CLEVELAND -- As the baseball dropped into the glove of Indians center fielder Abraham Almonte, Corey Kluber was nearly halfway to the dugout. The pitcher barely glanced back to make sure the catch was made. He walked off with confidence for the final out of his season.
The eighth-inning flyout off the bat of Boston's Mookie Betts put the finishing touch on Kluber's Cy Young encore, which was better than his win-loss record will indicate. In a 2-0 victory over the Red Sox on Saturday, the ace of Cleveland's staff spun the kind of gem that served as a more fitting summation of his overall showing.
"Everybody's going to look at his record and immediately go to, 'OK, it was an off year,'" Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But, he's so good, and I would venture to guess that if he had a similar ERA and strikeouts, you'll look up next year and the record will be flip-flopped."
The record that will forever be attached to this season of Kluber's blossoming career will show only nine wins and an American League-high 16 losses. Indians starter Trevor Bauer, who was moved to the bullpen for most of September due to his struggles, ended with 11 wins. Tribe starters Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin, who together logged 65 fewer innings than Kluber's 222, had 14 wins combined.
Make no mistake, though. Kluber did not have a bad year.
"We'd take five of him and be happy as [heck]," Francona said. "Tonight showed you his professionalism. There's nothing more on the line, except playing to compete because you care."
In his last outing of the year, Kluber struck out nine, scattered three hits and issued two walks in eight shutout innings against the Red Sox. The right-hander struck out the side in each of the second and third innings, giving him 16 innings this season in which he registered three punchouts. He had 15 such innings in his AL Cy Young Award season in 2014.
Kluber ended his campaign with a 3.49 ERA in 32 starts, and he currently ranks second in the AL in innings, third in strikeouts (245), fourth in WAR (5.5, per Fangraphs.com) and sixth in Fielding Independent Pitching (2.98). The righty logged four complete games and struck out 18 in an eight-inning, one-hit masterpiece against St. Louis on May 13.
"Obviously, the win-loss record isn't what we'd like it to be," Kluber said. "I think aside from that, for the most part, I would imagine -- I don't know specific stuff -- but I would imagine that most of the peripheral things, that sort of stuff was pretty similar to what it was last year. Obviously, I would've liked for the team to win more games when I pitched."
Kluber's rate statistics were nearly identical to his Cy Young season:
2014: 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings, 7.9 hits per nine, 1.9 walks per nine. 2015: 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings, 7.7 hits per nine, 1.8 walks per nine.
This season, Kluber actually improved his strikeout-to-walk ratio to 5.44, compared to 5.27 last year. His FIP was slighly higher than 2014 (up from 2.45 a year ago) and his ERA jumped nearly a run from '14 (2.44), mainly due to allowing more home runs (22 in '15, compared to 14 in '14).
"The way I feel like I pitched this year and the way I feel like I pitched last year," Kluber said, "I don't think that it's drastically different."
What hurt Kluber the most this season was a lack of run support. In 11 of his first 15 starts, the Indians scored two or fewer runs. Cleveland's lineup produced two or fewer runs in 18 of his 32 starts on the season. Francona said that increased the level of stress Kluber dealt with each time he took the mound.
"I don't know how you do quantify it, but it's there," Francona said. "The best way I could put it is, we'd take a lot of him, because he's everything you'd want in a teammate, a competitor, a pitcher. We're fortunate."
Under the circumstances, Kluber can walk away from this season with confidence.
"Regardless of whether it would have been a good one or a bad one," he said of his final outing, "I would've taken the same approach into the offseason. But, it's good to have a good one under your belt for the last one."