the corners, Javier Baez bunted, but it went back to Miller on the mound. He flipped to Gomes at the plate and despite a bad tag placement, Rizzo was retired for the first out. Miller took care of the next two, striking out Russell and getting Jason Heyward to ground to Edwin Encarnacion at first.

Lester was done after seven, replaced by Carl Edwards Jr. He allowed a pair to reach on singles, but with runners at second and third with two outs, he got Encarnacion to fly to right.

Miller came back out for the eighth after striking out looking leading off the prior half inning. He got a strikeout and a fly out before Schwarber singled deep to right. Cody Allen entered in a double switch and got a big out, getting Kris Bryant to fly to center to leave the tying run on base.

The Indians went quietly in the ninth against Brandon Morrow, unable to do anything with Kipnis’ two-out single. Allen returned for the four-out save and wrapped things up on six pitches, getting a pair of groundouts and a fly out to end the ball game, earning his seventh save and giving Plutko his second win in as many tries.

“We know when he commands everything, he can be pretty good,” said Francona after the game. “On a night when he didn’t command real well, he still did pretty damn good.”

The Cubs’ May woes continued as the club dropped to 9-11 in May. They have gone 8-2 against teams with sub-.500 records, but just 1-9 against teams playing .500 ball or better in the month.

TURNING IT AROUND

The Indians improved to 24-23 on the season and have won three of their last four games. What started off as a horrendous beginning to an eight-game, three-city road trip was salvaged, as their two-game sweep in Chicago evened up the trip at 4-4. The Tribe had previously gone 1-2 in series with the Detroit Tigers and Houston Astros. The two wins over the Cubs pulled them up to 9-11 in the month of May with a +29 win differential.

LESTER LOSES AGAIN

For the second time this season, Lester was on the short end against Cleveland. He allowed three solo homers in his first start against the Indians and was dealt his only loss of the season, coming into this week’s series. The southpaw was terrific in containing the Tribe again, allowing just a run on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts in a tough second loss to his year.

ROSTER MOVES

The Indians had to make space to add Plutko to the rotation and it came at the cost of an outfielder, as Brandon Guyer was placed on the 10-day disabled list with a left cervical sprain. The injury occurred on Saturday in Houston, when Guyer ran into the elbow of a fan attempting to catch a fly ball in foul territory at Minute Maid Park.

“When he went into the stands, he got like a forearm or something,” shared Francona. “We checked him for concussions, but his neck is whiplash-ish kind of, so he hasn’t played since that. I think he could’ve if he had to, but we’re trying to be mindful of it.”

COMING HOME

The Indians will return home to Progressive Field to kick off a seven-game homestand, hosting the Houston Astros and the Chicago White Sox for four- and three-game sets, respectively. The Cubs will stay in the Windy City with an off day Thursday before welcoming in the San Francisco Giants over the weekend.

TRIBE TRIVIA

The 6’7” “Red Baron” spent some of his most successful big league seasons with the Indians and Cubs. A Rookie of the Year with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1979, he joined the Tribe in 1982 and was an All-Star in 1983, going 17-11. He started 1984 with the Tribe, but after a 4-5 start with a 5.15 ERA in 15 games, he was dealt to the Cubs with two others for a package that included Joe Carter. He had a miraculous turnaround for the eventual NL East champs in his new locale, going 16-1 with a 2.69 ERA in his final 20 starts of that season to claim the league’s Cy Young award.

Who am I? – Rick Sutcliffe

Photo: Jon Durr/Getty Images

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