Corey Kluber found the early going a bit rough in the 2015 season. The reigning American League Cy Young Award winner was still searching for his initial victory as the calendar flipped to the second week of May. In the seven games he had started thus far, the Cleveland ace was 0-5 with a 5.04 ERA. The Indians offense scored two or fewer runs four times in those seven starts, but it was clear that Kluber was off his game. In his previous start, at Kansas City, folks were just finding their seats in the first inning when Eric Hosmer deposited a Kluber pitch into the seats for a three-run homer. The Royals scored four in the frame; the Indians could not recover and lost 7-4.
Cleveland was 11-20 and in last place in the American League Central Division when Kluber made his next start, against St. Louis on May 13. The Cardinals were perched atop the National League Central with a 23-9 record and a healthy six-game lead over the Chicago Cubs. The reigning division champs sent John Lackey to the hill. Lackey was 2-1, with a 3.20 ERA, and had beat the Cubs in his previous start, striking out 10 in the 5-1 victory.
A chilly spring evening (the temperature was 49 degrees at the start) welcomed the sparse crowd of 12,313 to Progressive Field. With two outs in the top of the first inning, Kluber plunked Matt Holliday on the left elbow with a sinker. Holliday stayed in the game but was removed after the first inning due to swelling. Pete Kozma took his place in left field.
In the bottom of the first inning, Lackey walked leadoff hitter Jason Kipnis and then Carlos Santana. Brandon Moss singled to right field to score Kipnis, and David Murphy followed suit to score Santana. Cleveland led 2-0 and that was all the offense Kluber needed.
Kluber fanned three St. Louis batters through the first two innings. He struck out the side in the third and fourth innings to give him nine strikeouts. In the bottom of the fourth with two outs, Lackey hit Kipnis with a pitch. Both benches were then given a warning by home-plate umpire Mike Everitt. Cleveland manager Terry Francona went out to debate Everitt’s admonition. “I knew if I went out there, he was going to throw me out,” said Francona. “I wanted him (Everitt) to tell me he wasn’t throwing at Kip. I said ‘Just tell me,’ and he wouldn’t. That’s when I said some things I probably shouldn’t have. He still hasn’t answered my question. I think if he would have answered it, he would have answered differently, because I called the pitch to Millsie (Bench coach Brad Mills) when he got hit and I’m not that good.”1
Francona’s departure did not deter from Kluber’s work on the mound. Kluber had a no-hitter going until two outs in the seventh inning when Jhonny Peralta laced a single to center field. He was the Cardinals’ first baserunner since Holliday, but Kluber struck out Jason Heyward to end the inning. It was yet another inning in which Kluber struck out the side.
Kluber was relieved after the eighth inning. He had thrown threw 113 pitches, 74 of them for strikes and didn’t walk a single batter. Cody Allen came in to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth, including one strikeout, to preserve the win.
Kluber totaled 18 strikeouts on the day, tying the team mark for most Ks in a nine-inning game, set by Bob Feller on October 2, 1938. Luis Tiant holds the overall team record with 19 strikeouts in a 10-inning game on June 3, 1968.2 “Any time you’re mentioned in the same sentence as Bob Feller, it’s humbling,” said Kluber.3
“I think we got a taste of why he won the Cy Young last year,” said St. Louis third baseman Matt Carpenter. “He was ahead of everybody, two strikes on everybody. He was as good if not better than anybody I’ve faced in the big leagues.”4
St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said, “I have all the faith in the world that our guys are going to go up there and put something together because we have the kind of offense that can. Everybody is capable of making mistakes and when he does you have to jump on it. He didn’t make a lot of mistakes. You don’t strike out that many guys if you’re not on top of your game, sharp with everything you’ve got. Afterword, you tip your cap because he was very good.”5
Kluber ended the year with a 9-16 record and a 3.49 ERA. He led the AL in losses, but was third in the league with 245 strikeouts. Cleveland finished the year in third place in the American League Central Division with an 81-80 record.
The Cardinals won the NL Central for the third consecutive year, edging out Pittsburgh by two games. They lost in four games to the Chicago Cubs in the Division Series.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, Retrosheet.org and Baseball-Reference.com were also accessed.
1 Paul Hoynes, “A Whiff of Greatness,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, May 14, 2015: B1.
2 http://mlb.mlb.com/cle/history/single_game_records.jsp, Accessed July 17, 2017
4 Derrick Goold, “Kluber Cools the Cardinals,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 14, 2015: B5.