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Kluber racks up Ks; Tribe keeps pace in Wild Card race

Cleveland ace makes it back-to-back starts with 14 strikeouts

Kluber racks up Ks; Tribe keeps pace in Wild Card race play video for Kluber racks up Ks; Tribe keeps pace in Wild Card race

MINNEAPOLIS -- Inside Cleveland's clubhouse, the players call it punching tickets. Led by Corey Kluber, strikeouts have been piling up at a record pace for the Indians this season, and all the punchouts have helped the club avoid being knocked out of the playoff race.

On Sunday afternoon, Kluber was at it again, slicing his way through the Twins' lineup in an overpowering 7-2 victory at Target Field. With 14 strikeouts, Cleveland's Cy Young Award candidate helped guide the Tribe to a series win over the Twins to wrap up a three-city swing through Detroit, Houston and Minnesota with a 5-5 ledger.

"He understood not only the idea that we have to win," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "but his responsibility, knowing what's ahead of us."

The win kept the Indians (81-74) within earshot of the American League's second Wild Card spot with a critical three-game (plus the conclusion of the Aug. 31 suspended game) series with the Royals beginning Monday. Cleveland sits 3 1/2 games back of Kansas City in the Wild Card race, which has the A's, Mariners and Yankees in the mix, too.

Kluber turned in eight innings and limited the Twins to two runs along the way, earning his 17th win of the season in the process. The right-hander struck out at least 14 batters for the second consecutive game, which is a feat that had not been accomplished by an Indians pitcher since 1968 (done twice that year by Sam McDowell).

Before Kluber did so on Sunday, the last Major League starter to have at least 14 punchouts in back-to-back games was Randy Johnson in 2004. That feat has only been done 15 times (nine pitchers) in the past 100 seasons. Other starters on that exclusive list include Pedro Martinez, Rogers Clemens and Bob Gibson, among others.

Kluber said the time will come when he allows himself to reflect on being included in such elite company.

"When the year's over," Kluber said, "that's stuff that you'll take a second to look at and appreciate. But, right now, it's not important. The important thing right now is that we got the win. That's what we need to keep going."

With at least two strikeouts in the first six innings against the Twins, Kluber also notched at least two strikeouts in 13 straight frames, dating back to his outing on Tuesday in Houston. In that start against the Astros, Kluber initially set a career high with 14 strikeouts in seven innings of work.

Kluber's effort helped him pass Detroit's David Price to reclaim the AL lead in strikeouts with 258 on the season, becoming just the fifth pitcher in Indians history to reach at least 250 in a single campaign. Bob Feller, Herb Score, Luis Tiant and McDowell are also on that short list.

"The stuff is good," Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. "But his thought process along with it is what separates him."

As a staff, Cleveland also established a new single-season strikeout record with 1,391 this year, breaking last year's record (1,379). The Indians also set extended a Major League record on Sunday by striking out at least 12 batters for the sixth straight game.

"I think it's maybe a reflection on the kind of stuff we have on our staff," Kluber said of all the strikeouts this season. "We've got some guys with some good arms and some good stuff to put people away. A lot of times, when we get an opportunity to put guys away, we take advantage of it."

Kluber has routinely worked with low run support all year, but that was not the case this time around.

Facing Twins righty Anthony Swarzak, who was making his second spot start in a row, Cleveland struck for five runs (three earned) through the first five innings. Jose Ramirez and Michael Brantley knocked in a run apiece in the third inning and Cleveland benefited from two errors and a balk to tack on three more runs in the fifth.

Ramirez (sacrifice fly) and Brantley (RBI single) then extended Cleveland's lead to 7-2 against Minnesota's bullpen in the sixth inning.

"We were able to give him some support," said Bourn, who went 3-for-5 with three runs scored. "He kept them off-balance. He worked both sides of the plate and that's always a plus. He's fun to watch and fun to play behind. He's pitching with confidence, but he's also calm while he's pitching."

That offensive showing more than overcame the few times Kluber flinched against Minnesota. Chris Herrmann delivered an RBI double for the Twins in the second inning and Danny Santana added a run-scoring double in the fifth, but that was hardly enough against Cleveland's resident strikeout specialist.

"He has great command of three of his pitches," Twins second baseman Brian Dozier said. "He has electric stuff and is a high strikeout guy. If you get a pitch to hit, you can't really miss it against that guy. He's a big swing-and-miss guy."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["top_pitching_performances" ] }
{"content":["top_pitching_performances" ] }

Tribe's McAllister makes most of bullpen time

Tribe's McAllister makes most of bullpen time play video for Tribe's McAllister makes most of bullpen time

MINNEAPOLIS -- When it comes to the Indians' starting rotation, there is currently no room in the inn for right-hander Zach McAllister. Under the circumstances, the pitcher has tried to make the most of his September stint in the bullpen.

McAllister flashed increased fastball velocity and turned in two key relief appearances in the first two games of Cleveland's three-game weekend series in Minnesota. The right-hander's recent showing has impressed manager Terry Francona and the Tribe's staff, but it is too soon to begin speculation about a potential role change for the starting pitcher.

"He actually seems like he's become another option, kind of a weapon, which is really good," Francona said on Sunday. "Moving forward, [considering future roles] are why you have meetings in the winter. Who knows what the roster is? I think, if guys can pitch, that's more important than handing out roles in September."

In the seventh inning of Cleveland's 5-4, 10-inning loss on Friday, McAllister recorded the final out of the seventh inning, stranding two runners and preserving a 4-3 lead at the time. On Saturday, the righty logged two scoreless innings, striking out five and helping Francona avoid using relievers Scott Atchison, Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen in the Indians' 7-3 win.

"That was huge," Francona said of McAllister's outing on Saturday. "That was a bridge to staying away from the other three and holding [the Twins] at bay. That was really big."

Francona has noted a handful of times that McAllister's fastball "plays up" out of the bullpen. Along those lines, the righty averaged slightly more then 97 mph on Friday and Saturday, according to PITCHf/x data compiled on brooksbaseball.net. In April and May, when McAllister was in Cleveland's rotation, he averaged around 93 mph on his heater.

McAllister has averaged 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings in his brief experience (7 2/3 innings) as a reliever this season, compared to 7.4 per nine innings in his 15 starts this season. As a starter, the right-hander went 3-7 with a 5.67 ERA this year.

"It's different. I'm just ready whenever my name's called," McAllister said of working out of the bullpen. "You're probably a little more amped up than usual [in relief situations]. Being a starter, you have that time to relax and catch your breath and go at it again. Coming out of the bullpen, you're thrown right into it and expected to get them out. It's a fun challenge."

Quote to note
"We know where we're at. To stress about it or to put pressure on ourselves, that's only going to [make it] worse. I think we just come in here every day with this one game on our mind. One game at a time is how I feel like we're approaching it right now. "
-- Indians lefty T.J. House, on the Tribe's postseason chase

Smoke signals
• Cleveland established a unique Major League and franchise record on Saturday by registering at least 12 strikeouts as a pitching staff for the fifth consecutive game. The previous club mark of four such games in a row (also done by three other teams in the past 100 seasons) was achieved by the Tribe from Sept. 21-25, 2013.

• Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who missed the past two games due to a right hamstring issue, returned to the starting lineup on Sunday as Cleveland's designated hitter. Francona said Kipnis has been fighting through the injury for at least the past week.

• The Indians headed into play Sunday with a 10-10 record in September. If Cleveland finishes the month at .500 or better, it will mark the first time since May-Sept. of 1997 that the club posted at least a .500 record in five consecutive months.

• All-Star left fielder Michael Brantley entered Sunday's game riding an 11-game hitting streak, during which he had a .432 (19-for-44) average. Brantley (190 hits) is aiming to notch Cleveland's first 200-hit season since 1996, when Kenny Lofton accomplished the feat.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Carrasco comes off two-hit shutout to take on Royals

Carrasco comes off two-hit shutout to take on playoff-hopeful Royals

Carrasco comes off two-hit shutout to take on Royals play video for Carrasco comes off two-hit shutout to take on Royals

Left-hander Danny Duffy makes his return to the Kansas City rotation at a crucial time as the Royals are trying to win a spot in the American League postseason. He'll start at Cleveland on Monday night in the regularly scheduled game.

That will follow the resumption, at 6:05 p.m. ET, of a game suspended by rain in the 10th inning on Aug. 31 at Kansas City. The Indians are leading, 4-2, with the Royals coming to bat.

The Royals cut Detroit's lead to 1 1/2 games in the AL Central with a victory Sunday after two losses to the Tigers. The Indians are still in the AL Wild Card hunt.

Duffy has missed, in effect, three starts because he left a game in New York on Sept. 6 after throwing just one pitch. He then missed two more starts. But now he's over the shoulder inflammation which caused his problem and he warmed up with a simulated game last Tuesday.

"He's fine, he looks strong and sound and rested -- all systems go," said pitching coach David Eiland. "The tell-tale signs are when he gets in the game, obviously. You can do a simulated game all you want, but it's not a game-game with all the intensity, the adrenaline going and things like that. But I'm very comfortable with what I'm seeing from him."

There'll be no pitch limit on Duffy, but Eiland will be monitoring him closely.

"I'll keep an eye on his delivery and his arm slot and things like that," Eiland said. "Because I'll see something there before you see it in the results."

Carlos Carrasco will be on the mound for the Tribe in the regularly scheduled contest against Duffy. Carrasco is coming off a two-hit shutout in his last start, in which he struck out 12 against the Astros in Houston.

Indians: McAllister enjoying new role
With no room in the rotation, righty Zach McAllister has adapted to a relief role with the Indians in September. McAllister has averaged more than 96 mph out of the bullpen, compared to 93 mph during his time as a starter this season. That has led to a higher strikeout rate and an improved strikeout-to-walk ratio.

"It's different. I'm just ready whenever my name's called," McAllister said of working out of the bullpen. "You're probably a little more amped up than usual [in relief situations]. Being a starter, you have that time to relax and catch your breath and go at it again. Coming out of the bullpen, you're thrown right into it and expected to get them out. It's a fun challenge."

Royals: Moustakas due to bat
It'll be Kansas City batting in the last of the 10th inning, being the home team at Cleveland in the resumption of the suspended game. The game had to be continued at Cleveland because the suspension occurred in the Indians' last game of their last visit this season to Kansas City.

Left-hander Kyle Crockett had just entered the game for the Indians to face left-handed-hitting Mike Moustakas. But Moose might not get to bat.

"If Crockett is on the mound when [Moustakas] goes out there, we'll pinch-hit," manager Ned Yost said, meaning he will put a right-handed batter in the box.

In a normal game, Crockett would have to face at least one batter after being announced, but because of the suspension, the Indians can switch to another pitcher.

If the Royals can rally and tie the game or go ahead, his pitcher likely will be closer Greg Holland. Holland had given up two runs as the Indians went ahead, 4-2, in the 10th on Aug. 31, but he's still in the game.

"Holly is the pitcher of record," Yost said.

