By Bob Dutton The News Tribune
CLEVELAND — If the Seattle Mariners had any lingering hesitation regarding the need for additional lineup punch as the trade deadline approaches … here was Corey Kluber ramming home the point.
Kluber outdueled eternally luckless Felix Hernandez in Cleveland’s 2-0 victory Wednesday night at Progressive Field. Kluber threw just 85 pitches in registering his first career shutout.
“Our approach, at least mine,’ third baseman Kyle Seager said, “was to get in there and see some pitches to see what he had. That’s hard to do when he’s throwing strike one and strike two.”
Let’s add this disclaimer: Kluber (11-6) probably should have been an All-Star earlier this month. He’s having that kind of year. He’s overmatching a lot of opponents.
“… 85 pitches,” manager Lloyd McClendon marveled. “I haven’t seen anything like that since (Greg) Maddux … That was not a fluke. People can make a big deal, say our offense wasn’t doing this.
“He’s done that to real good offenses. I was part of one of those offenses (in previous years in Detroit) that he’s done it to.”
Kluber never seemed to break a sweat against the Mariners who, McClendon’s words aside, solidified their status as the American League’s worst offense — 3.81 runs a game — by suffering their 13th shutout.
“Obviously, it’s a challenge going up against one of the best pitchers in the game,” Kluber said. “We all look forward to challenges so it’s nice to come out on top.”
Hernandez (11-3) pitched his way into the record book by holding the Indians to two runs and four hits in seven innings. It marked his 14th consecutive start of pitching at least seven innings and allowing two or fewer runs.
That’s a major-league first.
Hernandez and Tom Seaver had shared the record at 13 in a row. Seaver did it in 1971 for the New York Mets. The previous AL record was 12 by Chief Bender of the Philadelphia A’s in 1907.
“It’s an honor,” Hernandez admitted. “It means a lot to me. I’m happy to do that. I’ve just got to continue to be consistent and keep doing what I’m doing.”
This time, it just wasn’t good enough.
The Mariners (55-52) lost for the eighth time in 11 games since the All-Star break and fell three games games behind Toronto in the battle for the AL’s final wild-card berth.
The non-waiver trading deadline is 1 p.m. Pacific time Thursday.
The Mariners didn’t see Kluber last month when the Indians visited Safeco Field, but they got an eyeful on this occasion. He yielded just three hits, all singles, while striking out eight and walking none.
Still, if anything, Hernandez was the better pitcher through the early innings. He retired the first 12 Indians in a row before finding trouble in the fifth after issuing a leadoff walk to Carlos Santana.
Then it fell apart in a hurry.
Lonnie Chisenhall followed with a liner to right field that probably should have been a single, but the ball got past Endy Chavez for a double. (“Tough route,” McClendon admitted.)
Santana probably should have scored, but third-base coach Mike Sarbaugh opted to hold the runner.
The Mariners shortened their infield, and Hernandez responded by inducing a grounder by Nick Swisher to the right-side hole that should have (1) scored a run and (2) resulted in an out at first.
Santana again held third when second baseman Robinson Cano flagged down the ball, but first baseman Logan Morrison was out of position after breaking toward the ball — and Hernandez failed to cover first.
The result was a single that loaded bases with no outs.
“I was thinking it was going through,” Hernandez said, “but I should have known Cano was there. He’s a great second baseman, and I should have been at first.”
The Mariners turned David Murphy’s grounder to first into an out at the plate, but Yan Gomes squirted a grounder past first for a two-run double and a 2-0 lead.
“I got lucky,” Gomes said. “I was looking for another pitch. I was telling the guys you have to use the whole field. You have to use the first base line if you can.”
It was a back-breaker.
“Fastball,” Hernandez said. “It was a good pitch. Off the plate. I couldn’t believe it.”
Chris Dickerson’s grounder to first resulted in another out at the plate, a tag play this time, before Hernandez ended the inning by striking out Jason Kipnis.
So two runs. That was it. It was one more than Kluber needed.