CLEVELAND — Even for some of the best pitchers in the game, an inning can quickly unravel and ruin an outing. And in the case of Corey Kluber’s start against the Houston Astros on Tuesday night, a bad second inning was enough to sink the Indians, 4-3, despite a ninth-inning rally.
For most of the night, Kluber pitched to his Cy Young candidate pace, but an uncharacteristic stretch in that second inning led to a 3-0 Astros lead, from which the Indians’ offense was unable to recover.
Kluber quickly dispatched the first two hitters in the inning, marking five straight outs to start the game. But he then walked Evan Gattis and Colby Rasmus, putting two on. He went up 0-2 to Marwin Gonzalez but instead of burying strike three and escaping the inning, Kluber left a hanging curveball in the middle of the zone, which Gonzalez crushed for a three-run home run to right field.
An inning later, George Springer doubled and was followed by Alex Bregman, who tripled in a run to right field, putting the Astros up, 4-1. It ended Kluber’s streak of 10 consecutive quality starts (three or fewer runs allowed in at least six innings), which had been the second-longest such streak in the majors, behind only Detroit’sJustin Verlander.
Kluber (15-9, 3.16 ERA) settled from there, finishing after seven innings and allowing four runs on four hits and three walks and striking out nine. Aside from that six-hitter stretch in the second and third innings, Kluber allowed no runs and only one hit. But, with the offense sputtering, it was enough. Tuesday’s game also ended his streak of seven consecutive decisions won, the longest streak of his career.
The Indians (79-58) struggled to rally against Astros starting pitcher Brad Peacock, who started in place of Dallas Keuchel. In the bottom of the second, Lonnie Chisenhall doubled and later scored on a ground ball by Naquin.
Back came the Indians. Carlos Santana drilled a solo shot to right field off of Astros reliever Luke Gregerson, his 29th of the season. Still, it was a quiet day for the Indians’ offense, which appeared to have caught a break when Keuchel, the Astros’ ace, was scratched on Monday.
In the ninth, the Indians finally threatened the Astros’ lead. Jose Ramirez singled, moved to second on a passed ball and third on a wild pitch. Coco Crisp then drew a walk, bringing the winning run to the plate with one out against Astros closer Ken Giles.
With Naquin at the plate, Crisp stole second, and Gattis’ throw sailed into center field, allowing Ramirez to score. Naquin, though, flew out for the second out. Brandon Guyer, the Indians’ last chance, accidentally connected on a check swing, grounding a slow roller down the first base line to end the game.
Despite a flurry of walk-off wins in recent weeks, this time the Indians fell just short, with a couple of second-inning mistakes by Kluber looming large.