CLEVELAND — A monumental bullpen meltdown prevented the Indians from enjoying a perfect Saturday at Progressive Field.
Winners of the first game of an interleague doubleheader over the Braves, Cleveland owned a comfortable cushion in the ninth inning of the second game before a plethora of relievers unraveled to pave the way for a shockingly bad 8-7 loss.
Right-hander Adam Cimber was the main culprit. The sidewinder who had been stingy to start the season, allowed four of Atlanta’s five ninth-inning runs, walking three and allowing a two-run single.
Left-hander Tyler Olson walked in a run and the Braves scored the winning runs on a two-run double from Ronald Acuna Jr. off Cody Anderson.
“(Cimber) lost the plate,” manager Terry Francona said. “He made some pitches that were real close, but he missed wide on numerous (occasions). That’s probably the last thing you want to do. You want to make them hit their way back into a game and we didn’t do that tonight.”
The stage was set for an Indians celebration.
MVP candidate Francisco Lindor returned to the lineup, two-time Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber looked as though he’s returning to form and All-Star Trevor Bauer was his usual dominant self.
Kluber and a big fifth inning propelled the Indians to an 8-4 victory in Game 1, and with Lindor contributing to a balanced offensive attack in his season debut in Game 2, Bauer limited Atlanta to three hits and struck out 10 over 61⁄3 innings.
Kluber bounced back from one of the worst outings of his career, allowing four runs on five hits while matching a season high with eight strikeouts over seven innings.
The right-hander, who allowed six earned runs on six hits and a career-high five walks in 22⁄3 innings of a 9-8 loss to the Royals last Sunday, struck out the first two batters of the game before walking the next two and allowing an RBI single to Nick Markakis.
Kluber allowed a double to Ozzie Albies and an infield single to Josh Donaldson to start the third inning, then hit Acuna Jr. with a pitch with one out before Markakis’ sacrifice fly put Atlanta in front 2-1.
He retired 11 straight before McCann and Matt Joyce hit back-to-back home runs to lead off the seventh.
“He had a couple walks and there was the infield hit, but he kind of self-corrected,” Francona said of Kluber. “You started to see the late movement with his pitches as the game progressed. He fell behind and he kind of pitched to the scoreboard and they took advantage and hit the two solos, but I thought that was way closer to the Klubes that we’ve seen and really encouraging moving forward.”
Kluber has been working on mechanical issues that have plagued him for much of the first month.
“At times it was good,” he said. “I think there were still instances where I could feel that it maybe slipped out a little bit, but the difference is that I was able to kind of reel things in and get back on track to where I wanted to be.
“(It’s) not really any one thing, just kind of getting back to the way I feel. It’s hard to necessarily put it in words, but I know what feels right and what feels wrong, so just trying to kinda get out of my own way a little bit and try to re-create what I know feels right and what allows me to make pitches I need to.”
The Indians matched Atlanta’s run in the first on Carlos Santana’s shallow fly ball that fell in front of a sliding Acuna Jr. in left field to score Jose Ramirez, but it could have been more.
They loaded the bases off Julio Teheran with one out on consecutive singles from Jason Kipnis and Santana and a walk from Jake Bauers, but Greg Allen and Tyler Naquin struck out.
More futility arrived in the third inning when Kipnis led off with a walk and advanced to third when Santana followed with a base hit.
Bauers tried to surprise the Braves with a squeeze bunt, but Teheran fielded the ball in front of the mound and tossed it to McCann with plenty of time to cut down Kipnis, who did not break immediately for home plate.
Cleveland finally broke through in the fifth to chase Teheran, and Allen and Naquin delivered the first two run-scoring hits — Allen on a double down the right-field line and Naquin with a single to right — to put the Indians in front 4-2.
They scored six more times in the inning to put away the game.
Bauer, who entered his outing with a 10-5 interleague record and 2.53 ERA — second-lowest in the majors behind the Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw (2.14) — didn’t allow a hit until Tyler Flowers’ one-out single in the third, retiring 11 of the first 13 batters.
Cleveland hitters gave Bauer plenty of early support, scoring seven times over the first two innings against right-hander Touki Toussaint, who allowed six hits and hit three batters in 1 1/3 innings.
Ramirez and Bauers each had two-run hits — Ramirez a single to put Cleveland in front 4-0 and Bauers a double to right-center that made it 7-0.
Outside of catcher Roberto Perez, who accounted for all three outs in a five-run second inning, and Naquin, each player in the lineup had at least one hit.
Lindor was in the leadoff spot and struck out in his first at-bat, but he got his first hit in his second plate appearance — a line-drive single to right-center in the second inning.
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