CLEVELAND — Corey Kluber is a man of few words, preferring to allow his pitches to do the talking. They were at a screaming-loud decibel Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field.
Offering up the finest performance of his young career, Kluber pitched Cleveland to a 5-1 victory in the series finale with Kansas City, working his first complete game in the process.
The unassuming right-hander was close to as dominant as can be, striking out a career-high 11 batters — two of the last three he faced — while allowing just one unearned run on three hits.
It was a history-making effort of sorts as Kluber became the first Cleveland pitcher to toss a complete game with 11 strikeouts, no walks and no earned runs since Len Barker’s perfect game on May 15, 1981, at Municipal Stadium. He is the seventh Indians pitcher to accomplish the feat since 1914.
“That was really fun to watch,” manager Terry Francona said of Kluber’s outing. “He had everything working, fastball going both ways, change-up, location, worked ahead and he threw a ton of strikes. That was really impressive. He pounded the zone all day.
“He’s not the loudest guy in the clubhouse, but there’s a fire there, man. He competes.”
The unassuming Kluber allowed just a hit over the first four innings, with KC’s only run coming courtesy of an error on first baseman Nick Swisher that allowed the Royals to score in the seventh inning.
“I think the biggest key was working ahead and pounding the lower part of the strike zone,” said Kluber, who retired the last seven hitters he faced following the Swisher error. “For the most part, I was working ahead and keeping them off-balance. I think it’s just a product of making quality pitches. I don’t go out there and try to strike out guys. It happens when you’re making good pitches and working ahead of guys.”
It took a while, but the Indians were finally able to solve Royals starter Bruce Chen, a 36-year-old soft-tossing left-hander who entered the day with a 7-3 record and 4.29 ERA in 19 career games (12 starts) against the Indians — 7-1 since 2010.
Chen, who allowed 10 earned runs over 8⅔ innings of his previous two starts, kept pace with Kluber, surrendering just a hit over the first four innings, but the Indians turned the game around in the fifth.
The first five batters of the inning all reached base on hits, with Michael Brantley driving in Cleveland’s first run off Chen before David Murphy sliced a two-run double down the third-base line to score two more. Asdrubal Cabrera followed a sacrifice bunt with a two-run double to chase Chen and give the Indians their biggest inning of the year.
A scuffling Cleveland offense began to pick up pace during the four-game series against the Royals, helping the Indians to three wins. But Kluber was the difference in the finale.
“It was great that we finally got to (Chen),” Murphy said. “Obviously, the story of the day is Corey Kluber. What a tremendous job. It was fun to watch. When you’ve got a pitcher that throws 100 pitches and 75 strikes and is able to strike out 10 guys and have dominant stuff like he did today, it’s fun to play behind him and it’s fun to watch.
“It was a great series to get us rolling. We played great baseball. Hopefully, we can continue to do so.”
WHO: Cleveland vs. San Francisco
WHERE: AT&T Park, San Francisco
PITCHERS: Carrasco (0-2, 7.31 ERA) vs. Hudson (2-1, 2.40)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM