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Axford blows save, White Sox edge Indians, 4-3

Kluber, Kottaras set Tribe franchise records, as ChiSox avoid series sweep

Axford blows save, White Sox edge Indians, 4-3
Corey Kluber struck out a career-high 13 batters in Sunday's loss to Chicago.
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CLEVELAND—Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver once said, “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, defense and three-run homers.”

The Indians brought the starting pitching and defense, but it was the White Sox that would bring the final punch.

A three-run homer off the bat of right fielder Dayan Vicideo in the ninth inning allowed Chicago to avoid the series sweep Sunday, defeating the Tribe, 4-3.

Leading the ChiSox 3-1 with one out in the ninth, closer John Axford (0-2, 4.38 ERA) issued two walks before blowing his second save of the season, serving up the long ball to Vicideo.

“I feel behind guys and that didn’t work out too well,” Axford said. “It wasn’t until the guy I challenged that they put the ball in play. Putting guys on and giving them free passes is something I need to cut out.”

Through his first 14 appearances, the closer has yielded nine walks over 12 1/3 innings. It was the first time since April 13 that Axford allowed an earned run, the last time coming against the same White Sox back on the South side of Chicago.

“I’ll chew on it tonight and think about it,” he said. “Maybe go to some video later, but tomorrow is a new day. I’ll be back ready to go like today didn’t even happen.”

Despite what Axford may say, Sunday will be a day Corey Kluber and George Kottaras will want to wrap up and personally have happen again and again.

Both players posted career days, each setting franchise records in the process.

Going eight dominant innings and landing a no-decision, Kluber tossed arguably his best game of his career. The right-hander gave up just one run on three hits, while striking out a career-high 13 batters.

“That’s about as good as you can pitch,” manager Terry Francona said. “He just pitched his heart out. It was so impressive.”

At one point, Kluber struck out seven consecutive batters in a row, setting a new Indians franchise record, previously set by Tribe legend Bob Feller at one point.

“It’s pretty cool to be mentioned in the same sentence as Bob Feller, but other than that it’s just a good by product of having a good game,” Kluber said. “I wasn’t keeping track or anything like that. I just kind of got in the flow of the game and kept rolling.”

The only hiccup Kluber issued was a first inning solo home run to White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu. The Cuban rookie leads all of baseball with 12 home runs and 34 RBI through his first 32 games.

It wasn’t until he exited that the Pale Hose would tally a run again, as Chicago went 2-for-22 against right-hander with 12 strikeouts after the first inning homer.

“I think it’s just one of those things that happens when you make good pitches,” he said. “I got in a groove there in the middle of the game.”

Kluber also became the first Indians pitcher to strike out at least 11 batters in consecutive home starts since Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley in 1976.

“I like pitching here, he said. “I don’t know if there’s any difference throwing here or on the road, but you can’t complain.”

Over his last three starts, the Tribe right-hander is 1-1 with a 1.66 ERA, allowing just four runs on 15 hits striking out 29 in his last 21 2/3 innings of work.

Little did Kluber know, his battery mate would also have a career day at the plate in what was his first game in Cleveland.

Signed to a minor league contract one month ago, the six-year catching veteran Kottaras took White Sox starter Andre Rienzo deep not once, but twice in his first two-at bats in the third and fourth inning.

“I just wanted to go out there and help in any way I could,” Kottaras said. “I guess just those things happen. It was a good time out there, I felt good at the plate.”

The 30-year-old catcher made his big league debut under Francona in Boston back in 2008, having tours in Milwaukee, Oakland and Kansas City over the course his career.

Kottaras becomes the first Indians player ever to homer in his first two at-bats with the team, the first in Major League Baseball since Jeremy Giambi in 2002.

I was just trying to hit it hard somewhere,” he said. “It’s great. It was a good day for me, but it just sucks we didn’t come out on top.”

For the rest of the offense, Cleveland (13-18) went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position in the contest, leaving 12 on base.

“It seemed like we had multiple chances, and they all came with two outs,” Francona said.

It was the White Sox bullpen and reliever Daniel Webb (2-0, 2.70 ERA) that shutdown Tribe hitters late, allowing two hits in a scoreless 4 1/3 innings of work.

Even with the loss Sunday, the Tribe still takes the three-game series with Chicago. They fall to 3-12 on the season however when allowing the opposition to score first.

Up next for Indians: Cleveland opens up a four-game division showdown with the Minnesota Twins beginning Monday night at 7:05 p.m. Zach McAllister (3-2, 3.82 ERA) gets the start looking to get back in the win column after back-to-back losses. He will be opposed by Twins right-hander Kyle Gibson (3-2, 4.34 ERA).

Follow Jim on Twitter @JBirdman27 or he can be reached via email at jberdysz27@gmail.com.

User Comments

Hermie13
May 5, 2014 - 9:00 AM EDT
Axford didn't walk the first two hitters....he struck out Abreu, the 2nd batter of the inning. Did walk 2 of the first 3 which is still pretty terrible.

