Indians manager Terry Francona trusted Corey Kluber to keep the Yankees from scoring.
At this point, he has no better option.
Kluber gave up a go-ahead double to Aaron Hicks with one out in the eighth inning as New York scored late against Cleveland’s ace and downed the Indians 7-4 on Thursday night in the Yankees’ first visit to Progressive Field since last year’s AL playoffs.
After fouling a pitch off his foot, Hicks drove a 3-2 delivery from Kluber (12-5) to deep center field, scoring Didi Gregorius easily from first base when the ball one-hopped the wall.
Although Kluber was at 100 pitches through seven innings, Francona elected to stick with him in the eighth rather than turn things over to his shaky bullpen, which has the league’s highest ERA and is missing Andrew Miller.
“I thought he was fine,” Francona said of Kluber. “And he was at what, 100? And I thought he was throwing the ball well. I thought he was in command of what he was doing.”
The Yankees added another run in the inning on Greg Bird’s sacrifice fly off Oliver Perez.
Brett Gardner homered twice and Gregorius also connected for the Yankees, who overcame a 2-0 deficit and won the Division Series by beating Kluber in Game 5 last October.
New York is 30 games over .500 for the first time this season, and for the first time before the All-Star break since 1998, when it won the World Series.
Yankees All-Star ace Luis Severino only pitched five innings, but manager Aaron Boone got four hitless innings from Adam Warren, David Robertson (6-3), Dellin Betances and closer Aroldis Chapman, who got three outs for his 25th save — in his first appearance since Saturday because of a sore left knee.
“Every win’s a good win,” Boone said. “That was a good win up against a great pitcher. Up and down the lineup we had big at-bats in big spots. On a night when Sevy didn’t have his best, the rest of the guys were able to come through in a big way.”
Jose Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion homered off Severino, who was denied his major league-leading 15th win.
The marquee matchup between Kluber and Severino — two of baseball’s top pitchers — had everyone excited.
“This is one of those games where if I wasn’t a manager, I’d come watch the game,” Francona quipped beforehand.
But neither Kluber nor Severino brought their ‘A’ game. The All-Stars each gave up two homers, both were hit harder than expected and they were forced to pitch out of trouble throughout their stints.
Severino allowed four runs and nine hits in five innings and recorded just one strikeout, his fewest since 2016.
“We did a great job against Severino. He’s got exceptional stuff,” Francona said. “We scored. We made him throw pitches. We got him out after five, but their bullpen is also exceptional. They brought in four guys that are pretty good and they kind of did a number on us.”
Kluber, who lost the decisive Game 5 to the Yankees last October while battling a stiff lower back, was at 100 pitches to start the eighth, but Francona stuck with him anyway. The right-hander walked Gregorius on four pitches to start the inning and then gave up the double to Hicks, who was just 3 for 25 in his career against the two-time Cy Young Award winner.
“I was looking for a heater,” Hicks said. “I was looking for something middle-in I could drive. I got a lot of changeups. I was swinging and missing at it a lot. The pitch before that I got a heater that I just missed. I think that’s what got me a changeup in that situation. I just wanted to stay on the ball.”
WHAT A RELIEF
Since June 1, New York’s relievers have a 1.64 ERA — the lowest in the majors and a full run better than second-place Houston (2.70).
Ramirez connected for his fourth homer in three games to tie it 4-all in the fifth. The 25-year-old has 28 homers, breaking Albert Belle’s club record for the most before the All-Star break. Ramirez is also tied with Boston’s J.D. Martinez for the major league lead.
Yankees: C Gary Sanchez (strained right groin) could begin a minor league rehab assignment Sunday. Sanchez, who has been out since June 25, has been doing hitting, catching and agility drills.
Indians: Miller will pitch batting practice to hitters Saturday at Double-A Akron, the next step in his comeback from knee inflammation that has sidelined the elite reliever since May 26. Miller said he expects to pitch in a “handful of minor league games” before he’s activated.
A pair of rookies square off as Cleveland’s Shane Bieber (4-1) gets his first career start against the Yankees — or any AL East team — on Friday versus New York’s Domingo German (2-4), who had a season-high 10 strikeouts on June 14 against Tampa Bay.
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