Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber waits for New York Yankees' Brett Gardner to run the bases after Gardner hit a two-run home run in the third inning Thursday in Cleveland.
CLEVELAND — The marquee pitching matchup between American League Cy Young contenders Corey Kluber and the Yankees’ Luis Severino failed to live up to advanced billing.
The opener of a four-game series pitting two of the league’s top teams was a better story, but unfortunately for the Indians, it wasn’t the final chapter they wanted.
Cleveland and New York, which met in last year’s Division Series and could get reacquainted in October, went back-and-forth Thursday night at Progressive Field before the Yanks emerged with a 7-4 victory in front of 31,267 fans.
Neither starter was at his best. Severino lasted only five innings and allowed four runs on nine hits — including a pair of home runs. Kluber went further — 7 1⁄3 innings — but allowed six runs on eight hits, also surrendering two homers.
“We understand it’s hard to go out there and throw eight shutout innings. He gave it his best,” shortstop Francisco Lindor said of Kluber. “The Yankees got a good hitting team and a good pitching staff. They played better than us the last couple of innings. Hats off to them.”
Kluber got better as the game wore on, allowing four runs in the first four innings, but only three hits over his final 3 1⁄3. One of the hits was a big one, however, with Aaron Hicks putting New York in front for good with a double over the head of center fielder Greg Allen in the eighth.
Rather than turn to his beleaguered bullpen, manager Terry Francona sent Kluber back out for the eighth at 100 pitches and he promptly walked Didi Gregorius on four pitches to start the inning.
“I thought he was fine. And I thought he was throwing the ball well,” Francona said of Kluber. “There’s been some instances where I think we’ve given guys some wiggle room, but I thought he was in command of what he was doing.”
“I felt fine,” Kluber said. “We talked after the seventh and they asked me if I was good and I said ‘yeah.’ I felt fine. It’s just leadoff walks aren’t a good thing and then Hicks had a good at-bat and was able to foul off some pitches.
“Obviously, they’re one of the best offensive teams in baseball. The whole lineup, one through nine, is a good lineup. There’s not really any letdowns from the leadoff hitter to the ninth hitter. If you make mistakes like I did a few times tonight — they took advantage of them and it cost us.”
Kluber was nearly unbeatable over the first two months, but has encountered a rough patch. Over his last six starts covering 34 innings, he’s posted a 5.03 ERA (19 earned runs), while allowing 31 hits — seven homers — and seven walks with only 29 strikeouts.
Cleveland went to work early on Severino, scoring once off the right-hander three batters into the bottom of the first.
Lindor hit Severino’s second pitch off the wall in right field for a double, moved to third on a grounder from Michael Brantley and scored on a single from Jose Ramirez, who was then caught trying to steal second.
Edwin Encarnacion followed with his 21st homer to put the Indians in front 2-0.
It was the first homer Severino has allowed in the opening inning this season and the first since surrendering one to Ramirez on Aug. 28.
Lindor’s double gave him 54 extra-base hits, the most by a major league shortstop before the All-Star break.
The Yankees tied it on a two-out, two-run homer from Brett Gardner in the third, but Cleveland forged ahead again in the bottom of the inning on Yonder Alonso’s two-out single.
New York answered quickly again, scoring twice in the fourth — once on a leadoff homer from Gregorius — before the Indians tied it at 4 on Ramirez’s 28th homer in the fifth.
Ramirez moved past Albert Belle for the most homers in franchise history prior to the All-Star break.
Cleveland didn’t get another hit after Ramirez’s one-out solo shot.
“We did a great job against Severino. I mean, he’s got exceptional stuff,” Francona said. “We scored. We made him throw pitches. We got him out after five, but their bullpen is also exceptional. They brought in four guys that are pretty good and they kind of did a number on us.”
Indians fans got a nostalgic moment in the final inning with Rajai Davis pinch hitting and facing Yankees closer Aroldis Chapman, who surrendered a game-tying homer to Davis in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series while pitching for the Cubs.
The result was different this time around. Davis struck out on four pitches.
This is the second and final meeting between the two AL rivals. The Yankees have won the first four games, sweeping the Indians in a three-game series in the Bronx on May 4-6. Counting last year’s ALDS, Cleveland has lost seven straight games to New York.
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