Axford did get Abreu to strike out...Viciedo doesn't strike out nearly as much as him but have no issue with Axford getting a crack at him.

@Rich.....easy to say that Allen should have been brought in after that first 4-pitch walk but problem was he wasn't warming in the pen. Unless you're suggesting that every time the closer comes in we should have another guy warming? Fun idea for fans but no team does this, so I wouldn't hold out hope the Tribe starts.
Rich
May 5, 2014 - 8:09 AM EDT
"Cant say ive ever seen a manager pull their closer after walking the first 2 batters. Would show a complete lack of faith."

My point exactly. There's an unwritten rule that once you bring in your closer you NEVER pull him until he blows the lead. These guys are fragile - we can't show a lack of faith because it might affect their confidence.

Bull. If Dion Waiters comes off the bench and bricks his first five shots, you take him out. If your closer can't get close to the strike zone against the first two hitters - take him out.

Axford admitted he didn't "challenge" the first two batters. They both walked. What's the point of having a closer who is reluctant to challenge batters, especially with a two-run lead?

The leadoff hitter was the key. Beckham was hitting .167. The next hitters were Abreu, Dunn, and Viciedo, all of whom are more than capable of going deep. With a two-run lead, getting Beckham out was crucial.

To throw him four straight balls was inexcusable. Everybody knew he had the take sign at 3-0, but the pitch wasn't even close. Axford was out of sync and facing the heart of the order, which is a recipe for disaster. Yet Tito blindly followed the rules and paid the price. Any other manager would have done the same thing. I just think we need some new thinking in baseball.
Aussie Tribe
May 5, 2014 - 7:40 AM EDT
Cant say ive ever seen a manager pull their closer after walking the first 2 batters. Would show a complete lack of faith. Would loved to of seen Kluber stay out for the 9th but understand why he didn't. If he hurts himself, everyone then writes in that he should never of thrown more than 110 pithches after throwing 100 his previous start.
LeaguePark
May 5, 2014 - 6:50 AM EDT
Too much dead wood on this non-playoff team. Giambi, Raburn, Cabrera, Swisher.

Francona plays the veterans every time even when the younger guy might actually help the team. Why is Santana playing every day. He can't even bat .175. Swisher will be below .200 by the end of the week.

A smart manager would have pulled Axford before he gave up the 3 run home run. Not after. That is bad managing.
Andrew
May 5, 2014 - 2:18 AM EDT
John.. I'm sure glad you aren't our GM. While I agree on your premise of releasing Giambi.. what makes you think any team would want to trade for Raburn? Furthermore, you probably wouldn't get much for him. And where would Aguilar fit on this team with Swisher, Santana, and Chisenhall? While Aguilar's numbers have been very encouraging, we're barely into the month of May. Let's wait to see if he can sustain his numbers. People think prospects like Lindor and Aguilar have the ability to just smash at the big league level with no adjustment curve and most of the time, that's just not the case.
John
May 5, 2014 - 2:06 AM EDT
This game firms up my belief that Mr. Francona, while a bona fide WS Ring holding manager, is far too rigid....he is too loyal to the regulars, and not really capable of expanding his horizons to visualize a win - win situation.

What is that? Release Giambi, who is an embarassment. Trade Raburn. Bring up Lindor, Aguilar, and keep Morgan on the roster. The high dollar regulars play 2/3 of the time, and the low dollar others play 1/3. All benefit from the competition. The high dollar regulars benefit from additional rest. The low dollar players benefit from MLB experience.
Andrew
May 5, 2014 - 1:13 AM EDT
Well fortunately for us shy, Kluber is under control until 2018 so he isn't going anywhere.
shy
May 5, 2014 - 12:45 AM EDT
Kluber has turned into one of the most dominant pitchers in the A.L. Sure as heck caught me by surprise. I remember three yrs ago he had 2 pitches, so-so command and he left a lot of pitches up and over the plate. Now he's got 4, he can throw them anytime in the count and he pitches down and away on the breaking stuff and high and tight on the hard stuff- he has become the poster boy for how to pitch. Unfortunately, when you pitch a dominating game that ultimately ends up in the loss column, it can leave you very disappointed. Point being, he is not going to want to stay in Cleveland next year, and he's going to want to go somewhere where he has a better chance to win and be paid league scale for a dominant starting pitcher in his prime,
Walter
May 4, 2014 - 10:56 PM EDT
They brought back Bourn and Giambi back to soon especially since the weather has been below normal. I cant believe that Giambi doesn't realize that he is done. His spot could be used for better needs backup catcher, DH in Aguilar, or Jose Ramirez.

Looking forward to see the return of Tomlin to the majors. We need another pitcher that is an innings eater. Not sure what to expect.

Question if the Indians still struggling in June...In order to inject some excitement... would the Indians bring up Bauer, Aquilar and Lindor at the same time?