Worth noting
• The Royals are 7-8 against the Indians this year, and they are just 2-5 at Progressive Field.

• When Alcides Escobar was caught stealing in the first inning on Sunday, it marked the first time he'd been nabbed in back-to-back attempts since Sept. 25-26, 2011. He was also thrown out last Wednesday.

• Carrasco is not looking forward to facing Billy Butler, who is batting .412 (7-for-17) with two homers against him. Duffy won't be looking forward to facing Yan Gomes, who is batting .500 (5-for-10) with one homer against the lefty.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["team_preview" ] }

Brantley takes pride in 20/20 season

Brantley takes pride in 20/20 season play video for Brantley takes pride in 20/20 season

MINNEAPOLIS -- Michael Brantley would surely say that a win was his preference on Friday night, but the Indians' All-Star left fielder understands and appreciates what he accomplished in the extra-inning loss to the Twins.

When Brantley launched a leadoff home run in the sixth inning of Cleveland's 5-4 defeat, he became only the ninth Indians player to achieve at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in a single season. Combined with some of his other statistical marks and Brantley is piecing together one of the best all-around offensive seasons in franchise history.

"He's kind of taken it to another level," Indians manager Terry Francona said on Saturday. "He's a pretty good student of the game and he's got the skills to match. You kind of add those up and it turns into a special player."

Heading into Saturday's action, Brantley was batting .322 with 20 home runs, 20 steals, 41 doubles, 91 runs, 95 RBIs and 188 hits through 149 games for the Tribe. He has joined Shin-Soo Choo (2009-10), Grady Sizemore ('05-08), Matt Lawton ('04), Roberto Alomar ('99, '01), Albert Belle ('93), Joe Carter ('86-88), Bobby Bonds ('79) and Toby Harrah ('79) as the only players in Cleveland history to enjoy a 20/20 season.

If Brantley ends this season hitting at least .320, he will also become only the ninth Major League player in the past 100 seasons to hit .320 or better with at least 20 homers, 20 steals, 40 doubles and 90 RBIs in one year. The exclusive list includes Jacoby Ellsbury ('11), Hanley Ramirez ('09), David Wright ('07), Alomar ('99), Larry Walker ('97), Ellis Burks ('96), Chuck Klein ('32) and Babe Herman ('29).

Brantley said his goal was to eventually develop into this kind of all-around threat.

"Of course," Brantley said. "I want to use every tool that I can and make sure that I continue every day to push myself and continue to work hard. At the end of the year, I'll look back at this and we'll go from there. Each and every day, I'm just trying to get better."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Francona being cautious with Kipnis' hamstring

Francona being cautious with Kipnis' hamstring play video for Francona being cautious with Kipnis' hamstring

MINNEAPOLIS -- Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis wants to return to the lineup as soon as possible. Tribe manager Terry Francona knows it is more important to be smart with an injury than give in to a player's desire to get back on the field.

On Saturday, Francona kept Kipnis out of the starting lineup for the second straight game due to soreness in the second baseman's right hamstring. Kipnis has not been ruled out for a start in Sunday's game in Minnesota, but Cleveland is being careful with his comeback.

"He's trying," Francona said on Saturday. 'I just don't want to take his willingness to want to play and hurt him. That's not fair."

Kipnis was held out of the lineup on Wednesday in Houston due to the issue and then was forced to exit Thursday's game against the Astros early because of the injury. The second baseman said that, if it were midseason, he would likely spend more time resting the injury. Right now, Kipnis wants to return swiftly given the Tribe's frantic push for the postseason.

"We're getting there," Kipnis said. "It's one of those things that, if it was in the middle of the season, you'd have the luxury of taking off a couple days and really resting up and making sure it's gone, because the hamstring is not something that just goes away or that you can kind of really mess with.

"But, this late in the season, and where we are [down] in the standings and everything like that, we can't afford that luxury. So I'm trying to get it to where it's good enough to get in the game and hopefully help this team."

Kipnis, who has hit .242 with six home runs and 41 RBIs through 125 games this season, was scheduled to take batting practice on the field prior to Saturday's game at Target Field. The second baseman hoped to at least be available off the bench as a pinch-hitter.

Quote to note
"It will be a special moment when I look back at it at the end of the year, when I kind of reflect on what's happened. Right now, our goal is to get into the playoffs."
-- Indians outfielder Michael Brantley, on becoming the ninth player in team history to have 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in one season

Smoke signals
• Francona has spent a lot of time in recent days thinking over possible scenarios for Monday's continuation of the club's Aug. 31 suspended game with the Royals. Francona said he will devise a pitching plan for the 10th inning after seeing how the bullpen is used on Saturday and Sunday in Minnesota.

"I've almost been consumed with it," Francona said with a laugh. "What we'll try to do is not over-complicate it, but some of it will depend on usage the next couple days and then we'll go from there."

• In the seventh inning of Friday's 5-4 loss to the Twins, Francona turned to right-hander Zach McAllister to face Aaron Hicks with two outs, runners on the corners and Cleveland clinging to a 4-3 lead. McAllister, who is a starting pitcher by trade, induced a flyout to escape what was a crucial jam at the time.

"We were trying to bridge the gap," Francona said. "You try not to get into a bind where you go to the guys we've been using a lot and then get into a tie game. We thought it was a good matchup. And I think sometimes when he comes out of the bullpen, that fastball plays up. He understands that."

• Heading into Saturday's game, the Indians pitching staff was closing in on a single-season club record for strikeouts. Cleveland had 1,362 strikeouts, which was just shy of the team's record of 1,379, which was set by last season's pitching staff.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["injury" ] }

Raburn's season ends with left knee surgery

Raburn's season ends with left knee surgery play video for Raburn's season ends with left knee surgery

MINNEAPOLIS -- Ryan Raburn can officially put the 2014 season behind him and begin concentrating on a return to health next year with the Indians.

On Friday, Raburn underwent arthroscopic surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, where Dr. Rick Parker repaired a lateral meniscus tear in the veteran's left knee. Raburn is expected to need around six to eight weeks for a full recovery, giving him enough time to be ready for Spring Training.

"This will be a big winter for him," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "We'll sit and talk to him when we get back [to Cleveland]. He has probably five to seven weeks where he's got to take care of the knee, and then we want him to get after it, so he comes back and has a chance to be more of the guy that we saw last year."

Raburn endured an injury-marred and inconsistent season for the Tribe, hitting .200 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 74 games and turning in a .195 average against left-handed pitchers. The 33-year-old utility man injured his right wrist while running into a wall during a Cactus League game during the spring, and he was bothered off and on by that issue for most of the season.

"He tried to play through it," Francona said of the wrist issue. "I don't think that helped, but on the flip side, you appreciate guys trying to play. Every time you get nicked up, you can't just not play, but I do think it affected him a lot at the plate."

That wrist injury eventually led to a stint on the disabled list for the last two weeks of August, but Raburn returned after rosters expanded in September and went 3-for-7 at the plate in his final four games of the season. On Saturday, Raburn hyperextended his left knee during a play in right field in a game against the Tigers, and an MRI exam revealed a tear of the meniscus.

Raburn's showing this year was a drastic decline from 2013, when he was a key member of Cleveland's versatile bench. Overall last year, Raburn hit .272 with 16 home runs, 55 RBIs and a .901 OPS in his first season with the Indians. He was especially tough on left-handed pitchers, posting a .308 average with a 1.020 OPS against southpaws.

Cleveland rewarded Raburn for his strong play last season with a two-year, $4.85 million extension that runs through the 2015 campaign. That deal also included a team option worth $3 million for '16.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["injury" ] }
{"content":["injury" ] }
{"content":["replay" ] }

Indians replay challenge leads to inning-ending double play

Indians replay challenge leads to inning-ending double play play video for Indians replay challenge leads to inning-ending double play

MINNEAPOLIS -- Indians manager Terry Francona successfully challenged a call on Saturday night, leading to an inning-ending double play.

Working with a 7-2 lead in the seventh inning, Cleveland right-hander Zach McAllister struck out Danny Santana for the frame's second out. On the play, Jordan Schafer sprinted for a stolen base and Tribe catcher Roberto Perez fired a strike to shortstop Jose Ramirez at second base.

Schafer was initially ruled safe by second-base umpire Jim Reynolds, but instant replays showed Ramirez applying the tag just before the runner's hand touched the base. Francona immediately emerged from the dugout and challenged the ruling on the field, leading to a conference with the Replay Operations Center in New York.

Following a review lasting one minute and 13 seconds, the ruling was overturned, Schafer was called out and Cleveland was out of the inning and on its way to a much-needed win. With the overturned call, Francona improved to 18-for-32 (56 percent) on managerial challenges this season.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["replay" ] }

Miscue in ninth looms large in Tribe's loss in extras

Ramirez mishandles grounder, allowing tying run to score against Allen

Miscue in ninth looms large in Tribe's loss in extras play video for Miscue in ninth looms large in Tribe's loss in extras

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians were two outs away from a critical win in their ongoing attempt to defy the odds and reach the postseason. Closer Cody Allen created the ground ball necessary for a ninth-inning escape, but Cleveland's troublesome defense sunk the club again.

Indians shortstop Jose Ramirez -- reliable throughout his second-half stint up the middle -- bobbled a grounder off the bat of Aaron Hicks in the ninth inning on Friday, allowing a game-tying run to score rather than punctuating a win with a double play. The Twins went on to win it in the 10th inning, when Trevor Plouffe delivered a walk-off single off Josh Tomlin to send the Tribe to a 5-4 defeat.

Indians manager Terry Francona defended Ramirez's defensive effort in the wake of a tough loss for the ballclub.

"He had a shot, but that would've been a heck of a play," Francona said. "At that point, we're either looking for a strikeout or a ball hit hard enough where we can turn a double play, because Hicks can really run. He hit a bullet and I think most shortstops probably don't get to it."

Considering where Cleveland is currently positioned in the standings, and the consistency with which the club has engaged in close games, such a play loomed large.

"Everything is magnified right now," Indians starter Trevor Bauer said. "All these losses, they sting."

The defeat ended Cleveland's modest three-game winning streak and knocked the Indians six games back of the Tigers in the race for the American League Central. With the Royals' loss to Detroit, the Indians remained 4 1/2 games back of Kansas City for a spot in the AL Wild Card Game. The A's currently hold the other Wild Card spot while the Mariners and Yankees are also in the mix for a Wild Card berth.

On this night, the Twins played spoilers.

"It's not exactly where we want to be," Plouffe said. "We'd rather be on their side. We're just trying to play good baseball and not give up. This is a time for a lot of guys to show they can play in games like this against good teams late in the season."

The Indians' offense did enough against Twins righty Phil Hughes to put the Tribe in a position to seal a win in the ninth inning.

David Murphy, Lonnie Chisenhall and Mike Aviles came through with consecutive two-out hits off Hughes in the fourth inning to push the Indians to a 2-1 lead. In the sixth, Michael Brantley lifted a first-pitch fastball from Hughes deep to right field for a leadoff home run. The blast gave Cleveland a 3-2 lead and marked the 20th shot of the season for the Tribe's left fielder.

