Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Corey Kluber. UPI/John Angelillo | License Photo
NEW YORK -- Corey Kluber shrugged off the idea there was an additional layer of importance to the performance he provided the Cleveland Indians on Saturday afternoon. His manager and teammates felt much differently.
Kluber served as a much-needed stopper for the reeling Indians by tossing eight strong innings as Cleveland came back to beat the New York Yankees, 5-2, at Yankee Stadium.
Kluber (11-8) allowed two runs -- both in the second inning -- on five hits and one walk while striking out eight and throwing 67 of 100 pitches for strikes. The efficient outing came at an opportune time for the Indians, who went 1-4 in their previous five games, a stretch in which Cleveland starting pitchers produced a 15.58 ERA (30 earned runs in 17 1/3 innings).
"It felt good, he got things back in order," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Kluber, who threw seven shutout innings in his previous start last Sunday against the Oakland Athletics. "Some normalcy of the game, where you're competing to win, not trying to mop up a game or something like that. He fell behind early, but man, then he was terrific after that."
The Indians looked as if they might be headed for another draining bullpen day in the second, when the Yankees strung together three hits -- including an RBI double by Gary Sanchez -- and went ahead 2-0 when Sanchez scampered home on a two-out wild pitch.
But Kluber faced the minimum 18 batters over his final six innings, a stretch in which the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner recorded seven of his strikeouts.
"He's been pretty good for us for a while now," Francona said. "The guys look up to him, the other pitchers, and there's a reason why."
Since lasting a season-low 2 2/3 innings on May 9, Kluber has thrown at least seven innings 12 times in 15 starts, including in each of his last five. His 15 starts of at least seven innings this season are tied for the most in the majors with Chicago White Sox left-hander Chris Sale and Washington Nationals right-hander Max Scherzer.
"There's been times early on in the year when I struggled and (relievers) picked (him) up," Kluber said. "I don't think it's anything different (than) those circumstances, other than maybe there's a little more attention based on it because it was a couple games in a row for us this time."
While Kluber found his groove, the Indians crept back against Yankees left-hander CC Sabathia, who held Cleveland hitless until Jason Kipnis' leadoff homer in the fourth.
Rajai Davis tied the game with an RBI single in the fifth before Mike Napoli's one-out homer in the sixth put the Indians ahead.
"The way he's been pitching lately, it's nice to get him out there today," Napoli said of Kluber. "He held it down. He did what he had to do. Gave up (runs) early but he kept it there and gave us a chance to score and get the lead."
Davis helped provide insurance runs with a one-out homer in the seventh before he walked with one out in the ninth and scored on Kipnis' double. Kipnis, Davis, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Santana all had two hits apiece as the Indians (62-46) ensured they'd remain at least two games ahead of the Detroit Tigers in the AL Central.
Left-hander Andrew Miller earned his 10th save -- and his first since the Indians acquired him from the Yankees last Sunday -- with a one-hit ninth. The announced crowd of 37,264 gave Miller a warm ovation as he was introduced.
"It's strange to see him in a different uniform," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "He was just here."
Aaron Hicks and Brett Gardner had two hits for the Yankees (55-55), who have alternated losses with wins over the last six games.
Sabathia (6-9) took the loss after allowing three runs on six hits and four walks while striking out five over 5 2/3 innings.
"His command was a little off today," Girardi said. "But he still gave us a pretty good shot to win."
NOTES: The Yankees recalled RHP Chasen Shreve from Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and optioned RHP Johnny Barbato to the same affiliate. ... The Indians recalled LHP T.J. House from Triple-A Columbus and optioned LHP Shawn Morimando to the same affiliate. ... The matchup between Yankees LHP CC Sabathia and Indians RHP Corey Kluber marked the second time in as many days that former Cy Young Award winners have squared off. Both Sabathia (2007) and Kluber (2014) won the award while with the Indians. Seattle RHP Felix Hernandez, who won the 2010 AL Cy Young, earned the win Friday when he faced Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim RHP Tim Lincecum, a two-time NL Cy Young winner for the San Francisco Giants in 2008 and 2009.