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

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.