Only three American League hitters -- Jacoby Ellsbury (2011), Roberto Alomar (2001) and Darin Erstad (2000) -- have ended a season batting .320 or better with at least 20 homers, 20 stolen bases, 40 doubles and 95 RBIs. If Brantley can keep his bating average over .320 for the remainder of the season, he would join that impressive list.

"He's pretty special and he continues to be," Francona said of Brantley. "Whether he's in the batter's box, on the bases or in left field, and he has something to say about the outcome of a game, we feel pretty good about it."

In the seventh, catcher Roberto Perez doubled to right field and advanced to third base on an error, paving the way for a sacrifice fly off the bat of Michael Bourn that put the Indians ahead, 4-2. Hughes was on the hook for all four runs in his seven innings of work for Minnesota.

Bauer wound up with a no-decision for the Indians after being charged with three runs in six-plus innings. The right-hander allowed a pair of solo homers -- Oswaldo Arcia and Kennys Vargas launched a solo homer each in the third and fourth inning, respectively -- and ended the evening with six strikeouts against no walks for the Tribe.

Following Bauer's exit in the seventh, during which he allowed back-to-back singles to open the frame, lefty reliever Marc Rzepczynski yielded a run-scoring single to Arcia to add another run on the starter's line. Cleveland cycled through five relievers to bridge the gap to the ninth inning, when Allen took over and quickly found himself in a one-out jam with runners on the corners.

Hicks then sent a sharply-hit grounder up the middle, where Ramirez hustled to his left, but had the ball skip off his glove for an ill-timed blunder. The young shortstop recovered in time to flip the ball to second baseman Mike Aviles for a forceout at second, but pinch-runner Eduardo Nunez scored from third to pull the game into a 4-4 deadlock.

"[Ramirez] got to it and he actually had the presence of mind to stay with it and get a force," Francona said. "It would've been a really good play."

With one out and the bases loaded in the 10th inning, Plouffe finished the comeback for the Twins.

The hill just became more steep for the Tribe.

"I don't think anybody is quitting," Francona said. "We have to show up and play every game like it's our last, and we do. Nobody's going to quit."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["injury" ] }

Kipnis day to day with right hamstring injury

Kipnis day to day with right hamstring injury play video for Kipnis day to day with right hamstring injury

MINNEAPOLIS -- Jason Kipnis was held out of the starting lineup on Friday due to a sore right hamstring, but Indians manager Terry Francona was optimistic that the second baseman would be able to return during the weekend series against the Twins.

Francona noted that Kipnis, who exited Thursday's game in Houston in the eighth inning with the injury, felt much improved by the time he arrived to Target Field on Friday in Minnesota. It is possible that Kipnis will be cleared to resume playing as early as Saturday.

"He showed up and actually exhibited pretty good strength," Francona said prior to Friday's game. "He's sore enough where we're not going to play him today. We would see about tomorrow, but I think we're more in that range, as opposed to four or five days. I think when you say 'day to day,' we really are legitimately day to day."

With Kipnis out of the lineup, veteran utility man Mike Aviles filled in as the Tribe's second baseman in the opener of the three-game weekend set against the Twins.

Kipnis was given a day off to rest his legs on Wednesday, but was given the go-ahead to play on Thursday after a chat with Francona. In hindsight, Cleveland's manager said he probably should have given the second baseman two full days off in a row.

"I might've messed up with it," Francona said. "Looking back, I guess maybe those are where I probably have a tug-of-war with myself [while deciding] what's right and what's wrong. When he came out of the game [Thursday night], man, he was like, 'I'm sorry.' I said, 'Don't ever say that. You're trying your [tail] off to play.'

"I think we're not only pleased, but probably somewhat relieved with how he felt today."

Through 125 games this season, which included a stint on the disabled list in May due to an oblique injury, Kipnis has hit .242 with six home runs, 41 RBIs and a .646 OPS. Last year, Kipnis made the American League All-Star team and went on to hit .284 with 17 homers, 84 RBIs and an .818 OPS in 149 games.

Quote to note
"There's a reason that he has ascended through the organization that quickly. He's kind of come as advertised. You'll see. I was telling him this the other day. You'll see his role expand next year. I think there's a way to kind of develop younger guys, especially guys who come up quick. You don't want to give them too much of a work load, but he's a keeper."
--Indians manager Terry Francona, on rookie lefty Kyle Crockett

Smoke signals
• The Indians will send their top prospect, shortstop Francisco Lindor, to the Arizona Fall League next month. The 19-year-old Lindor, who will suit up for Peoria in the AFL, hit a combined .276/.338/.389 with 11 homers, 16 doubles, four triples, 62 RBIs, 28 stolen bases and 75 runs in 126 games with Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus this season.

• After a three-year partnership with Class A Advanced Carolina, the Indians have agreed to a four-year player development contract with the Class A Advanced Lynchburg Hillcats for the 2015-18 seasons. Cleveland has had a presence in the Carolina League since 1987, beginning with Kinston (1987-2011).

• Indians reliever C.C. Lee left Thursday's game against the Astros in the 12th inning with discomfort in his side and back. Francona said on Friday the the issue was minor and indicated that Lee will likely be available out of the bullpen this weekend in Minnesota.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["injury" ] }

Francona sets AL record with pitching change

Francona sets AL record with pitching change play video for Francona sets AL record with pitching change

MINNEAPOLIS -- The phone inside the Indians' bullpen has rung more than any other in the history of the American League.

When Indians manager Terry Francona exited the visitors' dugout at Target Field and strolled to the pitcher's mound in the seventh inning on Friday night, he set a new standard for bullpen usage. Marc Rzepczynski's outing against the Twins marked the 541st relief appearance by Cleveland this year, setting a league record.

"That was not the goal going into the year," Francona said with a smirk prior to Friday's game. "What's amazing to me is, normally, if that's the case, your bullpen is getting roughed up. They just continue to be a weapon. That is all because of, not only their ability, but their work ethic."

Francona was asked if he knew who set the previous record.

"Tony La Russa?" asked the manager.

No, in fact, it was Francona who set the prior mark by calling Cleveland's bullpen 540 times during the 2013 season, when the Indians reached the AL Wild Card Game. This year, the Tribe is in the middle of the Wild Card hunt once again and the team's reliable relief corps has played an integral role in keeping the club afloat in the postseason chase.

According to baseball-reference.com, there had been 63 teams in the past 100 seasons to reach at least 500 combined relief appearances in a single season, entering Friday. Among those teams, Cleveland's 3.16 bullpen ERA ranked third overall and first among the seven AL clubs on the list. The Major League record is 588, which was set in 2007 by the Nationals under former manager Manny Acta.

Veteran Tribe reliever Scott Atchison said Francona, along with pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash, have done a good job of keeping a close eye on the relievers' respective workloads. To that point, Cleveland's 487 relief innings heading into Friday's action were ranked 52nd among the 63 teams with at least 500 relief appearances in a season.

"Some of it is a testament to how versatile our 'pen is," Atchison said. "We have so many guys that can do so many different things. ... They've used us the right way. If you're going to have this much use, they've used us all well and given us breaks. Everybody feels good and strong and healthy. Nobody is coming in every day saying, 'I can't go, because I've been used too much.' They monitor all that."

Helping to distribute the innings has been the fact that the Indians have carried at least eight relievers for most of this season. That, combined with the starting rotation's strong second half, has contributed to Cleveland's bullpen remaining a strength deep into September.

"We've asked a lot of them," Francona said. "We've tried to pitch them as much as we can without going too far. And part of what I think has helped is we trust every one of them to be honest with us [about how they're feeling]. ... They are answering the call and they complement each other."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Francona reminded of father when watching Altuve

Francona reminded of father when watching Altuve play video for Francona reminded of father when watching Altuve

HOUSTON -- Indians manager Terry Francona is getting an up-close look this week at Houston second baseman Jose Altuve, who had multiple hits in the first three games of the series in his quest to become the first member of the Astros to lead a league in batting average.

Francona knows something about batting races. In 1959 his father, Tito, had the highest batting average in the American League (.363) playing for the Indians, but he fell 34 at-bats short of qualifying for the crown.

Altuve won't have that problem. Altuve, who entered Thursday with a .344 average, 11 points ahead of Detroit's Victor Martinez, has more than enough at-bats to qualify. He also has a fan in Francona.

"He's a hard guy to pitch to," said Francona, who's especially familiar with Altuve since Cleveland bench coach Brad Mills used to manage the Astros. "You can tell he's so in tune to the game. He's always talking, moving. He looks like he's a very special player.

"I don't really know the kid, but I feel like I probably know him a little better, because Millsie talks about him a lot. In a good way. He's good for the game. [It's] not very good when you're playing against him."

Tito Francona had a special season 55 years ago, but Detroit's Harvey Kuenn won the batting title with a .353 average.

"My dad's not the type to blow his own horn much, but [it was a] pretty good year," said Francona. "I hear stories, and I don't know if it's true, but you hear that maybe that was part of the reason they changed, they started adding plate appearances, walks.

"I was a big enough fan of baseball growing up, and a huge fan of my dad's, that I always asked him about it. He was a good hitter. We had a similar swing, [but] he was much stronger. The ball went a little farther when he hit it than when I hit it."

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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With lucky 13th, Indians keep Wild Card hopes alive

With lucky 13th, Indians keep Wild Card hopes alive play video for With lucky 13th, Indians keep Wild Card hopes alive

HOUSTON -- Danny Salazar had a couple of tough acts to follow on Thursday, and he also had a formidable foe in Houston's Scott Feldman.

Salazar pitched well, but the Indians couldn't get to Feldman. However, they did get to the Houston bullpen in the 13th inning and escaped with a 2-1 win at Minute Maid Park, keeping their faint hopes alive for an American League Wild Card berth with only 10 games remaining.

"We say every day, we need to be one run better. We're sort of taking that to an extreme, unfortunately," said manager Terry Francona. "But we won, and when you win a game like that, it doesn't matter how hard it was when it's over.

"Everybody in [the clubhouse] feels good. And instead of being tired and dragging, we're going to be tired and happy and ready to play tomorrow [at Minnesota]. It makes tomorrow's game a lot more fun."

After Mike Aviles' bases-loaded sacrifice fly off Samuel Deduno scored Jose Ramirez from third base for the go-ahead run, Cody Allen pitched a scoreless 13th inning for his 22nd save. Allen struck out Dexter Fowler swinging to end the game with a runner at first base, preserving the win for Kyle Crockett (4-0).

The Indians got only four hits off Feldman through eight-plus innings.

"He had the cutter working on all the pitches," said Michael Bourn. "He's a good pitcher; he makes the ball move both ways."