MT88 in WI
May 4, 2014 - 10:35 PM EDT
I guess the question will be does one or both of Bourn / Giambi need to go to the DL. If so, Francona might be able to keep the 8 man pen and one or both of George K and Nyger Morgan come Tuesday...
Rich
May 4, 2014 - 10:29 PM EDT
Axford is 9-for-11 in save situations, which is good, but he's given up 9 walks in only 12 innings. He's playing with fire out there.

Sometimes he comes in and is lights out. Today, however, he walked the leadoff hitter on four pitches, none of which were even close, then he walked the next guy. At this point it should have been clear that he couldn't locate his pitches and Cody Allen should have been brought in. But Francona is excessively loyal to his players no matter how bad they are (Exhibit A is Jason Giambi), so he left Axford in to get hammered.

There should be a standing policy - walk the first guy on four pitches and you're gone.

Jose Ramirez had a lightening-fast pivot on a 6-4-3 double play. Nice to see after the Elliot Johnson debacle yesterday.

Chiz had three more hits - all to left or center field. He's becoming a spray hitter, but it beats what he's been doing before this year.

On the other hand, Santana and Swisher continue to pull everything despite the shilt preventing any ground ball they pull to go through. They keep getting breaking balls away and pulling them for weak ground balls to the right side for easy outs.

Murphy and Brantley will go up the middle and to left field when the pitch calls for it, and they're all much more productive than Swish and Santana, who pull everything.

Kluber is well on his way to a career season. He could be picked for the All-Star game if he keeps this up.

Winning the series after going winless on the road trip was huge. Too bad it wasn't a sweep, but at least we got the win.
Joe Chengery
May 4, 2014 - 10:03 PM EDT
It's too bad Kluber wasn't allowed to start the ninth. Yes, I know he was at 110 pitches, but being that the White Sox weren't touching him since very early in the game, I would have liked to see him get the chance to finish it off. Chances are, he probably would have had the cance if it had been a shutout.

That sometimes what annoys me about baseball, and to a lesser extent about Francona: these preconceived notions that you must go to the closer or another pitcher in certain situations, even when your pitcher is dominating. If this had not been a save situation, Axford probably doesn't come in, and while he's been better of late than both Allen and Shaw, he's had enough wildness where's he not automatic 1-2-3.

The way Kluber was dealing, I would have given him the chance to start the ninth and close it out, even with it not being a shutout and Kluber at 110 pitches. I would have had Axford warming up in the pen; if Kluber allows someone to get on, then bring in Axford. In retrospect, Axford might have been more willing to challenge right away because someone was aboard and the tying run was at the plate as well, as the walks is what killed him, and Viciedo only doing damage because Axford left a meatball over the plate that Viciedo stayed on because the count was 2-2 and Axford couldn't afford going to 3-2.

The Indians can't afford to keep wasting pitching performances like this and keep giving games away; winning the series was nice, but they really should have had the sweep, which would have been better, especially since they got swept last week in SF and the fact they would have jumped ahead of the White Sox in the standings. Now, they fall behind again, never mind the fact that the Tigers are opening up a gap in the Central.

Let's hope they can turn it around and beat the Twins - either a series win (unlike last time) or even a sweep. Go Tribe!
Robert
May 4, 2014 - 9:33 PM EDT
Asdrubal is killing us - in a contract year.
Walter
May 4, 2014 - 9:26 PM EDT
3 runs scored...very little room error...one mistake...cost them a ballgame.

Kottaras hits 2 hrs...Do you DFA him after Gomes comes back? I say no.

Dont blame the Indians on Perez...This one is on the fans...You got your wish...Now enjoy the summer roller coaster ride with Axford. We should be use to this.

Mesa...Wickman...Borowski...Perez....now Axford...
shy
May 4, 2014 - 9:19 PM EDT
Yeah Axford continues to put too many men on base. Any closer with a WHIP above 1.20 is not going to be successful long term. Perez was lucky until the WHIP caught up w him and I feel the same way about Axford at this point. You know giving up an oppo taco to Viciedo on a 96MPH pitch is not in itself terrible- unless you give a couple of free passes first to mediocre hitters. Axford put the dream of winning back a lost game w one swing into Viciedo's head. Good closers don't do that. Gut punch for the whole team, esp after Kluber's brilliant performance. Tito should have let him go 135-140- it was his game to lose not Axford's. So after 31 games Lonnie Chisenhall has the highest batting average and Michael Brantley has the most home runs. That says alot about the state of the Indians.
GSon
May 4, 2014 - 8:54 PM EDT
Tremendously entertaining game.. was a joy to be there and see the fight in this team.. Kluber was amazing.. Saddened with Axford's results..he just didn't have the ability to put the ball over the plate.. the walks killed him...

The ball park was not filled.. it was a noisy and positive crowd, though..
yourtribe
May 4, 2014 - 8:12 PM EDT
Axford continues to confirm my fears he is worse than Perez.

And still no hitting or fans.

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