CLEVELAND — As a showcase event, MLB might have sold Thursday night’s game as a real battle with something more than a Yankees-Indians game on the line.
“Come see Luis Severino against Corey Kluber at Progressive Field, where the winner gets the nod to start for the AL in Tuesday’s All-Star Game!”
Naturally, that marquee pitching match-up never held up to any sort of pregame hype, with Severino now having put together back-to-back, less-than-mediocre starts.
Yet, the Yankees prevailed, ultimately getting the best of Kluber in a 7-4 victory before 31,267 fans.
Aaron Hicks’ long double to center scored Didi Gregorius (walk), giving the Yankees (61-31) the go-ahead run in what became a two-run eighth inning against the Indians (50-42), leaders in a profoundly weak AL Central.
This year, the Yanks have won 12 of their 14 games against AL Central opponents.
Brett Gardner hit two home runs, one of two Yankee homers against Kluber, who wound up throwing 114 pitches.
Entering with a 14-2 record and a 2.12 ERA, Severino lasted just five innings for the second straight time, charged with four runs on nine hits and one walk.
Kluber (12-5) came in with a 2.49 ERA, and was coming off seven shutout innings last Saturday against Oakland.
And the right-hander managed to last 7.1 innings but was charged with six runs on eight hits with two walks and nine strikeouts.
Aroldis Chapman recorded the save, his first appearance since being forced off the Toronto mound last Saturday due to a flare-up of left knee tendinitis, though he’d been cleared to pitch since last Sunday.
The last time the Yankees were in this ballpark, they were spraying champagne around the visitor’s clubhouse.
Last October, Gregorius hit two home runs off Kluber, who was knocked out in the fourth inning of the Yankees’ Division Series Game 5 clincher.
And after dropping the first two games of the best-of-five series against the favored, 102-win Indians, Joe Girardi’sYankees advanced to the AL Championship Series- pushing eventual world champion Houston to a full seven games.
On Thursday night, Gregorius quickly picked up where he left off against Kluber, leading off the fourth with a home run to center.
Brett Gardner had already pulled a game-tying, two-run homer to right with two out in the third inning, which began when Miguel Andujar doubled high off the tall left field wall.
Not long after Kluber was chased by Hicks’ eighth-inning RBI double, Greg Bird’s sac fly off reliever Ollie Perez — who was in the Yankees’ system earlier this season — made it 6-4.
The Indians’ woeful bullpen took a further hit when Gardner drilled his ninth homer of the year off the right field foul pole.
After Gregorius’s 16th homer of the year, Giancarlo Stanton singled off Kluber and Hicks’s bunt was thrown into center field by catcher Yan Gomes, setting up Greg Bird’s go-ahead, RBI double to right-center field made it 4-3.
But after loading the bases with none out, Kluber got out of it by striking out Austin Romine and getting Neil Walker to line into a double play, keeping it a one-run game.
Severino gave up more home runs (2) than he totaled in strikeouts (1), on a night when even Cleveland’s outs against the right-hander were hard hit.
Francisco Lindor led off the first inning with a ringing double off the right field wall and scored on a Jose Ramirez single.
And after Ramirez was caught stealing by catcher Austin Romine’s throw, Edwin Encarnacion followed with a homer to left-center field — his 21st of the year.
Ramirez popped a game-tying, opposite-field homer that tied the game at 4 in the fifth.
In between Yonder Alonso delivered an RBI single in the third, whereupon Encarnacion (who had walked) got himself caught in a rundown between second and third.
In other words, it could have been worse.
Severino’s previous start on this road trip, last Saturday at Toronto, also lasted just five innings.
In that game, Severino gave up three runs — on a pair of home runs — but won his fifth straight start, 8-5, against the fourth-place Blue Jays.
And after giving up just six homers over his first 18 starts, Severino has now surrendered four homers in his last 10 innings.