Feldman was pulled in the ninth after giving up a leadoff double to Bourn on a controversial play. Bourn hit a fly ball that one-hopped the wall in left-center and caromed behind a column and disappeared briefly before re-appearing at the feet of center fielder Fowler, who had his hands in the air to signal that the ball wasn't playable. Bourn raced home with hopes of having a game-tying inside-the-park homer, but a crew review quickly overturned the call and kept Bourn at second base.

Following Bourn's double, Ramirez was ruled safe at first base following a challenge from Francona, moving Bourn over to third base with no outs. Bourn was thrown out attempting to score on a 3-5-2 fielder's choice on a ball hit by Michael Brantley, but Ramirez later scored from second base on Carlos Santana's game-tying single off Chad Qualls.

After dropping the first four games of their road trip, the Indians won the final three games of the four-game series with the Astros.

"We're not in the position to be giving games away," said Bourn. "We're manufacturing runs right now."

Salazar did his part, though, striking out nine over 7 1/3 innings of one-run, five-hit ball. Jose Altuve, the AL's leading hitter, went 0-for-3 against Salazar and 0-for-6 for the first time in his career.

"We still have hope," said Salazar, who has given up three runs or fewer in 12 of his last 13 starts. "Right now we just need to win every day."

Entering the game, Salazar was averaging 9.46 strikeouts per nine innings over his first 18 big league starts. On Thursday he struck out Jon Singleton three times. Singleton was 0-for-4, with four of Houston's 14 strikeouts.

Salazar's performance was outstanding, but it couldn't match that of Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco, who had career-high 14- and 12-strikeout performances on Tuesday and Wednesday, respectively, in wins over Houston.

"I thought [Salazar] was good," said Francona. "I thought he [had] a lot of conviction in his fastball. Had a real good changeup."

Over the 13 innings, both teams managed only eight hits each. Ramirez had three hits and scored both runs for Cleveland.

"It stings for our pitchers to go out and throw that good and not be able to get them some run support and get out of there with a win," said Astros right fielder Jake Marisnick, who had two hits. Robbie Grossman led the Astros with three hits.

The right-handed Salazar had five strikeouts through three innings. He struck out the side in the second inning, getting Jason Castro, Singleton and Matt Dominguez.

The Astros got to him in the fourth. Marisnick singled in Fowler from second base with two outs when shortstop Ramirez couldn't glove Marisnick's single up the middle. Fowler had reached second base on a wild pitch.

Cleveland missed a chance to score in the third inning, leaving two runners on base after David Murphy led off with a double.

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Two challenges go Francona's way vs. Astros

Two challenges go Francona's way vs. Astros play video for Two challenges go Francona's way vs. Astros

HOUSTON -- Cleveland manager Terry Francona won two challenges in Thursday's game against Houston, both involving Indians shortstop Jose Ramirez.

The second time came in the ninth inning. Ramirez was ruled out at first base on a sacrifice that advanced Michael Bourn to third base. Bourn had originally been credited with an inside-the-park home run, but after a crew chief review of stadium boundaries, the ruling on the field was overturned, as the ball was deemed to have left the field of play.

On the play involving Ramirez, Houston third baseman Matt Dominguez barehanded a slow runner to third and threw to second baseman Jose Altuve covering first base. Francona challenged the out call at first, and after a delay of two minutes and 15 seconds, the ruling was overturned and Ramirez was safe.

Ramirez later scored on a Carlos Santana single to tie the score at 1.

Francona's first challenge of the night came in the first inning. Ramirez, the second batter of the game, was ruled out at first base by first-base umpire Larry Vanover, but after a review of 55 seconds, the call was overturned, and Ramirez was safe. Houston right-hander Scott Feldman got the next batter, Michael Brantley, to ground into a 6-3 inning-ending double play.

Richard Dean is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Carrasco throws two-hit shutout in Houston

Righty strikes out career-high 12 while throwing 98 pitches in win

Carrasco throws two-hit shutout in Houston play video for Carrasco throws two-hit shutout in Houston

HOUSTON -- No matter the swoons or the losing streaks racked up at various points this season, the Indians have been able to count on starting pitching almost without fail in 2014.

It came through again Wednesday night to keep Cleveland in playoff contention, as Carlos Carrasco tossed a two-hit shutout to lead the Indians past the Astros, 2-0, at Minute Maid Park.

The win was crucial, as the Indians entered Wednesday trailing the Royals by five games for the second American League Wild Card spot and held steady due to Kansas City's win over the White Sox.

Carrasco logged arguably the finest outing of his career, limiting the Astros to two infield hits and striking out a career-high 12 for his first career shutout. He needed 98 pitches to complete the outing.

"He just pitched with so much confidence and attacked the entire night," said manager Terry Francona. "There's no other way to say it: He was just so good."

If your name is sitting next to Sandy Koufax, you know the outing was special. Carrasco joined Koufax as the only other pitcher in MLB history to strike out 12 or more batters on 98 pitches or less in a shutout.

He did it via a nasty mix of locating his fastball -- Carrasco only issued one walk -- and finishing batters off with a devastating split changeup.

"The command was there today, just throwing everything for strikes so it was quick," Carrasco said, and indeed the game was a brisk two-hour, 20-minute contest.

Nothing exemplified that command more than Alex Presley's at-bat in the ninth. With one out, Carrasco slipped on the first pitch and fell behind 3-0 before rebounding to force a full count and induce a lazy fly-ball out.

"Those last three [offspeed pitches] were my best," Carrasco said.

Francona couldn't hide his pride for Carrasco's performance, emphasizing that the team's patience with him during the righty's lengthy bullpen stint this season instilled confidence in the 27-year-old hurler.

"This entire year has been a big learning curve for him," Francona said. "He finally realized that he didn't need to have anything special to ease the anxiety out there. … It's one of the more exciting things that's happened this year.

"We can't be the organization to give up on guys and they go somewhere else and figure it out. We're getting paid back for our patience."

In his last eight starts since rejoining the rotation on Aug. 10, Carrasco has allowed one run or less in seven of those outings while holding opponents scoreless four times.

The righty clearly likes facing the Astros, as they've managed only one run off him in 15 innings this season. They couldn't even leave the infield as Jose Altuve notched both hits for Houston on infield singles in the fourth and ninth innings

Even Altuve, who set the Astros' record for hits in a season on Tuesday, figured Carrasco to be nearly unhittable.

"I knew, personally, that I was in trouble with him since my first at-bat because he threw fastballs in the middle and I couldn't hit it," Altuve said. "I said, 'Man, if you can't hit a fastball against one guy, you're in trouble.'"

Meanwhile, Cleveland strung a few hits together at the right time off Houston starter Brett Oberholtzer.

In the fourth, Carlos Santana continued his hot tear in this series with a two-out double that nearly went out for a home run. Yan Gomes followed up Tuesday's two-RBI night with an RBI single up the middle to bring Santana home.

Gomes has driven in four runs over the past two games. But given the 29 combined strikeouts by the Indians' staff on Tuesday and Wednesday, he's getting recognition beyond the offensive box score.

"We'll take the RBIs, but [Yan's] taken so much ownership of these guys," Francona said. "He meets them at the foul line after an inning and walks them in. It's that kind of managing of the game that is so exciting going forward."

The Astros helped Cleveland out in the sixth. With Michael Brantley on first and two outs in the inning, Gomes laced a liner to right field. Astros outfielder Jake Marisnick made an aggressive dive on the ball, but he whiffed on the catch and the ball trickled to the wall.

Gomes finished on third while Brantley rounded the bases to make it 2-0, which was plenty of support for Carrasco, who remains an integral part of the team's recent pitching surge.

Since Aug. 9, Indians starters own an MLB-low 2.32 ERA, with Cleveland posting a 21-14 record during that stretch.

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Indians' front office in Houston evaluating club

Manager Francona encouraged GM Antonetti to get some scouts' eyes on team

Indians' front office in Houston evaluating club

HOUSTON -- While the season isn't over yet and the Indians remain in a playoff push, the front office already has an eye on the future.

General manager Chris Antonetti plus some scouts and members of the front office are in Houston during the team's four-game series against the Astros.

"Just a lot of evaluating," Antonetti said. "Never stops."

Manager Terry Francona said he encouraged Antonetti to get the scouting eyes on the team. During the season, many scouts rarely get a chance to watch the big league squad too much, as they are usually evaluating amateur talent or scouting opposing players for potential trade purposes.

"Chris is trying to get some continuity there," Francona said. "Some of the guys here, we finally get to visit with them for a couple of days, let them see our team, too. … [I] think it will make for better decision making and more enlightened opinions. They're fun to have around."

Francona also said this is one of the few times the baseball side could have the front office's ear until at least late October.

"It was done by design [having them come here]," Francona said. "We have two weeks left in the season. When we go back off this trip, Chris is having two days of meetings with [Minor League] coaches.

"Then there's some meetings in Arizona in early October with the scouts, then we come back to Cleveland a few weeks later for strategy meetings."

Antonetti said, despite starting pitching being a position of strength, it will still be a central focus of the team's offseason plans.

"We need more, always," he said. "You see, the five we started with aren't the five that are still with us right now. … Over the course of the season, attrition happens."

Despite a bit of a late-season swoon by the club, Antonetti said he is proud of the way the players and coaches continue to prepare and compete.

In fact, he said, the young talent on the roster -- enhanced by the September callups -- shows a bright future for the team.

"Overall, we are really encouraged by the talent on the roster and the group of guys to build around," Antonetti said. "That won't change whether we meet this year's goals or not."

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["clemente_award" ] }

Tribe nominates Swisher for Clemente Award

Tribe nominates Swisher for Clemente Award play video for Tribe nominates Swisher for Clemente Award

HOUSTON -- The awards for play on the field are nice, but the strikeouts and home runs don't have quite the kind of wide-reaching impact that the nominees for Major League Baseball's Roberto Clemente Award have had on their communities.

Injured Indians first baseman Nick Swisher is a prime example of that, and he is the team's 2014 nominee for the award, which was established to honor Clemente's legacy.

Clemente, a 15-time All-Star and Hall of Fame outfielder, died tragically in an offseason plane crash 42 years ago en route to Nicaragua to help earthquake victims.

Swisher has missed most of the season with nagging wrist and knee injuries, the latter of which required season-ending surgery last month. He's not even with the team right now.

That hasn't stopped his charitable efforts in the Cleveland area. Along with his wife, JoAnna, he created the Swisher Family Foundation to provide children with medical care, education and recreational activities.

"It's a huge honor for a player," said Indians manager Terry Francona. "It's something that is not done for your baseball ability, but for how much you give back. I know that's very important to [Nick] and his wife. They have come into this community and really embraced it."

Among other things, the couple has worked with multiple area health centers to acquire and promote medical care, and provided a free screening of "Million Dollar Arm" to the Cleveland Boys and Girls Club.

Swisher also staged the first Mission Swisher scavenger hunt at Progressive Field to raise proceeds for the efforts.

"I know one of the few days off all year we had at home was that day and he had his charity event and almost every player was there," Francona said. "That says a lot about our whole team's character and commitment to giving back."

