CLEVELAND -- Corey Kluber took the mound on Friday night, looking more like the pitcher that burst onto the scene several years ago for the Indians. The long scraggly beard he had grown all season was gone, replaced with the clean-shaven look familiar from when the ace picked up his first Cy Young Award.
Kluber then turned in a vintage performance, blanking the Rays over seven innings in a 3-0 victory for the American League Central-leading Tribe at Progressive Field. Kluber scattered two hits and struck out eight, outdueling Rays right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who flirted with a no-hitter.
"He pretty much cruised about as much as possible through the first six innings," Kluber said of his battle with Glasnow. "You trade zeros back and forth, you try to keep matching him and try to keep the offense in the game as long as you can."
Glasnow flinched in the fifth in the form of a two-out single by Melky Cabrera, ending an 0-for-13 run for the Cleveland lineup. The decisive blow, however, arrived in the seventh, when slugger Edwin Encarnacion sent a curveball from Glasnow out to dead center at 106.6 mph, per Statcast™. The no-doubter dropped into the seats in front of the bullpens for Encarnacion's 29th home run of the year.
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Encarnacion said his previous two at-bats against Glasnow -- both resulting in deep flyouts on fastballs -- prepared him for the ill-fated curve.
"After I got that good contact the first two ABs," Encarnacion said, "I was ready for the breaking ball."
Those were the only two hits relinquished by Glasnow, who struck out six and walked one in the loss. The Indians added a pair of runs in the eighth, when Greg Allen scored from third on a wild pitch and Francisco Lindor (following two stolen bases) jogged home on a single by Michael Brantley.
Kluber encountered a handful of jams early on, but ended his outing by setting down the final 11 batters he faced (six via strikeout). The two-time AL Cy Young Award winner lowered his season ERA to 2.80 and improved to 17-7, joining Yankees starter Luis Severino as the only pitchers in the Majors with 17 wins.
"Kluber did an unbelievable job," said Indians reliever Cody Allen, who worked the eighth inning to set up the save for Brad Hand. "When you come in after a guy has pitched like that, that team wasn't seeing the ball really well, they were pretty off balance because of what Kluber did.
"That's a team that has played really, really well lately. So, for him to go seven shutout like that was impressive."
As for the lack of beard, it presented no issues.
"I wasn't thinking about it," Kluber said with a smirk. "So, I hope not."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Kluber's escapes: Twice within the first three innings, the Rays put two runners aboard against Kluber. Tampa Bay did so with no outs in the first inning, but the Tribe ace struck out Ji-Man Choi and then induced a double-play groundout off the bat of Tommy Pham. The Rays had two on with one out in the fourth, but Kluber fanned Jake Bauers looking and then generated a flyout from C.J. Cron to again escape unscathed.
"I thought Klubes was really crisp," manager Terry Francona said. "Even some of his two-seamers were what, 92, 93 [mph]? The breaking ball was better. I thought he was really good.
Allen delivers: A night after Cody Allen heard boos from the Progressive Field crowd, the Tribe's late-inning reliever was trusted with a 1-0 lead in the eighth inning. The home fans cheered his entrance this time and the struggling pitcher got through a drama-free inning. Allen set down Kevin Kiermaier, Willy Adames and Brandon Lowe in order for his first 1-2-3 inning since Aug. 15.
"I thought he looked tremendous," Francona said. "We're trying to get him to where he wants to be. And I thought he was Cody. He was efficient. He threw his breaking ball. I'm sure he feels really good. He should. He's worked hard."
Kluber improved to 9-3 with a 2.09 ERA in 103 1/3 innings at Progressive Field this season, representing the third-lowest home ERA in the AL this season. Only Rays starter Blake Snell (1.06) and Indians starter Trevor Bauer (1.87) have lower marks.
HE SAID IT
"It's awesome. I don't know how many of you guys are golfers, but to have instant feedback like that, off of one quick adjustment, and to feel like you can be under control, and you can make those minute adjustments from pitch to pitch, it's a big confidence boost." -- Allen, on having good results after mechanical tweaks
Rookie right-hander Shane Bieber (8-2, 4.52 ERA) is slated to start for the Tribe on Saturday, when the Indians host the Rays at 7:10 p.m. ET at Progressive Field. Bieber is 3-1 with a 3.91 ERA in four starts this season against opponents with a record at or above .500. Tampa Bay will counter with Snell (16-5, 2.05).