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Kluber's brilliance impresses friend and foe

MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- Indians ace Corey Kluber overpowered the Cardinals so much on Wednesday night that frustration eventually evolved into respect. That was apparent when Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez was standing on second base in the bottom of the sixth inning.

St. Louis shortstop Jhonny Peralta had a question for Perez.

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CLEVELAND -- Indians ace Corey Kluber overpowered the Cardinals so much on Wednesday night that frustration eventually evolved into respect. That was apparent when Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez was standing on second base in the bottom of the sixth inning.

St. Louis shortstop Jhonny Peralta had a question for Perez.

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"Hey, was he that good early in the season?" Peralta asked. "Because he's unbelievable today."

"That's the old Kluber," Perez replied. "That's the Cy Young winner we know."

In a 2-0 victory over the Cardinals, Kluber issued a strong statement about his condition and made history in the process. The American League's reigning Cy Young Award winner recorded 18 strikeouts, matching Hall-of-Famer Bob Feller's 77-year-old franchise mark for strikeouts in a nine-inning game.

Kluber flirted with a no-hitter, but saw that prospect pushed to the wayside in the seventh inning, when Peralta sent a 2-0 offering up the middle and into center field for a clean, two-out single. That did not halt the momentum for Kluber, who ended with one of the most dominant eight-inning performances in baseball history.

Beyond equaling Feller's 1938 club mark, Kluber joined soon-to-be Hall-of-Famer Randy Johnson (Sept. 27, 1992) as the only pitchers since at least 1914 to have 18 strikeouts in eight or fewer innings. Kluber's Game Score of 98 is also the highest for an eight-inning outing in that same century-plus time period.

Kluber recognized, but downplayed the historical achievements.

"I've said it before," Kluber said, "any time that you throw your name in there with Bob Feller, that's obviously very humbling and a great accomplishment. More important is obviously getting the win."

As it happened, Feller's widow, Anne, and their two sons were in attendance for Wednesday's game. Before Kluber took the mound, Feller's family took part in a ceremony to unveil the new exhibit at Progressive Field honoring the Hall-of-Famer's life and career.

Then, Kluber turned in a performance that would make "Rapid Robert" proud.

"I think we got a taste of why he won the Cy Young last year," St. Louis third baseman Matt Carpenter said. "His numbers this season don't reflect how good of a pitcher he is. He was as good, if not better, than anybody I've ever faced in the big leagues."

Carpenter alluded to the fact that Kluber entered the game 0-5 with a 5.04 ERA. The Indians had lost each of his previous seven starts and Kluber tied a dubious record for the longest season-opening winless drought for a reigning Cy Young Award winner. That led to questions about what was ailing the right-hander, who won 18 and struck out 269 a year ago.

Indians manager Terry Francona had a question for anyone with lingering doubts about Kluber.

"Does anybody else need to ask him if he's hurt?" asked Francona, stirring some laughter. "He was throwing with conviction and confidence and attacking with all his pitches. And when you have the talent he does, that's what can come of it. It was special.

"You're not going to see that very often and that's a pretty good lineup. That was a pretty special night."

Kluber's 18 strikeouts marked the most in a Major League game since Ben Sheets fanned the same total for the Brewers on May 16, 2004. It represented the most strikeouts in a game under AL rules since Roger Clemens struck out 18 for Toronto on Aug. 25, 1998. Kluber is the first pitcher with 18-plus strikeouts and no walks since Johnson on May 8, 2001, for Arizona.

Between the third and fourth innings, Kluber struck out six batters in a row, falling one shy of a club record that he established on May 4 last season against the White Sox. During one stretch from the third to the sixth innings, Kluber struck out 10 of 11 Cardinals batters.

"You don't strike out that many guys if you're not on top of your game," St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. "He made pitches all night long. He had good velocity without much effort. It was getting on guys and he was climbing the ladder and getting high strikes. His breaking stuff was very sharp."

Perez said he lost track of how many strikeouts Kluber was piling up.

"I didn't know how many times I threw to third base," the catcher joked. "I wasn't thinking about it and kept calling my game. I wanted him to trust me and finally we had a good game tonight."

It was more than just a good game. It was an historic one for Kluber.

"His stuff is still really good," Indians closer Cody Allen said. "He's still the same guy putting the work in. We knew it was a matter of time before something like this happened."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

Cleveland Indians, Corey Kluber