The Swishers have also donated more than a quarter-million dollars to various other children's organizations in the Cleveland area.

The 10-year Major League veteran has routinely donated the use of his suite at Progressive Field to various charities, such as the Providence House, the Ronald McDonald House and Shoes and Clothes for Kids.

"Nick and his wife, JoAnna, continue to deepen their commitment to youth and families in Cleveland," said Rebecca Kodysh, the club's executive director of community impact, in a news release. "The Swishers have demonstrated a passion for long-term community impact that embodies the ideals of Roberto Clemente."

There were more than 1.3 million fan votes last year, and fans can start voting again on Wednesday at ChevyBaseball.com, which is powered by MLB Advanced Media. Voting ends on Oct. 6, and participating fans will be automatically registered for a chance to win a trip to next month's World Series.

The winner of the fan vote will receive one vote among those cast by the selection panel of dignitaries, which includes Commissioner Bud Selig; MLB chief operating officer and Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred; Vera Clemente; Hall of Fame Broadcaster and the Spanish Voice of the Los Angeles Dodgers Jaime Jarrin; MLB Network analysts and former Clemente Award winners Al Leiter, Harold Reynolds (also of FOX Sports) and John Smoltz (also of FOX Sports); Hall of Famer, ESPN analyst and former Clemente Award winner Barry Larkin; ESPN analyst and former Clemente Award winner Rick Sutcliffe; FOX broadcaster Joe Buck; Hall of Famer and TBS analyst Dennis Eckersley; TBS analyst Ron Darling (also of MLB Network); MLB.com senior correspondent Hal Bodley; a representative from Chevrolet and others.

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Kluber's career-high 14 K's lead Tribe to 'W'

Gomes has big night as Indians gain a game in Wild Card chase

Kluber's career-high 14 K's lead Tribe to 'W' play video for Kluber's career-high 14 K's lead Tribe to 'W'

HOUSTON -- In a strange turn of events given the teams' respective records, it was the Indians who were playing spoiler to the Astros on Tuesday night. And in the process, Cleveland got back on the horse with a much-needed victory.

The Indians put a damper on Jose Altuve's record-setting night, using Yan Gomes' two-run homer and another tremendous outing from Corey Kluber to hold off the Astros, 4-2, at Minute Maid Park and climb to five games back of the second American League Wild Card spot after the Royals lost, 7-5.

The win snapped a frustrating four-game losing skid and earned the Tribe its 30th victory since the All-Star break.

"We're trying to finish the year strong these last two weeks," said manager Terry Francona. "We're showing up every day to win and meet our goals, period."

Altuve may have been the star of the show, tallying a pair of hits to tie and ultimately surpass Craig Biggio's Astros record of 210 hits in a single season, set in 1998. But it was Kluber who was the true difference maker for the result.

Prior to the game, Indians general manager Chris Antonetti spoke to the media and pleaded his case for the righty to be a serious Cy Young Award candidate.

Kluber made Antonetti look like a prophet hours later, as he struck out a career-high 14 hitters and overcame a couple rugged innings to finish with seven innings of one-run ball.

"Today, he had to work into it, but once he did ... it was electric even though I thought [the Astros] did a good job," Francona said. "His stuff is just so late-moving. There's a reason he has all those strikeouts."

It was the most strikeouts by a Cleveland hurler since Bartolo Colon fanned 14 Blue Jays in May of 1998. Kluber now has 244 strikeouts this season, already good enough for 12th on the team's single-season list.

"There were times tonight we needed strikeouts, not just outs," Francona said. "He looks as strong as ever."

The Astros still recorded seven hits off Kluber, and he had to finagle out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning.

"I didn't consistently execute throughout the game, but I did at the points when we needed it," Kluber said. "Yan kind of led me through the early part and then backed me up."

One inning later, Altuve tied Biggio's mark with a scorching chopper down the third-base line. He broke it off Kluber with a seeing-eye grounder up the middle in the seventh.

Kluber backed off after the record breaker, giving Altuve his moment even though the single moved a runner into scoring position and brought the tying run up to the plate.

"That's a big accomplishment for him to have more hits than anybody in the history of that franchise," Kluber said. "You let him enjoy that."

Just like Kluber stopped that rally and many other Astros threats, he may as well be the Indians stopper this season. Tuesday's outing marked the fourth time this season Kluber has delivered a win with the team mired in a four-game losing streak.

"Like I told some of the coaches in there, it was probably one of the better games I've ever seen pitched," said Astros interim manager Tom Lawless. "He was real good. He's one of the best [Major League] pitchers."

For the second straight day, the Indians provided some early run support. Carlos Santana was again the culprit, driving in a run on a fielder's choice groundout.

Unlike Monday night's offensive struggle, Cleveland found just enough success against Astros starter Nick Tropeano and a mix of Astros bullpen arms.

With Lonnie Chisenhall on first and two outs in the fourth, Gomes singled to left-center field. Astros outfielder Robbie Grossman mishandled the ball and Chisenhall jetted home for a 2-1 lead.

Gomes extended that lead with a laser two-run homer that barely cleared the left-field fence in the sixth for his 19th dinger of the year.

Meanwhile, the Astros only managed a first-inning run off Kluber and couldn't capitalize on some prime opportunities while leaving 10 men on base.

Kluber is now 3-0 with a 1.65 ERA in three career appearances against the Astros, as he racked up his ninth outing with 10 or more strikeouts this season.

Relievers Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen combined to close the game out and strike out three more batters to give the Indians a season-best 17 for the game.

The teams are halfway through this four-game set in Houston, and the Indians have now regained the season series lead at 3-2.

With Altuve's mark in the books and Cleveland back on the winning side of things as it chases down slim playoff hopes, the Indians won't be playing spoiler again.

"Tonight was nice, but it won't do us any good tomorrow," Kluber said. "Until we're mathematically eliminated, we have a chance."

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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{"content":["injury" ] }

Walters day to day with right rib soreness

Walters day to day with right rib soreness play video for Walters day to day with right rib soreness

HOUSTON -- Indians second baseman Zach Walters is "hopefully day to day" after leaving Monday's game against the Astros due to soreness in his right ribs, manager Terry Francona said on Tuesday.

Walters got an MRI before Tuesday night's game and Francona said everything checked out fine, ruling out what was originally thought to be a strained oblique or intercostal.

"Structurally, he's good, so we know it's a soft tissue issue," Francona said. "We just have to see how he responds. The trainers think this might be pretty quick."

It wasn't exactly a sudden issue. After Monday's game, Francona said the young second baseman may have tried to play through the pain for several days.

Walters confirmed as much, saying he hoped the two days off he had over the weekend would quiet it down. He couldn't even make it to a third at-bat in a series-opening 3-1 loss to the Astros without coming clean.

"Finally came to them, but you just don't want to because we were in a playoff push and I'm a new guy, trying to get an opportunity to play," Walters said.

The injury may explain Walters' woes of late, as he has just three hits in his last 35 at-bats.

Walters said he has never dealt with a chest issue before, which he said was a disadvantage in this case. He even thought the pain might have just been some fatigue during the stretch run of his first full season in the Majors.

"That's why I don't know how to take care of it or explain it," Walters said. "It's such a rotational thing, and anything midsection for a position player is something I found out I couldn't just work through. It doesn't feel like it should. It's hard to hit, let alone hit when you can't swing the right way."

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Scoring change adds three runs to Kluber's stats

Scoring change adds three runs to Kluber's stats play video for Scoring change adds three runs to Kluber's stats

HOUSTON -- Major League Baseball formally changed a third-inning call from Cleveland's 12-1 loss to the Tigers on Sept. 1 that could adversely affect Indians pitcher Corey Kluber's Cy Young Award hopes.

Miguel Cabrera's two-out fly ball to right field was originally ruled an error on outfielder Mike Aviles. Prior to the play, there were no men on base, but Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez followed with consecutive homers to give Detroit a three-run inning and a 5-1 lead.

Those three runs were originally not charged to Kluber, but they were added to his total Tuesday. The difference may seem slim, but the trio of runs brought his total to 61 instead of 58 and his ERA shot up to 2.58 from 2.45 entering Tuesday's start. Kluber allowed one run in seven innings in Tuesday's 4-2 win to bring the mark back down to 2.54.

With the reversal, Aviles has now committed just one error in 33 outfield appearances this season.

Kluber suffered the loss that day regardless, but he has since bounced back with consecutive wins and is among the top five American League pitchers in almost every significant statistic.

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Improved McAllister not enough to halt skid

Right-hander goes six strong innings in return to rotation

Improved McAllister not enough to halt skid play video for Improved McAllister not enough to halt skid

HOUSTON -- The times are getting desperate for these Indians. With another road loss, this time to the Astros in Minute Maid Park on Monday night, Cleveland doesn't have much time left to chase a playoff spot.

Even on a night with some positives, like Zach McAllister's strong effort or a first-inning run, it wasn't enough as the Tribe fell, 3-1, to move six games back of the second American League Wild Card spot.

For the Indians, it may be these series openers that ultimately keep them on the outside looking in come October. They are now 22-28 in such games this season.

This one definitely featured a little despair crammed between the positives, as the loss dropped Cleveland to 0-4 on this decisive 10-game road stretch.

Jose Altuve's two-run single in the third inning was all the Astros needed. It was the second baseman's team-record 63rd multi-hit game of the year, so it was hardly a knock against McAllister.

"He's so tough," McAllister said. "Sometimes, it's almost easier to face those bigger guys who have longer swings. With him, he's got such a short swing and knows how to manipulate the bat."

Indians manager Terry Francona said Altuve is one of the game's ultimate difference makers, and he showed more of it Monday night at an inopportune time for the Indians.

"He's one of the best players in the game," Francona said. "The stolen bases, the energy, the hitting to all fields -- he's a very difficult guy to pitch to because he can go out of the zone to get hits. There's no easy way to go around him."

Other than the mistake McAllister left up to Altuve, he looked more like the back-end starter Cleveland enjoyed en route to the playoffs last season rather than the erratic one it's seen this year.

"I felt pretty good," McAllister said. "There was times I got into trouble … Overall, entire game I felt happy with the early strikes and soft contact and good play behind me to help me out."

Early on, the Astros found some success off the righty's high offerings, but he said settling back into the starting position probably happened gradually.

Eventually, the form returned a bit, especially after he eased out of a fourth-inning jam by getting Matt Dominguez to ground out as a runner crossed home plate.

"I fell behind at times trying to overthrow a bit, so I just let myself relax and really focus on getting the ball down to get back in counts or get ahead," McAllister said. "It was different [being back in the rotation]. Going to the bullpen was definitely a different thing. … But any time they call your name or number, they expect you to put up zeros and get guys out."

The righty, making his first start since July 31, wasn't unhittable by any means. But his no-walk, seven-hit performance was a solid return to starting form in a crucial spot. It could have even been enough under more fortunate circumstances.

Instead, he's now gone 11 straight starts without a win and is mired in a seven-game losing skid as he tries to recapture his 2013 form after a stint in Triple-A Columbus and in the Tribe bullpen.

