NEW YORK -- Corey Kluber could not permit himself a stroll down memory lane. The two American League Cy Young Awards, the four postseasons and a World Series appearance -- those would have to remain in the past. To indulge in such a moment at this crucial stage of the Yankees' season, he said, would be "selfish."
So as he faced his former club for the first time, Kluber rolled back the clock and summoned the precision that became his trademark in Cleveland. On a night when the Bombers belted five homers, the right-hander offered the most encouraging sign by spinning six scoreless innings, celebrating an 8-0 victory over the Indians on Friday at Yankee Stadium.
"It doesn't matter whether I'm pitching against a former team or pitching against somebody else -- we've got to go out there and try to win every ballgame, every night," Kluber said. "That was the only objective tonight, to contribute to getting a win for the team. That's the position that we're in -- we've got to win every night."
With 14 regular-season games left, the Yankees (83-65) moved a half-game ahead of the Blue Jays (82-65) for the second AL Wild Card and trail the Red Sox (84-65) by a half-game for the top spot.
After far too many nail-biting affairs of late, the Yankees enjoyed a much-needed laugher, though most of their thunder arrived later in the night. Joey Gallo and Aaron Judge hit early long balls in support of Kluber, who tallied a 98-58 record and 3.16 ERA over his nine seasons in Cleveland from 2011-19.
Those glory days have been far from Kluber's mind this season, a campaign that featured a May 19 no-hitter against the Rangers in Arlington, then a three-month stint on the injured list for a right subscapular strain. He hadn't won since blanking that Texas lineup, which featured Gallo hitting in the No. 5 spot.
"He looked like he did when he threw a no-hitter against us in Texas," Gallo said. "Just not knowing what he's going to throw in any count, balls moving off the plate every which way. You just had no idea what he was going to throw, and he commanded his pitches so well. That's what it seemed like from left field."
Kluber's first three starts since returning from the IL on Aug. 30 did not inspire much confidence about his playoff viability.
The Angels, Orioles and Mets knocked Kluber for 11 runs in 11 2/3 innings (8.49 ERA), but the Indians had few answers for his 95-pitch effort. Cleveland catcher Roberto Pérez said that Kluber's changeup has become a difference-maker.
"He's still got it," Pérez said. "He just added another weapon. When he was here, it was an occasional changeup, but now he's been using it all year against righties and lefties. I thought his stuff looked good. The velo was around 90 [mph], but he kept us off balance. He's a veteran and he competes."
Kluber wriggled free from two-on, none-out jams in the third and fifth innings, scattering four hits while striking out four, walking two and hitting a batter. Judge also doubled off a runner with a strong throw from right field in the second inning, his 10th assist of the year.
"I think it was good for the spirit," said Yankees manager Aaron Boone.
The Bombers' five-homer performance tied their season high, knocking right-hander Zach Plesac for five runs and seven hits over six-plus innings.
Gallo opened the scoring with a second-inning homer and Judge added his team-leading 35th homer in the fourth. Gio Urshela chased Plesac with a run-scoring single in the seventh before Brett Gardner greeted Nick Wittgren with a three-run homer that broke the game open.
Giancarlo Stanton launched a one-out homer in the eighth, and two pitches later, Gallo bashed his 37th homer of the season. Gallo has hit 12 homers since joining the Yankees at the Trade Deadline.
"It's always nice to win a game handily like that," Gallo said. "As an offense, we have the lineup that can do that. We have to do that more."
As the longest-tenured Yankee, Gardner has seen plenty of September pennant races over his years in the Bronx, from the "Core Four" years to the present day.
With Friday's win serving as a welcome palette cleanser for a painful loss at Baltimore, Gardner spoke to the club briefly after Friday's contest, urging them to keep grinding as they seek to finish the regular season on a strong note.
"This time of year, it's important just to slow the game down and realize that we still have a great opportunity ahead of us," Gardner said.