Corey’s Masterpiece

Bronx, N.Y., May 2, 2021; Yankees 2, Detroit 0 — A little more than a week since Yankee fans were concerned that new free agent signer Cory Kluber would ever pitch well — or more than a few innings — the oft-injured righthander went eight dazzling innings in a 2-0 shutout over visiting Detroit in Yankee Stadium Sunday afternoon. With temps pushing 80 degrees and the persistent breezes of the last few days finally abated, a field only intermittently bathed in sunshine was the only factor making this just an almost perfect day for a game.

And it was a good thing that Kluber was on right from the outset, because the Tigers’ young righty Jose Urena was almost as good. Corey struck out 10 over eight innings, walking one and giving up two base hits. His younger counterpart whiffed seven over seven, with one free pass and three hits allowed. To the consternation of fans of all ages, major league baseball has relentlessly been tinkering with the rules of the game for a few years, but I like to think that current placement of baselines will stand the test of time. And the third-base line figured mightily in today’s scoring, with New York plating both tallies in the home second.

Gio Urshela, manning shortstop for the second time this year, started the frame by rolling a soft grounder along the line toward third base. It barely kissed the bag going by, a fair ball and infield single. Aaron Hicks reached on a seven-pitch walk, and a Mike Ford deep drive to center moved Gio to third. Catcher Kyle Higashioka stroked a sinking liner to left that raised chalk when it landed on the baseline. Urshela scored, Higgy cruised into second, and Hicks dove back to third to avoid being tagged out on the relay. Then struggling Brett Gardner, patrolling left field this day, just missed a homer to right, but settled for a sac fly that forged, as it turned out, the game’s final score, 2-0 Yankees.

Anyone who has witnessed Kluber’s early-season struggles had to be concerned when the Tigers mounted what was their only threat right away, beginning with a Wilson Ramos seven-pitch walk to start the top of the third. Corey rebounded with a strike out of Akil Baddoo, but center fielder JaCoby Jones singled to put the tying runs on. It took him 14 pitches to do it, but Kluber battled Robbie Grossman and Jeimar Candelario to back-to-back swinging strike outs, posting his second consecutive three-strike-out inning.

The offensive game action had come to a close. Urena exited after seven having retired 16 straight Yanks following Gardner’s sac fly. And the Yankee righty recorded three-up, three-down innings in the first, second, fourth, fifth, seventh, and eighth. Surprising many in attendance by coming out for the eighth having thrown 92 pitches through seven (the Scoreboard had 93), he punctuated his 10-pitch final by striking Jones out swinging. Throughout the short (game time, 2:13) day, he used a barely 90-mph fastball with a host of cutters, sliders, and changes to mesmerize the Detroit hitters by both hitting and missing their bats. When he wasn’t striking out 10 guys on 20 swings and misses, he was coaxing 11 ground ball outs. As a matter of fact, when Grossman lined out off Aroldis Chapman to start the one-two-three (with the usual two strike outs) top of the ninth, it was the first fly ball out the Pinstripers recorded in the whole game.

Fans of the baseball Indians are not strangers to great games being thrown by Corey Kluber, who, after all, garnered two AL Cy Youngs there. But despite a decent outing last time out, Kluber, who many counted as No. 2 Yankee starter behind Gerrit Cole entering the season, has been a cause of some concern. He had finally eclipsed five innings to gain a win last time, and today he was masterful. After what seems a long slog in a barely one-month-old season, the Yanks are back at .500. Italian Renaissance painter, artist, scientist, engineer, and sculptor Leonardo da Vinci passed away this day 502 years ago. And today, 10,000 socially distanced, masked fans spent a lovely afternoon in the Bronx, witnessing …

Corey’s Masterpiece