On this night, though, he and the Indians had the misfortune of facing lights-out Astros starter Collin McHugh. In fact, the only thing that drove McHugh out of the game was Lonnie Chisenhall's seventh-inning liner that hit McHugh's left forearm.

McHugh suffered a left forearm contusion, but Chisenhall was ultimately retired on the play.

Prior to that, the Indians were thoroughly stymied by McHugh and didn't have multiple baserunners in an inning after leadoff man Michael Bourn scored on Carlos Santana's single after a first-inning Astros error. McHugh lasted 6 2/3 innings while allowing just five hits and striking out seven.

"That curveball of his just has such tight spin, so it's a swing-and-miss breaking ball," Francona said. "We hit a few hot balls that got caught, but there weren't many chances."

McHugh's not just picking on Cleveland here. The start marked his ninth straight outing in which he allowed two runs or fewer.

"I feel like today was a little more of a battle," McHugh said. "For whatever reason, these guys see me a little bit better than some other teams I've faced. I have to make better pitches, probably throw a few more cutters than I usually would because they're a good fastball-hitting team.

"Overall, yeah, it was a battle today for sure."

But still one that Cleveland ultimately lost, giving the Indians a four-game losing streak for the second time in six weeks.

There's still three more games against the suddenly surging Astros in Houston, enough time to tilt the now-tied 2-2 season series in the Indians' favor.

With two weeks left in the season, that task may ultimately be a must, rather than a luxury.

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Ailing Raburn's status remains unclear; MRI may be needed

Utility man still day-to-day after hyperextended left knee has not improved

Ailing Raburn's status remains unclear; MRI may be needed play video for Ailing Raburn's status remains unclear; MRI may be needed

HOUSTON -- After Detroit handed them a sweep over the weekend, the news for the Indians was no better Monday, as utility man Ryan Raburn's hyperextended left knee hasn't improved at all.

Manager Terry Francona said that day-to-day status may no longer be applicable, as Raburn received treatment to no avail prior to Monday's game against the Astros.

"He's still pretty tender, pretty sore," Francona said. "We're gonna have [head trainer James Quinlan] talk to [assistant trainer Jeff Desjardins] and see, see if we should get him back to Cleveland. We probably need to get him checked."

An MRI is likely imminent, but Francona said that hasn't been on the checklist yet. In fact, Raburn, who injured the knee in Saturday's loss to Detroit, made the trip precisely because the club thought he might be available at some point during this four-game set that is crucial to Cleveland's fading playoff hopes.

"We brought him here because if he had a good day and was day-to-day, maybe let him sit for a couple of days and be good," Francona said. "But the fact that he came in and was pretty tender, there's no way around it, he has to get looked at."

Raburn has not formally been shut down for the season just yet, but if he can't go within the next four days, there won't be much time left for him to heal.

"We haven't even looked inside him yet, so it's still up in the air [to me]," Francona said. "We'll trust our training staff and go from there."

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Tito a fan of Tal's Hill in center field at Minute Maid Park

Tito a fan of Tal's Hill in center field at Minute Maid Park play video for Tito a fan of Tal's Hill in center field at Minute Maid Park

HOUSTON -- The quirky Tal's Hill in center field at Minute Maid Park has plenty of detractors locally and nationally, and its future may even be up in the air as the Astros' front office re-evaluates the entire outfield areas for potential renovation in 2016 and beyond.

But the 436-foot mark in center, the high walls and the jutting angle in left that make up the outfield wall in Houston have a seemingly unlikely fan in Indians manager Terry Francona.

"I actually kind of like it," Francona said. "Of course, I don't have to cover the ground out there, but I think it's pretty cool. I love the idea of it."

Then again, he also has a luxury most teams don't have: Michael Bourn.

Cleveland's center fielder knows the hill all too well from his four seasons maneuvering around it as an Astros player.

"Bourn has been here so he understands it," Francona said. "There won't be an issue there, which is comforting as a manager."

Still, Francona -- a former outfielder himself -- said the team is careful to practice caroms off the left-field wall in their infrequent trips to Houston. On that front, at least, Francona's the one with experience, given his managerial history with the Red Sox and the famous Green Monster in left field at Fenway Park.

"I don't know why, I think [outfield quirks] add some personality, and that's part of our sport that maybe is kind of cool," Francona said. "Everything in football or basketball has to be symmetrical. That's not our game. There's always personality to the parks."

Chris Abshire is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Tribe tagged again by late homer, falls back in race

Shaw surrenders go-ahead two-run shot for second straight day

Tribe tagged again by late homer, falls back in race play video for Tribe tagged again by late homer, falls back in race

DETROIT -- The Indians did not want to be in a position where another miracle was required. Following a three-game sweep at the hands of the Tigers this weekend, that is precisely what Cleveland needs if it wants to take its season off life support.

The Tribe arrived in the Motor City with a chance to cut into its deficit in both the American League Central and Wild Card standings, but the club limped out of town on the heels of three disheartening defeats. Cleveland's stalwart bullpen collapsed on Sunday afternoon, sending the Indians to a 6-4 loss that has heightened the importance of every pitch from here on out.

Really, the Indians only have one option now.

"We've got to deal with what's in front of us, which is to not lose games," Indians veteran Jason Giambi said. "It's that pure and simple. We've just got to play to win every single night and see what the universe has in store for us."

Last fall, Cleveland also needed a miracle and then reeled off 21 wins in September, finished the season with a 10-game winning streak and captured the AL's top Wild Card spot. With 14 games left on the regular-season schedule, the Indians will need a similarly strong finish to fend off the cluster of Wild Card contenders this year.

The latest loss in Detroit knocked third-place Cleveland 6 1/2 games back of the first-place Tigers in the AL Central. In the chase for the league's second Wild Card slot, the Indians face a five-game deficit behind the Royals, though the A's, Mariners, Blue Jays and Yankees are also jockeying for position in the standings.

"A lot of things that can happen in a short swing in baseball -- ups and downs," Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "You add up a bunch of wins and anything can happen. At the same time, the other team can do the same. It's going to be a battle all the way to the end."

Maybe so, but there was no sugarcoating what took place in Detroit this weekend.

"We desperately need to win games so bad," Indians manager Terry Francona said.

A year after going 4-15 against Detroit, which finished one game above the Tribe in the division in 2013, Cleveland wrapped up its season series its rivals with a 8-11 slate. While it represented an improvement over the Tigers, it also marked the first time that Cleveland has dropped consecutive season series against the Detroit since the 1992-93 seasons.

The Tigers won seven of the last eight meetings between the clubs this year.

"Give them credit," Francona said. "There's a couple games they knocked us around, but for the most part, every game, a lot of games, we had leads going into the games late. Our bullpen's been such a strength, but give them credit, they have guys that are very dangerous."

Sunday was the kind of game described by Francona.

Cleveland manufactured a run against Tigers starter Justin Verlander in the fifth inning and then struck for two (Jose Ramirez had an RBI single and Michael Brantley was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded) with reliever Blaine Hardy on the mound in the sixth. Carlos Santana added an RBI double off closer Joe Nathan in the ninth, but Detroit had already mounted an effective comeback.

Detroit's resident Tribe tormentor, J.D. Martinez, drove a 1-0 changeup from Indians starter Trevor Bauer (five innings, one earned run) to dead center in the fourth inning and then delivered an RBI single off the righty in the sixth. Martinez hit .328 with seven home runs, 20 RBIs and a .728 slugging percentage in 16 games against Cleveland this season.

"I'm trying to be careful in that situation -- two guys on, nobody out," Bauer said of Martinez's single in the sixth. "You don't want to throw him something he can hit out and then you're down. At the same time, you don't want to be too careful with him and put him on base. Now you're bases loaded and nobody out. It's just a real tough position."

Clinging to a 3-2 lead, Francona turned to setup man Bryan Shaw for the seventh inning. Shaw, who surrendered a two-run home run to Alex Avila in the eighth on Saturday night, served up a two-run shot to Kinsler this time around, putting Cleveland in a 4-3 hole. Detroit added two key insurance runs against rookie C.C. Lee in the eighth, sending the Indians on their way to the loss.

In the eighth, Lee found himself in a one-out jam with runners on second and third base and Kinsler at the plate. While trying to intentionally walk Kinsler, the young reliever fired a wild pitch that sailed off catcher Chris Gimenez's glove and allowed Don Kelly to sprint home from third base.

"Obviously, it was a huge play in that game," Gimenez said. "I feel bad for him, because he was trying to work through some stuff right there and that's not really much of a confidence-booster for him. He's got to learn from it."

Gimenez's last comment might also apply to the Indians in the wake of the sweep.

"They hurt a lot," Francona said of the three losses. "But now they're over. So now we've got to go to Houston and gather ourselves in a hurry, and continue to play. ... The only alternative is to show up tomorrow and win. I don't doubt that we'll show up and give everything we have."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Raburn's season in doubt after knee injury

Utility man to have hyperextended left knee tested if pain continues

Raburn's season in doubt after knee injury play video for Raburn's season in doubt after knee injury

DETROIT -- The Indians are not sure how much time utility man Ryan Raburn will miss due to his left knee injury. With a little more than two weeks left on the schedule, it is possible that Raburn's season is at risk.

Prior to Sunday's series finale against the Tigers, Indians manager Terry Francona indicated that Raburn remained day to day with the hyperextended knee. If the pain persists over the next few days, Cleveland will likely send the veteran for more tests to further examine the extent of the injury.

"He's a little tender today," Francona said. "He won't do anything today other than get treatment, and then we'll kind of see how the next day or so goes. If he starts to improve, that's good. If he doesn't, then we'd probably think about getting him an MRI or something."

During the third inning of Saturday's 5-4 loss to Detroit, Raburn injured the knee on a defensive play in right field. The setback came after the 33-year-old Raburn went 2-for-3 with a home run in Cleveland's 7-2 loss to the Tigers on Friday night.

That made the timing of the injury frustrating for Raburn and the Tribe.

"What I was really excited about was he swung the bat the other night like he can swing it," Francona said. "That gives us a big lift. I know he's disappointed, but we'll get him looked at and not try to get ahead of ourselves, and just make sure he's OK."

Through 74 games for Cleveland this season, Raburn has hit .200 with just four home runs and 22 RBIs, while playing through a right wrist injury that has bothered him on and off since Spring Training. It has been a significant decline from 2013, when he hit .272 with 16 homers and 55 RBIs in 87 games during his first season with the Tribe.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Francona trusts Shaw in eighth despite lefty splits

Indians manager doesn't regret decision to leave righty in on Saturday

Francona trusts Shaw in eighth despite lefty splits

DETROIT -- The eighth inning belongs to Indians setup man Bryan Shaw. Despite some unfavorable splits against left-handed hitters, Shaw has pitched well enough to earn the trust of manager Terry Francona for most late-game situations.

