OAKLAND -- Corey Kluber told Indians manager Terry Francona that he was good for another inning. Given how overpowering Kluber had been all night, and the fact that his pitch count was barely over the century mark, Francona trusted his ace to open the eighth inning against the A's on Saturday night.
That decision set off a chain reaction that led to a 5-3 loss, which was puncuated by a walk-off homer from Khris Davis and an on-field mob scene for Oakland in the ninth. A span of six batters rendered another strong effort from Kluber moot, and left Cleveland still searching for a win in this second-half opening set at the Coliseum.
"He asked me how I felt," Kluber said. "I said, 'Fine.' I just didn't make a good pitch."
The pitch in question was a sinker over the heart of the plate against A's rookie Matt Chapman. It was Kluber's 104th offering of the evening, and the first in the ill-fated eighth. Chapman crushed the pitch 455 projected feet, according to Statcast™, for a game-tying home run to dead center field. That was Chapman's second home run of the evening off Cleveland's ace.
Chapman now has two home runs in his career.
Entering the game, the 24-year-old Chapman was 3-for-27 in July and batting .146 (6-for-41) on the season. In the third inning, though, he shot a 2-1 cutter from Kluber over the wall in left-center for his first Major League home run. In the fifth, Chapman doubled into right field. In the visitors' dugout, Francona remarked to pitching coach Mickey Callaway that the kid's swing suddenly looked smooth.
"It makes you nervous," Francona said. "When a guy's struggling and then they take a good swing, how many times do you hear me talk about our guys, where it's, 'You get to your level.' I know he's a really well-thought-of young prospect, and you could see why. He certainly felt good tonight."
Kluber told Francona he could tackle Chapman one more time, and it backfired.
"I threw two balls right down the middle," Kluber said. "It's not really any secret to them. Put two balls on a tee like that for Major League hitters and they're going to take advantage."
Chapman's second homer pulled the game into a 3-3 deadlock and took Kluber out of contention for a win. The right-hander remained in for one more hitter -- Kluber induced a flyout off the bat of Rajai Davis -- and ended with 12 strikeouts, no walks and three runs allowed over his 7 1/3 innings.
Lefty Andrew Miller finished off the eighth and then returned to the mound for the ninth, issuing a leadoff walk to Yonder Alonso. During his appearance, Miller began to feel a "hot spot" on a finger on his pitching hand, so Francona had a quick hook. Wanting to avoid the issue developing into a problematic blister, the left-hander was pulled after 17 pitches.
"I don't think it's anything big," Miller said. "It sounds like we can deal with it pretty easily."
That set up the decisive matchup between Khris Davis and Bryan Shaw, who had struck out the A's outfielder in their previous four meetings. This time, Davis went down and tagged a cutter just below the strike zone, sending it over the wall in right-center to set off Oakland's on-field party.
That was the final blow, but the loss had its roots in the eighth.
"He still felt good," Francona said of Kluber. "It was a first-pitch home run. That about killed me, but when he's feeling good like that, everything was still working. He wasn't up. He wasn't losing the count. ... One pitch, all of a sudden it's a different game."