Covering the Bases: Game 137
Some notes and quotes from Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to the Astros
FIRST: It really doesn’t seem fair to dissect Corey Kluber’s outing too much on Tuesday night, but that’s really all that was left to do in the wake of another stagnant night for the Indians’ offense.
Similar to how Cleveland approached Monday’s game, Houston was forced to use a bullpen day. This was supposed to be the 2015 American League Cy Young winner (Dallas Keuchel) against the 2014 winner (Kluber), but Keuchel was scratched and sent back to Houston due to shoulder inflammation.
So, it was Kluber vs. Brad Peacock and Company.
Advantage, Kluber? Not this time.
“He’s been great, especially for this playoff run,” Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. He’s been awesome. For me, being behind the plate for him, I’ve been honored. He’s a great pitcher. He’s kept us in the ballgame. He’s a warrior. He likes to compete. He’ll always give you his best.”
And, for the most part, Kluber did that against Houston.
The righty held the Astros to an 0-for-5 showing out of the gates and ended his seven-inning performance by limiting Houston to 1 hit in 17 plate apperances. That sure sounds like the guy who went 7-0 with a 1.94 ERA in his 10 rotation turns prior to facing the Astros on Tuesday night.
Kluber struck out nine and allowed four hits in his 112-pitch effort.
There is a key bit of information omitted from that above paragraphs, though. What was not included was a six-batter stretch between the second and third innings. In that brief segment of plate appearances, Houston drew two walks, pounded out three extra-base hits and scored the four runs necessary to take down Cleveland in this one.
“It wasn’t his best performance,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “But, yet, if not for a hanging 0-2 pitch, he would’ve given up one. He’s pretty good.”
SECOND: We’ll get to the 0-2 pitch to Marwin Gonzalez in a minute. It was what took place prior to that ill-fated offering that got under Kluber’s skin.
“The walks were the bigger issue,” said the pitcher.
With two outs in the second inning, Kluber got ahead of Evan Gattis with a first-pitch sinker, but then threw four straight balls. He missed up in the zone twice (both on two-seamers), once away and once low (both on curves).
“Gattis, I thought Kluber threw him a couple of great breaking balls,” Perez said. “But, he laid off. He ended up walking him.”
Next up was Colby Rasmus, who fell behind, 1-2, after taking a first-pitch ball. Kluber couldn’t put him away. He missed low with a curve, misfired high with a sinker and then went out of the zone low again with another breaking ball.
“That inning, he kind of lost a little bit of command of his fastball,” Perez said. “Sometimes, those things are going to happen.
THIRD: Kluber has escaped plenty of jams in his career and he came one pitch away from dodging harm in this situation, too. The righty used a pair of cutters to put Gonzalez in an 0-2 hole with runners on first and second base.
At this point, Perez called for Kluber’s curveball, and for good reason. The pitch is one of the elite offerings in the Majors and is especially deadly in a two-strike situation. Heading into Tuesday, Kluber had limited hitters to a .054 (2-for-37) showing on at-bats ending with a curve in an 0-2 count. Twenty-four of those 37 instances were strikeouts.
Here is the heatmap for Kluber’s curve in 0-2 counts prior to Tuesday:
Good luck, Gonzalez.
“The curveball has been pretty good since I’ve caught him,” Perez said. “So, I was trying to get one in the dirt, hopefully.”
Kluber didn’t put it in the dirt. He put it smack dab over the middle of the plate:
Said Gonzalez: “I wasn’t expecting something like that. Obviously, he’s one of the best pitchers in the game and he doesn’t give it up like that. … I was lucky to get that pitch and got a good swing on it.”
“It was a two-strike count,” Kluber said. “I’m not trying to throw breaking ball right in the middle of the zone. It was a bad pitch and he took advantage of it.”
HOME: Kluber allowed a run-scoring triple to rookie Alex Bregman in the third inning, but then held Houston to a 1-for-16 showing the rest of the way. The former Cy Young winner, and current Cy Young candidate, kept Cleveland within striking distance.
“After that point, I was just trying to keep the game manageable,” Kluber said, “and try not to let them score, and try to give the team a chance to come back. And we almost did.”
It’s certainly more daunting when the offense ends the evening with an 0-for-12 mark with runners in scoring position. Things went south so poorly that even Mr. Clutch, Jose Ramirez, went 0-for-2 with with RISP.
The tone was set in the first inning, when Carlos Santana singled, Jason Kipnis doubled and then Francisco Lindor, Mike Napoli and Ramirez each flew out to leave the runners at second and third. Five batters later, the Astros had a 3-0 lead and were off and running to their 13th win in 17 games.
“Obviously that was a big turn of events,” Francona said. “We have second and third and nobody out, don’t score and then they come back with three. That’s a big turnaround.”
Kluber’s effort did allow time for the Tribe to chip away, and the club did with one in the second (run-scoring groundout by Tyler Naquin), one in the eighth (Santana’s 29th homer of the year) and one in the ninth (Ramirez singled, moved to second on a passed ball, to third on a wild pitch and across the plate thanks to an throwing error by the catcher).
There was no walk-off magic this time, though, turning Kluber’s momentary lapse into his first loss since July 3.
“We had a tough time to score runs today. Same as yesterday, too,” Perez said. “The bats will come around. But, man, that was a tough loss.”
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
1. Cleveland 79-58 (–)
2. Detroit 75-63 (4.5 GB)
3. Kansas City 72-66 (7.5 GB)
4. Chicago 66-72 (13.5 GB)
5. Minnesota 51-88 (29 GB)
Stay tuned for more…