HOUSTON (AP) — Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber insisted Friday’s loss had nothing to do with his playoff woes last season.
It just looked that way, a lot.
A year after he was hit hard in a pair of postseason starts, it happened all over. The Houston Astros tagged him for three home runs and roughed up the Indians 7-2 in Game 1 of the AL Division Series.
“I don’t think they’re related,” Kluber said. “I don’t think that the starts from last postseason had any bearing on today. I just made a few mistakes to the wrong guys.”
Kluber’s performance followed a strong regular season in which he won a career-best 20 games, posting a 2.89 ERA across an AL-leading 215 innings.
Last season, Kluber went 18-4 with an MLB-best 2.25 ERA in the regular season to earn his second AL Cy Young Award. In the playoffs, however, Kluber’s ERA jumped to 12.79 in two starts after he allowed nine runs and four homers in two ALDS tries against the New York Yankees.
Kluber has enjoyed success at this time of year, too, nearly pitching the Indians to the 2016 championship. Cleveland hasn’t won the World Series since 1948, and was counting on Kluber to take them far.
Like the right-hander, Indians manager Terry Francona also said Kluber’s 2017 postseason was unrelated to his 2018 playoff debut.
“Last year has nothing to do with today,” Francona said. “They’re a good team. He made a couple mistakes. They made him pay for it.”
When asked if he believes Kluber is healthy, Francona — seemingly surprised by the question — replied: “Kluber? Oh, yeah.”
Kluber struggled with his location early, hitting two batters after plunking only three in the regular season. But he didn’t allow a hit until the fourth inning when Alex Bregman homered. After walking Yuli Gurriel, Kluber gave up two-out singles to Tyler White and Josh Reddick that produced another run.
George Springer led off the fifth inning with a 402-foot homer. Two pitches later, Jose Altuve also connected, sending a drive a drive to the Crawford Boxes in left field that put Houston up 4-0.
“I really just left the ball elevated over the plate and picked the wrong three guys to do that to,” Kluber said. “You’ve got to be able to keep the ball in the ballpark in these games.”
Marwin Gonzalez chased Kluber with a single in the fifth inning. In 4 2/3 innings, Kluber allowed four runs on six hits and two walks with two strikeouts.
Kluber faced the Astros twice this season, both in May. In the first start in Houston, Kluber gave up two runs and six hits and struck out 10 in seven innings of a 5-4 win. Six days later, he held the Astros scoreless in 6 1/3 innings in an 11-2 loss.
“We have a lot of respect for him and we all know how good he is,” Altuve said. “We all were aware of that. Sometimes when you’re facing a guy like him, the only thing you can control is to swing the bat. That was our mindset. We were pretty good since the first pitch and good things happened today.”
Astros manager AJ Hinch said finding success against Kluber meant staying patient and capitalizing on mistakes.
“He’s not an easy guy to center up, so you’ve got to be disciplined about what side of the plate you’re going to pick and which of his pitches that move all over the place that you’re going to focus on,” Hinch said. “And don’t miss the one or two or three mistakes he might make from time to time.”