Looking to avoid the sweep in St. Louis, Cleveland called on rookie right-hander Shane Bieber on Wednesday and the 23-year-old delivered six innings of one-run baseball as the Indians defeated the Cardinals by a 5-1 final from Busch Stadium.
For the third straight start, Bieber did his best on the mound to put the Tribe in position for victory. Backed by some early offense and three perfect innings of relief behind him, the Indians (44-35) were able to get back into the win column after two rough losses to start their series in Missouri.
Cleveland jumped out to an early lead against young Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty, giving Bieber plenty of room to pitch comfortably. After each pitcher retired the side in order in the first inning, the Tribe took the lead in the second as the leadoff man Edwin Encarnacion notched home run number 19 on the campaign, parking a four-seamer down the middle over the wall in left for a solo shot. Lonnie Chisenhall, in protect mode in a 3-2 count, made it back-to-back jacks as he dug out a fastball low and in and launched his first of the season high and just deep enough to give the Indians a 2-0 lead.
Bieber had to pitch himself out of trouble after getting Marcell Ozuna to ground out to start the home half of the second. Yadier Molina and Greg Garcia each singled, but the Indians rookie struck out Dexter Fowler and Kolten Wong looking.
The Indians doubled their lead in the third after loading the bases against Flaherty. Francisco Lindor led things off with a walk and moved to third on a double by Michael Brantley. Jose Ramirez grounded out, with the runners having to hold. Encarnacion was intentionally walked to fill the bags for Chisenhall, who grounded slowly to second. Encarnacion was forced, but Chisenhall was safe at first as Lindor scored the third run. Jason Kipnis followed by winning a seven-pitch battle, sending a 3-2 slider into shallow right-center to score Brantley to make it 4-0 before Roberto Perez struck out swinging.
The Cardinals got a big two-out hit of their own to respond in the bottom of the inning. After retiring his counterpart, Bieber walked Matt Carpenter. He moved to second on a groundout by Tommy Pham and Jose Martinez drove him in with a single to right to make it a 4-1 game. Ozuna would follow with his own single to put two on for Molina, who grounded to third.
Flaherty, already tagged for a season-high four runs, would settle in for a quiet fourth, allowing only the first Major League hit by Bieber, a double to center, with one down. He would be stranded at third after a groundout by Lindor and a liner to right by Brantley.
Bieber continued to face traffic, but he did what good pitchers do – minimizing the damage. He plunked Wong with two outs in the fourth, but got pinch-hitter Yairo Munoz to ground out. Carpenter doubled to start the fifth and moved to third on a one-out single by Martinez, but a strikeout by Ozuna and a fielder’s choice force at second by Molina ended the threat.
Austin Gomber, on for his second inning of relief in the sixth, allowed a fifth run to cross. Kipnis singled to start the inning and moved to second on a sacrifice by Perez. Tyler Naquin deposited a knuckle-curve into center for an RBI-double, giving Cleveland a 5-1 lead.
Bieber returned for the bottom of the sixth, retiring the first two before once again plunking Wong. Pinch-hitter Jedd Gyorko popped out to leave another base runner.
The Indians had a chance at a threat in the top of the eighth, when Perez reached safely on a two-out error and Naquin walked. Manager Terry Francona, with a four-run lead, opted to allow his pitcher Neil Ramirez to hit, and he struck out swinging.
Ramirez retired the first two in the bottom of the eighth to give him five straight retired in a perfect outing. Oliver Drake finished the frame, striking out Garcia swinging. Cody Allen pitched the ninth to get work in a non-save situation, retiring the side in order with a strikeout.
The Cardinals (42-37) fell four games off of the pace in the NL Central with the loss.
Bieber worked six innings, allowing a run on six hits with a walk and five strikeouts, the first time in his brief big league career that he has failed to strike out at least six in a start. His scoreless inning stretch hit 14 straight before Martinez broke up the shutout with his third inning RBI-single.
“For a young kid, when runners are on and things start to happen, he seems to pitch more maturely than his age would indicate,” shared Francona after the game. “He starts throwing his breaking ball, gets some chase, doesn’t panic, game doesn’t speed up. That’s a real nice trait for anybody, let alone a kid that’s got four major league starts.”
The 22-year-old Flaherty lost his third decision of the season in his shortest start of the year. He matched a season-high with four earned runs allowed on six hits in just four innings, walking a pair, giving up two home runs, and striking out five.
Cleveland will take Thursday off before starting the west coast portion of their three-city road trip on Friday night. The scorching hot Oakland A’s, winners of ten of their last 12, will welcome in the Tribe. Trevor Bauer (7-5, 2.44 ERA) will get the call for the Indians, while the A’s will send out right-hander Paul Blackburn (1-2, 8.83).
First pitch from Oakland Coliseum is scheduled for 10:05 PM ET on Friday.
Photo: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images