An example arrived in the eighth inning of Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Tigers. With Cleveland clinging to a one-run lead, Shaw was allowed to face the left-handed-hitting Alex Avila with two outs. The reliever surrendered a go-ahead two-run home run, but Francona was not about to second-guess the decision one day later.

Francona said he did not consider turning to closer Cody Allen for that critical at-bat.

"I get your point," Francona said. "But say Cody comes in and walks him. Let's say they pinch-hit. There's just a lot of unknowns. Shaw's been so good that it's just too easy to say that after the fact, because what if Cody came in and didn't get him, and then the righty [Nick Castellanos] took him deep?

"Cody's splits are the same way. Then, you're going, 'What are you doing?' [Shaw] just didn't make the pitch he needed to."

Heading into Sunday's finale in Detroit, Shaw (2.42 ERA in 73 games) had limited right-handed batters to a .155 average and .444 OPS, but lefties were batting .296 with a .795 OPS off the right-hander. For the right-handed Allen (2.12 ERA in 70 games), the splits are reversed: lefties had a .133 average with a .449 OPS and righties had a .250 average with a .766 OPS.

"He's devastating against righties," Francona said of Shaw. "I think it's a little bit like Cody. There's been some damage done to him with lefties that has skewed his numbers a little bit, because there's a lot of lefties in the league where you look up and there's not good numbers. With that cutter he has, if he throws a flat one, the lefties have a little better chance."

Avila beat Shaw on a 3-2 slider, which the pitcher left over the plate. Francona said Shaw's strategy -- with first base open at the time -- made sense.

"If you look, early in the count he got him to kind of wave at a breaking ball down," Francona said. "I think he was trying to do that again. Sometimes you try to use the open base to your advantage. He just left it up. I don't second-guess our guys too often. They've got a pretty good feel for what they're doing and [catcher Yan Gomes] really grinds at it."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Francona defends Kipnis' tweets following loss

Manager said messages show second baseman 'cares about winning'

Francona defends Kipnis' tweets following loss

DETROIT -- In the aftermath of an emotional loss on Saturday night, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis logged into his Twitter account and defended his team in a series of messages. One post in particular, though, included expletives and was directed at a specific fan.

On Sunday morning, Tribe manager Terry Francona was made aware of the online exchange and reviewed the tweets in question. Though Francona did not necessarily condone the way Kipnis handled the situation, the manager agreed with the second baseman's overall message.

"He just showed he cares. He cares about us winning," Francona said. "I think as difficult as a loss can be, for me, I was no less proud of their effort last night. Shoot, man. We got after it. We just lost.

"It hurts, but if anything, that's where the loyalty and stuff like that grows, because we're going to do it together. That's part of what I think will get us eventually where we want to be."

Sitting at his locker on Sunday morning, Kipnis declined to discuss his late-night tweets.

"That's not a story," Kipnis said. "We're not talking about that."

After one fan referred to Cleveland's play as "pathetic" and criticized the club's low home attendance, Kipnis fired back by calling the follower an "idiot" in an expletive-filled post. Following that message, Kipnis wrote, in part: "Don't ever question this [team's] heart of effort. You should want overachievers! That means they have a pulse."

Francona defended Kipnis' thoughts on Saturday's effort.

"I read it," Francona said. "Besides the [swearing], I thought he cares. I really didn't have a problem with that. Shoot, I thought we played our [tails] off, too. That was a heartbreaking loss for us. I didn't think it was 'pathetic.'"

Quote to note
"Times are changing. I don't think you sacrifice your principles because times are changing. but they are [changing]. From even [the media's] standpoint, I remember the rules of you needed two sources. Now, shoot, if somebody sneezes, it gets tweeted. It probably makes you guys rush. It's changed a lot of things. Some of it's probably good. Some of it's probably not -- just like anything else."
--Francona, on social media

Smoke signals
• In the first inning on Saturday, Indians center fielder Michael Bourn once again showed how far he has come from his left hamstring issued by legging out an impressive leadoff double. Francona said the game-opening hit not only sparked the two-run first inning, but gave the team a jolt.

"His mentality out of the box gave us so much energy," Francona said. "He came out of the box flying. That's a fun way to start the game. That really got everybody going. And then [Mike Aviles] gets the bunt down. That got me pretty charged up. Bourny really cares about winning."

• Cleveland's Class A Lake County affiliate was defeated by Kane County on Saturday, completing a three-game sweep by the Cougars in the Midwest League's best-of-five championship series. Outfielder Clint Frazier (selected in the first round of the 2013 First-Year Player Draft) went 1-for-3 with an RBI in the 7-2 loss for the Captains.

• With their loss on Saturday, the Indians sealed a loss of the season series with the rival Tigers. Cleveland is now assured of consecutive losing seasons against Detroit for the first time since the 1992 (5-8) and '93 (6-7) seasons. The Tribe went 4-15 against the Tigers last season.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Key connections: Star-Spangled Banner, baseball forever linked

Verses that became National anthem celebrates 200 years, is part of baseball's fabric

Key connections: Star-Spangled Banner, baseball forever linked play video for Key connections: Star-Spangled Banner, baseball forever linked

Francis Scott Key never got to see a big league baseball game. He died in 1843, some 26 years before the first professional team was established. But you can imagine his joy if he did get that chance. These days, he'd probably sit in a shiny bleacher seat, waiting for a batting-practice homer with a soft, weathered glove raised high ... in his non-writing hand. Maybe he'd inhale a hot dog while jotting down a few pretty lines for his next song. That would come about an hour before he'd hear the iconic bars of his first one, which, contrary to American lore, does not end with the words, "Play Ball." Odds are he'd be pretty happy at the twilight's last gleaming.

This weekend, the celebration of the 200th anniversary of our national anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner," is on, and Key's memory is being rightly feted for his poetic description from the "dawn's early light" of Sept. 14, 1814, at the height of the War of 1812.

Hours after being stuck on a ship in Baltimore Harbor as the British pounded Fort McHenry in the Battle of Baltimore, Key saw the skies clear from the smoke and the indelible image that "our flag was still there."

The verses were called "The Defence of Fort M'Henry," and it was put to the tune of "To Anacreon in Heaven," a British drinking song purportedly written by John Stafford Smith that had been composed more than 30 years earlier and served as the theme of the Anacreontic Society of London, a men's club of amateur musicians.

Soon after Key wrote the words, a local newspaper gave it the title "The Star-Spangled Banner," and in 1931, it became our official anthem. All the while, another grand tradition steeped in collective nostalgia and American togetherness -- the game of baseball -- was steaming along, gaining prominence in our country's conscience.

Not surprisingly, the national anthem and the National Pastime became stitched together forever, like red laces in white horsehide.

According to John Thorn, the official historian of Major League Baseball, the playing of the national anthem before big league games did not become an everyday tradition until 1942. Taking that into account (and including a slight margin of error based on the lack of documentation regarding split doubleheaders in the earlier days), the Star-Spangled Banner has been heard right before the first pitch of at least the last 121,000 games. Oh, say can you see, indeed.

So with that in mind, 200 years after the night a 35-year-old Washington, D.C.-based attorney known to friends as Frank found himself under a war-torn sky, with honor in his heart and a pen in his hand, we go around the horn with nine things to know about "The Star-Spangled Banner" and its now-eternal link to the national pastime.

1. A first for everything
The first time the song was played at a baseball game was May 15, 1862, at William Cammeyer's Union Grounds park in Brooklyn. It had been converted from an ice skating venue into a field for summer sports, including what, at the time, was known as "base ball." In the midst of the Civil War, a band played "The Star-Spangled Banner."

The first big league Opening Day to feature the eventual anthem took place in Philadelphia on April 22, 1897. The New York Tribune newspaper included a brief and lyrical account of the game: "Opening Day here was a great success. The weather was delightful and the attendance numbered 17,074. The players paraded across the field, company front, and then raised the new flag, while the band played 'The Star Spangled Banner.' "

In spite of all the pageantry, there had to be some accounting for the four errors that led the Phillies to a 5-1 victory over the Giants at the Baker Bowl.

"The game was rather dull and long-drawn out," the article read, "and on the part of the New-Yorkers was somewhat unsteadily played."

2. An unforgettable rendition
The first national anthem played at a World Series game occurred on Sept. 5, 1918, during World War I, when Major League players were in the midst of being drafted into service. The regular season was ordered by the government to be completed by Labor Day, hence the Fall Classic that year was played in September.

The Cubs borrowed Comiskey Park from the White Sox to take advantage of the larger seating capacity, but things got quiet in Game 1, a 1-0 shutout by Red Sox pitcher Babe Ruth. But that game will be forever remembered for what occurred in the seventh inning.

That was when the military band on hand struck up "The Star-Spangled Banner," and the song took on a different meaning. Red Sox third baseman Fred Thomas, for example, was on furlough from the Navy, and he saluted the flag during the playing of the song.

And then the crowd caught on. The New York Times opened its account of the game by writing, "Far different from any incident that has ever occurred in the history of baseball was the great moment of the first world's series game between the Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox, which came at Comiskey Park this afternoon during the seventh-inning stretch" and then continued with the play-by-play … of "The Star-Spangled Banner."

"First the song was taken up by a few, then others joined, and when the final notes came, a great volume of melody rolled across the field. It was at the very end that the onlookers exploded into thunderous applause and rent the air with a cheer that marked the highest point of the day's enthusiasm."

The Cubs and Red Sox repeated the tradition for the rest of the Series.

3. Making it official
Even though the Secretary of the Navy in 1889 had designated "The Star-Spangled Banner" as the official song to be played at the raising of the flag, and even though President Woodrow Wilson, a huge baseball fan himself, treated it and referred to it as our national anthem, it had failed to stick in Congress after numerous attempts in the 1920s.

Baseball's increased use of the song prior to games, a petition with millions of signatures, and a nice little push from noted composer John Philip Sousa helped finally get the job done on March 3, 1931, when President Herbert Hoover signed into law the establishment of the song as the official national anthem of the United States of America.

4. A lasting tradition
"The Star-Spangled Banner" still wasn't being played before every baseball game in 1941, but on April 26, 1941, the ball got rolling in the Bronx. As The New York Times reported, "With more war new in the making, president Ed Barrow of the Yankees ordered that 'The Star-Spangled Banner' be played before all games at the Stadium.

"Meanwhile, all continued to go well for the Yankees and [Joe] DiMaggio. He singled home a run in the first and scored twice as New York beat Washington 8-3 for its fourth straight victory."

By the following year, with the country deep in World War II, the anthem became the daily staple of baseball that we know today.

And DiMaggio was still hitting.

5. Controversy hits the field
It was October 1968, and the country was fighting in Vietnam and had already lived through the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. that year. Protests were boiling over in the streets at home, and the Detroit Tigers were hosting the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

Jose Feliciano was a 23-year-old blind folk singer from Puerto Rico who had scored a hit on the U.S. charts with a cover of The Doors' "Light My Fire," and Tigers radio legend Ernie Harwell invited him to sing the national anthem at Tiger Stadium prior to Game 5.

