SEATTLE -- Corey Kluber cares about getting a ring, not another plaque. What the ace has been doing for the Indians this year is being driven by his desire to help the club finish what it could not a year ago. He wants to win the World Series and has been pitching like a man possessed by that mission.
Kluber continued that pursuit on Sunday at Safeco Field, where he surrendered a two-run homer to Ben Gamel, but nothing else in a 4-2 victory for Cleveland. He has powered baseball's best pitching staff and set the tone for the Tribe's incredible run of 29 wins in 31 games. And, while Kluber shrugs off questions about a possible second American League Cy Young Award, his teammates will do the talking for him.
"He's the Cy Young," Jason Kipnis said. "I think he's clearly the Cy Young. That doesn't take anything away from [Red Sox ace] Chris Sale. I think he's clearly the No. 2 and would be the Cy Young any other year that Corey Kluber's not pitching like this."
There is still a debate to be had over whether Kluber or Sale -- Boston's overpowering left-hander -- should walk away with the season-end hardware, but the scale may have tilted in the Tribe ace's favor. Dating back to the All-Star break, the Indians have gone 51-18, clinched the AL Central and are now right behind the Dodgers for baseball's best record.
Kluber has led the charge.
With his seven-inning showing against the Mariners, whose two runs were unearned due to an error, Kluber collected his AL-leading 18th win. That moved him into a tie with Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw for the most in the Majors. Kluber struck out 10, walked two and lowered his AL-best ERA to 2.27 in 198 2/3 innings.
Kluber did not even feel that great.
"Not quite as sharp," he said. "With the two extra days, I just didn't quite feel as crisp as when you get to go out every fifth day. It's about making adjustments throughout the game."
During the game, Kipnis overheard that Kluber gave a similar assessment.
"Guys like us laugh at that," Kipnis said. "We're like, 'We wish we did that well when we don't feel great.' He's on top of what he's doing right now."
Dating back to June 1, when Kluber returned from a back injury that cost him most of May, the right-hander has gone 15-2 with a 1.62 ERA and 221 strikeouts against 23 walks in 161 1/3 innings.
"Once he gets comfortable and gets his leg under him in a season," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "man, he pitches at such a high level."
What this run has done has eliminated the main argument against Kluber taking home the AL Cy Young Award.
A couple months ago, the time missed put Sale head and shoulders over Kluber statistically. Now, even with three fewer starts than the left-hander, Kluber only trails Sale by 10 1/3 innings. Kluber has a better ERA than Sale (2.75) and ranks better in ERA+ (51 to 61), opponents' average (.189 to .202) and WHIP (0.86 to 0.95). Sale leads in WAR (8.2 to 7.1, per FanGraphs), strikeouts (300 to 262) and Fielding Independent Pitching (2.22 to 2.51).
The Cy Young race now comes down to the final week.
"I think he should [win the award]," Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. "He's got the numbers. He's got the strikeouts. He's got everything. At the end of the season, we'll see what will happens. He deserves it."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.