CLEVELAND -- In his press conference after Wednesday's victory over the Kansas City Royals, Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona said he would rather beat up and blow out opponents than play in close games night-in and night-out, and his team got the message, loud and clear.
The Indians broke open Thursday afternoon's game with a five-run fifth inning, and starting pitcher Corey Kluber struck out 11 hitters in the complete game 5-1 victory over the Royals in the series finale in front of 10,440 fans at Progressive Field.
"The biggest key was working ahead and pounding the lower part of the strike zone," Kluber said. "I got a lot of ground balls, and for the most part, was working ahead of them and keeping them off balance.
"I think I got a little stronger as the game went on. That's always reassuring to go deeper in the game, because you feel you're getting better as you go."
Kluber faced the minimum amount of hitters in six different innings, and allowed only one unearned run when third baseman Mike Moustakas reached on an error, which brought around second baseman Omar Infante for Kansas City's lone score of the game.
Kluber set a career high with those 11 strikeouts in his first-ever complete game, and he needed only 101 pitches, 75 of which were strikes, to do it.
With the win, the Indians took three of the four games against Kansas City, and are now 11-11 on the season heading into a six-game West Coast trip, while the Royals fell to 10-11 with the loss.
"It's a great getaway day," said Indians right fielder David Murphy, who went one for three with two RBI in the win. "It's a great series to get us rolling. We played great baseball, and hopefully, we continue to do so.
"It's important in the division, definitely. It's great anytime. Usually, when you come out of a four-game series, you're happy if you split two and two, so anytime you can get three, it's really big."
Indians third baseman Carlos Santana led off the fifth inning and broke an 0-for-16 slump with a double to the gap in right-center field. Then, center fielder Michael Brantley drove him in with a single up the middle of the diamond.
Designated hitter Ryan Raburn drew a walk, and catcher Yan Gomes loaded the bases with a single to left field. Then, Murphy plated two runs when he singled to left field. Two batters later, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera hit a double to left field, which scored Gomes and Murphy.
"Crooked numbers are great when we're doing it," Francona said. "Murph (was) hanging in there, kind of like he seems to have a knack for doing, and driving in huge runs for us. Carlos, with a good swing the opposite way, and Mikey (Aviles) getting the bunt down, sometimes, the little things lead to big things. We strung our hits together. Cabby swung the bat all day."
In the bottom of the first inning, the Indians had a chance to score with only one out after Cabrera, who led off the game with a single to left-center field, made it to third base on a pickoff attempt at second.
However, second baseman Jason Kipnis hit a ground ball to first that resulted in a double play. Francona asked the crew chief to review the play to see if Royals catcher Brett Hayes had blocked home plate before having the ball, which is now illegal under Major League Baseball rules.
Although the call on the field was upheld, the Indians did not lose their challenge.
"I asked him to check if he blocked the plate because that way, if he's willing to do that, then, you don't have to challenge," Francona said. "If he is safe, they'll overturn it. You don't lose a challenge, and there's no reason not to. It didn't cost us anything.
"For the most part, if you're not screaming at somebody and you just talk to them, they want to get the call right, so he was real good about it."
CABRERA HEATS UP
After a slow start to the 2014 season, Cabrera has begun to find his swing in the last nine days. He has hit safely in seven of the last nine games, and gotten multiple hits in three of those contests, including the last two against Kansas City.
In Thursday's game, Cabrera went two for four with two runs batted in, his first RBI since April 12 in Chicago.
"Right handed, he's swung the bat pretty much all year," Francona said. "Then, when he starts swinging the bat left handed, when he just stays and doesn't get rotational, because he's got really good hands, sometimes, he gets himself in a position where he really can't use them.
"You see some of those at-bats when he'll roll over and hit a ball into their dugout or be late. It's not because he doesn't have the bat speed. It's that, sometimes, he gets himself in a position where he can't use his hands."