Kluber makes closing statement for Cy with 11-K gem
Ramirez's homer holds up for win, but postseason hopes end
CLEVELAND -- Corey Kluber did his part in trying to save the Indians' season, and the pitcher made quite a statement in the process.
On Friday night, Kluber put the finishing touches on a brilliant campaign in a 1-0 victory over the Rays at Progressive Field, giving voters one more pristine pitching line to consider while filling out their ballot for the American League Cy Young Award. Out of Kluber's control was Cleveland's fate in the AL postseason picture.
"It'd be a great accomplishment," Kluber said of potentially capturing the award for his work this year. "But, the most important thing right now is that the team won. Hopefully, we're still in it."
While Kluber spoke after the game, Oakland's game against the Rangers on Friday was still in progress. The only way Cleveland would still have life in the AL Wild Card race was if the A's lost in Texas. After Kluber's gem kept the dream alive, Oakland picked up a win and officially eliminated the Tribe from postseason contention.
As the Indians now begin planning for 2015, the club can consider itself fortunate to have discovered a frontline starter such as Kluber. In his latest performance, the right-hander spun eight scoreless innings, piled up 11 strikeouts and moved into a tie for the AL lead with his 18th victory. Kluber's 269 strikeouts now lead the Majors.
It was a superb finish to one of the greatest seasons by a pitcher in a Cleveland uniform.
"He looked like he was on a mission," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Saying that, he's looked like that since the second game of the year. That was Kluber at his best, but he's done it so many times and done it so consistently."
By striking out 11 Tampa Bay hitters, Kluber moved into sole possession of sixth place on the Indians' single-season strikeout list. Only Sam McDowell and Bob Feller have recorded more strikeouts than Kluber in one year as a member of the Tribe. Feller boasts the Cleveland record with 348 strikeouts in 1946.
Kluber's 10th strikeout -- a swinging takedown of David DeJesus in the eighth inning -- marked the 1,429th punchout of the season for the Indians' pitching staff. That established a single-season Major League team record, surpassing the 1,428 strikeouts turned in by the Tigers in 2013. By the end of the game, Cleveland had upped that mark to 1,431 strikeouts.
"It's pretty cool," closer Cody Allen said of the record. "But it doesn't always translate into a ton of wins. We'd be willing to trade that record for about five or six more wins. But, it's pretty cool to be a part of."
Kluber's lone run of support came in the first inning, when Jose Ramirez launched a 1-2 pitch from Chris Archer to deep right field. The ball just cleared the wall for the rookie shortstop's second homer of the season, helping the Tribe collect their only 1-0 win of the season.
With Kluber at 106 pitches and in line for the win, Francona handed the ball to Allen to finish the job. The hard-throwing right-hander held the Rays off the board in the ninth inning, picking up his 24th save to seal the victory.
Asked what aspect of this season brings him the most pride, Kluber did not hesitate.
"I'd say just the consistency," he said. "Taking the ball every time and going out there and, for the most part, giving the team a chance to win."
Archer was also strong for Tampa Bay, logging 7 2/3 innings en route to a hard-luck loss. Then again, a lot of pitchers have been out-dueled this season by Kluber, who has now notched 11 double-digit strikeout games this season. Only McDowell (17 in 1965 and 13 in '68) and Feller (12 in '46) have had more 10-plus strikeout showings in one campaign.
With his signature two-seam sinker, and devastating slider, Kluber turned in innings that were fitting summations of his dominant season.
In the first inning, Kluber showed off the power approach, using 18 pitches to strike out Ben Zobrist, DeJesus and Evan Longoria in order. In the sixth inning, when the Rays adopted a more aggressive approach, the righty willingly accepted the early contact, creating three outs in a four-batter span on a mere six pitches.
"You don't know what's coming at you," Rays outfielder Kevin Kiermaier said. "He always has you guessing and you can't give up on certain pitches, and he did a good job tonight of really mowing us down with all four pitches that he has."
It was the kind of outing Cleveland has come to expect from Kluber, whose breakout showing this season played a large role in keeping the team in contention to this point.
The only question now is whether Kluber's effort will net him some season-end hardware.
"That would be awesome," Allen said. "All of us in here, we think he deserves it. We think he should win the Cy Young, but it isn't up to us. I think he's put in a pretty good body of work. He's pretty deserving of it."