Feliciano was accompanied in left field by his acoustic guitar and his guide dog, Trudy, and he launched into an emotional, heartfelt, and, well, different version of "The Star-Spangled Banner." He strummed the guitar in a slightly syncopated, Latin-influenced rhythm, careened back and forth from the traditional vocal melody to something more adventurous, and offered the finishing flourish of "Yeah, yeah."

It was bold and innovative and fresh, but it was also many years ahead of its time. Feliciano was booed heartily by the crowd and caused a public uproar that took years to live down.

"Back then, when the anthem was done at ballgames, people couldn't wait for it to be over," Feliciano told The Guardian last month. "And I wanted to make them sit up and take notice and respect the song. I was shocked when I was booed. I felt, 'God, what have I done wrong?' All I was trying to do was create a soulful rendition. I never in my wildest dreams thought I was going to have the country against me, radio stations stop playing me.

"But in part, it was good -- because I ended up meeting my wife. She couldn't understand the injustice and started a fan club, even though we'd never met. We fell in love and the rest is history."

On Oct. 14, 2012, prior to Game 1 of the National League Championship Series at AT&T Park in San Francisco, the same stylized, heartfelt version of the national anthem was performed by Feliciano on his acoustic guitar.

This time the crowd roared.

6. "O"-dience participation
The anthem itself is a tradition, and at Oriole Park in Camden Yards in Baltimore, there's a tradition baked into the tradition. When the song rounds third base and heads for home with, "O say does that star-spangled banner yet wave," the crowd screams the "O" together, celebrating their beloved O's.

This started at the old Memorial Stadium in the club's pennant-winning season of 1979. Out in Section 34 of the upper deck, Orioles superfan Wild Bill Hagy would lead fans in chants of O-R-I-O-L-E-S, with the emphasis on the "O." Mary Powers sat nearby and took the inspiration to another level.

"We would accentuate the 'O' in any word that would have an 'O,' and one night when they were playing the anthem, I thought, 'There's an 'O!' in this song,' and the first time I did it, I remember people turning around and looking like, 'Oh, my God, I can't believe she just did that,' " Powers recently told WBAL-TV.

"Well, Wild Bill had a little grin on his face, so the next night, he did it with me, and once he put his blessing on it, everybody started to do it."

Orioles fans still do it -- loudly -- and will likely be doing it in October this year.

7. Setting the (low) Barr
We all know now that Feliciano's rendition was eventually respected, if not appreciated. We all also know now that the version of "The Star-Spangled Banner" performed by comedian Roseanne Barr before a Padres-Reds doubleheader at Jack Murphy Stadium in San Diego on July 25, 1990, was not.

Barr screeched a fast, off-key rendition of the anthem that drew loud boos midway through, and when she was finished, she grabbed her crotch and spit, as if to mimic a ballplayer. The joke bombed, she was lambasted all over TV and in the newspapers, and she inspired President George H. W. Bush to call the whole act "disgraceful."

Bush's comment was met with bipartisan approval.

8. A hymn of healing
The horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed the United States forever, but not only in tragic ways. The courage, brotherhood and human decency shown that day in New York, Washington, D.C., and on a hijacked airplane that would crash in a Pennsylvania field showed our country's strength and will to persevere.

The emotion was palpable 10 days later when the Mets played the Braves at Shea Stadium in the first professional sporting event in New York City since the attacks. Marc Anthony delivered a somber rendition without musical accompaniment and the game was played quietly until the eighth inning, when Piazza's two-run home run gave the Mets the lead and got the crowd going again.

"I remember standing on the line during the national anthem -- actually when the bagpipes and band came out -- I said to myself, 'Please, God, give me the strength to get through this,' " Piazza told the New York Daily News in 2008. "I was fortunate to find the strength to hit a home run in that situation. I'm flattered, I'm honored that people put that moment as a time where it helped the city at least have a little bit of joy in a really tough week."

9. 200 and many more
Every year now, we're treated to incredible musical talent on the baseball field. From the seasoned operatic pipes of longtime Yankees national anthem singer Robert Merrill to commercial acts James Taylor, Paul Simon, Sammy Davis Jr., John Legend, Lyle Lovett, the Grateful Dead, Slash from Guns N' Roses, Mary J. Blige, Billy Joel, Idina Menzel, Kelly Clarkson and countless others, it's now a grand American tradition to bring out the best in the business to sing "The Star-Spangled Banner" at the biggest baseball games.

But Sunday, the song itself will shine.

At Fort McHenry in Baltimore, a real-time anniversary program will kick off, with artillery salutes, a reading of the song's four stanzas and a replica 15-star, 15-stripe flag raising at precisely 9 a.m. to commemorate the history that Key had witnessed.

And MLB teams playing at home will show a special video montage of "The Star-Spangled Banner." In conjunction with the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and the program Great Performances, Maryland Public Television has provided the montage originally seen in the PBS production Star-Spangled Banner: The Bicentennial of our National Anthem to the ballparks and to MLB.com and all 30 club websites and official MLB social media channels.

Fittingly, the last game on Sunday will be played at Camden Yards, about three miles away from Fort McHenry, and fittingly, the Orioles will play the Yankees.

We all know what song we'll hear right before the first pitch.

Doug Miller is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter @DougMillerMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Big hits not enough to prevent Indians' late loss

'Pen surrenders eighth-inning HR to drop Tribe 5 1/2 back in division

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DETROIT -- The thread from which the Indians are hanging thinned a little more on Saturday night. In a town that has tormented the Tribe in recent seasons, Cleveland suffered another disheartening loss and took another step backward in the race for the playoffs.

Victor Martinez toyed with his former team again, Alex Avila assumed the role of villain and Indians setup man Bryan Shaw fired the pitch that now has Cleveland's season on the brink of unraveling. The Indians were dealt a 5-4 defeat that sealed a series loss in this critical three-game divisional set at Comerica Park.

"One loss isn't going to do anything," Shaw said. "Obviously, a loss like that is tough, but losing one game isn't going to make the difference. Right now, we've got to battle back, come back and try to win tomorrow, and hopefully the rest of the teams that are ahead of us and everything else, everything goes our way and we have an opportunity."

The loss dropped the Tribe 5 1/2 games back of the Tigers, who hold a half-game lead over the Royals in the battle for the American League Central crown. The Indians are now five games behind Kansas City in the race for the AL's second Wild Card spot, which has a list of contenders that also includes the A's, Mariners, Blue Jays and Yankees.

The Indians were four outs away from gaining ground when Avila delivered a two-run shot.

Working with a 4-3 lead, Shaw took over on the mound for Cleveland in the eighth and issued a leadoff walk to slugger Miguel Cabrera, who was replaced by pinch-runner Ezequiel Carrera. After Victor Martinez and J.D. Martinez were retired consecutively, Carrera stole second base. After that sprint, Carrera got to jog the rest of the way to home plate.

Avila worked into a 3-2 count and Shaw fired an ill-fated slider.

"It was just a bad pitch," Shaw said. "It was the right pitch -- bad location. It's simple. If we get it outside a little more, he pops up. You get it in, he rolls it over. It's just bad location."

Avila ripped the pitch from Shaw into the right-field seats, giving Detroit a 5-4 lead and creating a raucous roar from the Comerica Park crowd. It was the same riotous response from the locals that right fielder Torii Hunter received in the top of the eighth, when he ended the inning with a diving, sliding catch to rob Yan Gomes of at least one RBI.

"He's been so good. He's set the bar so high," said Indians manager Terry Francona of Shaw. "It's not just that pitch, though. Torii Hunter catches that ball that saves two runs. There's a lot that goes into it -- more than just one pitch."

Avila's blast brought a disheartening end to see-saw affair for the Indians.

Facing Tigers lefty Kyle Lobstein, All-Star Michael Brantley ended a 10-pitch battle in the first inning by drilling a 3-2 pitch into the right-field stands for a two-run home run. The homer gave Cleveland a quick lead and marked the 19th shot of the season for Brantley.

That two-run advantage held until the third inning, when Detroit manufactured a pair of runs against Indians starter Danny Salazar, who struck out seven and was charged with three runs in his 5 2/3 innings. The third run relinquished by the right-hander came courtesy of a fourth-inning solo shot from Victor Martinez, who has hit seven of his career-high 31 homers against the Indians this year.

"I got behind in the count," Salazar said. "I wanted to get back in a good place. I just left the ball right in the middle."

Thanks to Mike Aviles, Salazar still managed to exit in line for a win.

In the fifth inning, Lonnie Chisenhall and Jesus Aguilar delivered back-to-back one-out singles and then moved up 90 feet apiece on a groundout by Michael Bourn. That set things up for Aviles, who slashed a pitch from Lobstein down the right-field line for a two-run double that propelled the Indians to a 4-3 lead.

Cleveland's bullpen helped get through Detroit's lineup unscathed in both the sixth and seventh innings, putting the Indians in position for a much-needed win.

Avila had other things in mind for the Tigers.

"It's [tough], but they have a pretty good lineup of batters," Salazar said. "I know we're trying our best. We don't want to miss pitches and we don't want to lose the game, either. But things are not always going to happen the way you want it."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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Indians push back House due to matchup with Astros

Rookie southpaw to avoid club with better splits against left-handers

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DETROIT -- T.J. House is in the midst of an historic run on the mound for the Indians, but the rookie left-hander will need to wait a little longer than normal to build on his last outing.

On Saturday, Cleveland officially announced that Zach McAllister (Monday), Corey Kluber (Tuesday), Carlos Carrasco (Wednesday) and Danny Salazar (Thursday) will start during the upcoming four-game series in Houston. Due to an unfavorable matchup in the Astros, House will return to the rotation during the next series in Minnesota.

"He's done a really good job. But basically, so has everybody else," Indians manager Terry Francona said of House. "We're at that point in the season where we're trying to win every game we can."

By that, Francona meant that Cleveland's staff examined the data and determined that it was best for the Astros to see right-handed starters during the Indians' trip to Minute Maid Park.

Heading into Saturday's action, the Astros had a .754 OPS against left-handed pitching (third in the American League), compared to a .673 OPS against right-handers (14th in the AL). Houston's .418 slugging percentage against lefties ranked fourth in the AL, while the team's .372 slugging off righties was 11th in the league.

Along the same lines, House has limited left-handed batters to a .620 OPS this season, but righties have turned in an .808 OPS against the 24-year-old.

"It's more of a matchup thing," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "Houston performs much better against lefties than they do righties. They're pretty good against lefties. And the ballpark plays very favorable to right-handed hitters, because of the short left-field porch."

In each of his past three starts, House has logged at least seven innings with no walks and no more than one earned run allowed, matching the longest such streak (done 23 times) for a Major League pitcher in the past 100 seasons. The last two pitchers to achieve the unique streak were David Price (2013) and Greg Maddux ('00).

If House is going to continue that streak, it will be on the road against the Twins.

"When we get to Minnesota," Francona said, "we'll insert T.J. [back in the rotation] where we think it [makes sense]."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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