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Kluber doomed by one mistake in Seattle

Indians' ace shuts down M's after costly first-inning homer
MLB.com @MLBastian

SEATTLE -- There was little else Corey Kluber could do on Thursday night. In front of a packed Safeco Field, where the King's Court cheered every Felix Hernandez pitch, and the crowd roared each time Ichiro Suzuki was announced, the Indians' ace remained stoic and did well in setting the tone on Opening Day.

One misstep was all it took to derail an otherwise brilliant opening act. That mistake arrived in the first inning, when Nelson Cruz launched a two-run home run that served as the difference in Cleveland's 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Mariners. Kluber cruised from there, spinning a complete-game gem that resulted in a hard-luck loss.

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SEATTLE -- There was little else Corey Kluber could do on Thursday night. In front of a packed Safeco Field, where the King's Court cheered every Felix Hernandez pitch, and the crowd roared each time Ichiro Suzuki was announced, the Indians' ace remained stoic and did well in setting the tone on Opening Day.

One misstep was all it took to derail an otherwise brilliant opening act. That mistake arrived in the first inning, when Nelson Cruz launched a two-run home run that served as the difference in Cleveland's 2-1 defeat at the hands of the Mariners. Kluber cruised from there, spinning a complete-game gem that resulted in a hard-luck loss.

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"With this ballclub, two runs usually isn't going to get us," Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. "But they pitched really well, too. I think it's one of those things where, whenever you're battling against Kluber, the best is going to come out of everyone."

Kluber struck out eight in his eight innings, giving the bullpen the night off, even with a scheduled off-day looming on Friday. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner scattered six hits and issued one walk.

There was the matter of the home run, though.

With two outs in the first inning, Robinson Cano sent a pitch from Kluber deep into right field for a single. Per Statcast™, the ball shot off Cano's bat at 112.9 mph, which is noteworthy because it marked the highest exit velocity on a batted ball (regular season or postseason) against Kluber since Sept. 16, 2016.

Video: CLE@SEA: Cruz belts a two-run homer to center

Cruz followed with his towering shot to deep center, where Bradley Zimmer scaled the wall to no avail.

"I didn't throw a very good pitch to Cano," said Kluber, who is 0-3 in his four career Opening Day starts. "I didn't throw a very good pitch to [Cruz]. It's the first inning. If you don't [locate] a couple pitches, it's magnified. I don't think I had to reinvent anything after that point. It's just a matter of going out there and executing."

Kluber did that, but King Felix -- the runner-up to Kluber in the 2014 AL Cy Young race -- held the Tribe's bats at bay. In his 10th straight Opening Day outing and 11th overall, Seattle's ace went 5 1/3 innings, in which he struck out four, walked two and allowed no runs on two hits. Hernandez kept Cleveland's hitters confused, and the Mariners' bullpen took care of the rest.

"Everybody talks about the way he spins the ball, and he is really good at that," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Hernandez. "I just thought the way he made his fastball and his changeup go the other way, it gave him two different directions, two different speeds. He commanded the baseball so well. His feel for what he wanted to do was so good."

Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said, simply put, the lineup let Kluber down.

"He pitched great," Lindor said. "He gave us a chance to win once again, and we didn't come through for him."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Lindor's dynamic dive: This spring, Lindor said his top priority for the season was tightening up his defense. He felt it took a step back in 2017. In the fifth, Lindor backed up the talk with an impressive dive up the middle to stop a Mike Marjama grounder from finding center. Lindor recovered in time to get the out at first, holding a runner at second and helping Cleveland escape the inning unscathed.

"Obviously, it was a good play," Kluber said. "It probably saved us a run right there. Keeping it a two-run game instead of a three-run game at that point in time was big. We're used to that kind of thing now. We take it for granted almost."

Video: CLE@SEA: Lindor takes away a hit with a diving stop

The Rajai effect: While it did not influence the final result, Rajai Davis showed how he can impact a game in the ninth inning. After Edwin Encarnacion was hit by a pitch from Mariners closer Edwin Diaz, Davis entered as a pinch-runner. Diaz threw to first four times and then balked on a pitch to Lonnie Chisenhall. Davis later stole third, bringing the tying run 90 feet from home. Diaz eventually escaped a two-on, one-out jam with strikeouts to Gomes and Tyler Naquin.

"That's why we got him," Francona said. "There will be a game where we win because of that. We didn't tonight, but we will. We gave ourselves a chance."

Tough read for Dee: Cleveland finally broke through in the seventh, when Gomes sent a broken-bat fly ball to shallow left-center field. Dee Gordon, who moved from second base to center this season, did not get a good break on the ball, which dropped between him, shortstop Jean Segura and left fielder Ichiro. On the play (which had a 93 percent catch probability, per Statcast™), Chisenhall scored from second to cut Seattle's lead to 2-1.

Video: CLE@SEA: Gomes bloops an RBI single to center

QUOTABLE
"I was stunned. I wasn't ready for that. It was very classy on their part. I had to kind of catch myself for a minute there." -- Francona, on the Mariners paying tribute pregame to his father, Tito Francona, who died earlier this year

SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Kluber became the first Indians pitcher to throw a complete game on Opening Day since 2005, when Jake Westbrook accomplished the feat against the White Sox. Westbrook also took the loss in that game. As it happens, Cleveland acquired Kluber on July 31, 2010, in a three-team trade that sent Westbrook to the Cardinals.

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With one out in the top of the ninth, the Indians challenged a non-call after Chisenhall motioned to home-plate umpire Sam Holbrook that an inside pitch from Diaz struck him. Replays clearly showed the baseball hitting Chisenhall's left pant leg and Chisenhall was awarded first base following a 43-second review.

Video: CLE@SEA: Chisenhall awarded first after review

WHAT'S NEXT
Indians: Right-hander Carlos Carrasco finished fourth in American League Cy Young Award voting last season and looks poised for another strong year. He'll make his 2018 debut on Saturday, when the Tribe faces the Mariners in a 4:10 p.m. ET tilt at Safeco Field.

Mariners: James Paxton gets the start Saturday in the season's second game as the Mariners face the Indians at 1:10 p.m. PT at Safeco Field. The big lefty was 12-5 with a 2.98 ERA in 24 starts last year, but didn't face Cleveland. He's 0-2 with a 3.38 ERA in two prior starts against the Tribe, the last coming in 2016.

Watch every out-of-market regular-season game live on MLB.TV.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Corey Kluber