CLEVELAND — Corey Kluber moved the Cleveland Indians one step closer to the AL Central title while eliminating the reigning World Series champions from the race.
Kluber allowed two runs and struck out nine in 6 1/3 innings, and the Indians defeated the Kansas City Royals 4-3 on Wednesday night.
The Indians, who lead Detroit by 7 1/2 games, reduced their magic number for clinching the Central to five.
“It’s what we work for all offseason, spring training play games early on to have this chance come September,” Kluber said. “We know we’re in a good spot, but we’re not looking ahead. We have a lot of work to do.”
Carlos Santana was 4 for 5 with an RBI single in the eighth. Jose Ramirez drove in the go-ahead run in the fifth with his third double of the game.
Kluber (18-9) matched his career high in wins and is 10-1 in his last 14 starts, strengthening his case to win his second AL Cy Young Award in three years.
Cody Allen allowed Salvador Perez’s leadoff homer in the ninth, but recorded his 28th save in 31 opportunities. Catcher Roberto Perez threw out pinch-runner Terrance Gore trying to steal second for the first out and Allen retired the final two batters.
Perez pumped his fist after throwing out Gore, who was successful on all 17 of his career regular season stolen base attempts going into the game.
“I was excited,” said Perez, who credited Allen for making a quick delivery to the plate. “You know nobody has thrown him out.”
“That was huge,” Allen said. “He bailed me out. That changes the whole dynamic of the inning. That was a big-time play.”
Ian Kennedy (11-10) allowed three runs in 5 2/3 innings and lost for the first time since July 25.
The Royals reached the World Series in each of the last two years and defeated the Mets in five games to win their first title since 1985 last season.
Kansas City was favored to repeat as division champions, but dealt with injuries to key players all season.
“We can’t do anything about it now,” Salvador Perez said. “We’re going to continue to play hard until the end, no matter what happens.”
Lonnie Chisenhall’s RBI single put Cleveland ahead in the second. Run-scoring singles by Kendrys Morales and Perez gave Kansas City the lead in the third when the Royals strung together four straight two-out hits.
Santana doubled to start the fifth and scored the tying run on Jason Kipnis’ double. Ramirez’s double to center broke the tie.
Kluber’s hot stretch has come at an opportune time for Cleveland’s rotation, which is without Carlos Carrasco (broken right hand) and Danny Salazar (strained right forearm).
“He’s so consistent that he’s the same guy every five days,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I mean that as the biggest compliment you can give somebody.”
Salazar, who hasn’t pitched in a game since Sept. 9, played catch at 75 feet Tuesday. He could be used in the bullpen if the Indians make the postseason.
“I’m feeling better — way better,” he said. “It feels good just to be able to throw a little bit. I’m really positive about it.
Indians: Carrasco has been fitted with a soft cast. He was struck by Ian Kinsler’s line drive Saturday.
Royals: LHP Jason Vargas returned from Tommy John surgery and pitched three innings Saturday against the White Sox — his first appearance since July 21, 2015 — allowing one run.
Indians: RHP Mike Clevinger, who will be in the rotation down the stretch, starts the series finale. The rookie is 2-1 with a 3.52 ERA in seven games, including four starts, at Progressive Field.