HOUSTON -- Given the strength of the Astros' starting rotation, most opposing pitchers don't count on working with early leads when they face Houston.
Indians ace Corey Kluber had that rare luxury on Saturday at Minute Maid Park. The Tribe offense scored three runs in the first inning before he even stepped on the mound, and as it turned out, the Tribe needed every one of those runs -- and two more -- in a nailbiting 5-4 win over the Astros.
"They have a good lineup, one through nine, but they also have a good pitching staff," Kluber said. "To be able to break through with three in the top of the first definitely is a nice luxury to have. You go into it thinking runs are going to be hard to come by."
The Astros didn't have much luck against Kluber through the first six innings. The right-hander struck out at least one batter in each of the first four innings, including the side in the fourth. The two runs he allowed arrived in the sixth when Jose Altuve knocked a two-out single, followed by Carlos Correa's eighth homer of the season.
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"I executed most of my pitches early on," Kluber said. "Later on, the pitch Correa hit out wasn't a good pitch. The pitch [Yuli] Gurriel hit for a double [in the seventh] wasn't a good pitch. You have to step back and have kind of the bigger-picture approach. If I look back on when I made good pitches, things usually go in my favor."
Kluber struck out a total of 10 batters, helping bring Cleveland back to the .500 mark at 22-22. He also moved up on a prestigious list of Indians pitchers, passing Carsten Sabathia for fifth on the club's all-time strikeout list.
Kluber has 1,272 career strikeouts and is within a stone's throw of the next two Tribe legends on the list: Bob Lemon and Early Wynn are tied for third with 1,277. The win also brought Kluber's record to 7-2, making him the first American League starter -- and the second in MLB after Washington's Max Scherzer -- to reach the seven-win mark.
The three first-inning runs came off Houston left-hander Dallas Keuchel, who coughed up three doubles and a home run to Michael Brantley as the Indians sent eight men to the plate.
Keuchel, who allowed just one run in his past 15 innings (two starts), needed 26 pitches to record three outs against Cleveland's power-hunting offense. Saturday marked the first time Keuchel surrendered four extra-base hits in any single inning.
Of the six Indians to make contact against Keuchel in the inning, four recorded exit velocities of more than 104 mph, according to Statcast™. Thanks to Minute Maid Park's Crawford Boxes in left field, Brantley's 348-foot home run landed on the short porch and had a 24-percent probability of being a hit. With a 94.3-mph exit velocity, the homer was Cleveland's softest hit of the inning.
Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion each followed Brantley's one-out homer with doubles to plate Cleveland's second run, and Jason Kipnis added another RBI two-bagger three batters later.
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"Anytime you can play with a lead is good," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We got a couple add-on runs that we needed, because when you play these guys, they just keep coming. Fortunately they ran out of time, because man, that's how they play. We respect how they play."
The Indians manufactured another run in the fifth when Rajai Davis came home on Ramirez's infield single, and Yan Gomes crushed a 420-foot solo home run, as projected by Statcast™, in the sixth.
The Astros used the long ball to chip away in the late innings, first with Correa's two-run homer. Alex Bregman added a solo shot in the eighth, and Marwin Gonzalez brought Houston within one run with a one-out solo jack in the ninth off Cody Allen. But Allen retired the last two batters to complete a five-out save.
"That's a big win for us," Allen said. "We're scuffling right now. As a team, I feel like we're playing really, really good baseball, but just getting those last few outs of the game and holding leads has been tough for us right now. Hopefully this is a sign of what's to come."
Kluber has made 33 regular-season starts since June 1 of last season -- roughly a full season's worth. Over that span, he's 22-4 with a 1.85 ERA, having allowed 49 earned runs over 238 2/3 innings with 33 walks and 295 strikeouts.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
The umpires initiated a crew-chief review in the eighth inning after Altuve was initially awarded a home run on a fly ball that hit the padding halfway up the wall in right-center field and ricocheted into the stands. The replay official concluded it should be a ground-rule double.
The Indians and Astros wrap up their three-game series on Sunday at 8 p.m. ET, a matchup that will be nationally televised by ESPN. Tribe righty Carlos Carrasco (5-2, 3.66 ERA) will pitch on an extra day of rest when he takes the mound for his seventh career appearance (sixth start) vs. Houston, against whom he has a 2.67 ERA. The Astros will counter with right-hander Lance McCullers (5-2, 3.63). The Astros and Indians are in the middle of a 10-day stretch during which they'll meet seven times.