CLEVELAND -- The Indians had a deciding Game 5 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan on their home field with their best starter, the AL Cy Young Award favorite, on the mound. They couldn't have asked for a much better scenario.Whether Corey Kluber was at his best
CLEVELAND -- The Indians had a deciding Game 5 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan on their home field with their best starter, the AL Cy Young Award favorite, on the mound. They couldn't have asked for a much better scenario.
Whether Corey Kluber was at his best health was a subject for discussion in the moments after Wednesday's 5-2 loss to the Yankees ended the Tribe's postseason dream earlier than expected. But even at less than full strength, they wouldn't take anybody else with a World Series run on the line.
"You know what, I think he's fighting a lot," manager Terry Francona said, "and I think you also have to respect the fact that guy wants to go out there, and he's our horse. And sometimes it doesn't work."
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Against most of the Yanks' lineup, it seemed to work. Against Didi Gregorius, it was trouble.
After allowing six runs over 2 2/3 innings in Game 2 on Friday, Kluber hinted he might have found a mechanical issue. But like Game 2, he suffered from a pair of home runs. This time, they came from one hitter.
"I made two mistakes to Didi," Kluber said. "I put two balls right into his bat path, and he's a good hitter. He hit two home runs. That's really what stands out. It ended up being the difference."
Kluber was a strike away from retiring the Yankees in order in the opening inning when he paid dearly for missing his spot on a 1-2 fastball. Though catcher Roberto Perez put his mitt high and outside, Kluber left the pitch middle-in.
"Not taking anything away from the possible Cy Young winner, but I'm always looking for a fastball," Gregorius said. "He threw me a really nasty cutter, swing and miss. Then after that, he tried to come in with another fastball with two strikes, and I ended up putting a really good swing on it."
Gregorius sent it a Statcast-projected 375 feet down the right-field line for a 1-0 lead.
Kluber thwarted a two-out rally in the second inning by retiring Todd Frazier, but he faced Gregorius again in the third with a runner on first following Brett Gardner's leadoff single. Gregorius fouled off a pitch and got a curveball -- a pitch Kluber struggled with in Game 2 but used heavily early in Game 5 -- over the plate.
"I tried to backdoor one," Kluber said, "and he did a good job of going out there and getting it before it broke down."
To Perez, it didn't have the same break as it had earlier in the game, let alone during the regular season.
"Early innings, it was," Perez said. "But then it got flatter a little bit, and his stuff wasn't [the same] as his first two innings."
Kluber retired Gary Sanchez and Greg Bird to end the rally there, but manager Terry Francona already had Andrew Miller warming. Once Jacoby Ellsbury drew a two-out walk in the fourth, Francona made the switch. It marked the first time in Kluber's career, postseason included, that he didn't complete four innings in consecutive starts.
"I just thought quickly, his stuff was starting to trend down," Francona said. "Even the last inning, he got a strikeout on a hanging breaking ball. Just wasn't the normal, crisp -- especially the movement. A lot of pitches were flat."
The two starts also marked the first time Kluber had yielded multiple home runs in consecutive outings. Gregorius became just the fourth player with a multihomer game off Kluber, joining Oakland's Matt Chapman (July 15 of this year), Texas' Rougned Odor (April 3) and then-Tiger Justin Upton (Sept. 16, 2016).
"I felt like I threw the ball better than I did the other day," Kluber said. "Ultimately, it wasn't good enough. Aside from those two pitches, I think things were closer to where they needed to be."
Whatever Kluber was fighting, he wasn't getting into it.
"I don't think I need to get into details about it," Kluber said. "I was healthy enough to go out there and try to pitch."
Considering what Kluber did since his return from an early-season back issue that forced him onto the disabled list, if he's healthy enough to try to pitch, the Indians are willing to take their chances.
"He's a warrior, man. I'll take Corey any day over everybody," Perez said. "We just gotta turn the page and get ready in the offseason and come back stronger."
Jason Beck has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook.