Bieber was ridiculously efficient, needing just 58 pitches to get through the first five innings while striking out five. It was his major league-leading third complete game of the year. He broke a five-way tie for the big-league lead by going the distance for the first time since his shutout in Toronto on July 24.
Bieber finished the game with 107 pitches and eight strikeouts, giving him 300 career punchouts in just 44 games. He becomes the second-fastest pitcher in Indians history to reach the mark as Herb Score did so in his first 40 outings. He was able to make adjustments in the early going that baffled L.A. hitters.
“We noticed pretty early that they were going to be swinging early and just tried to take advantage of that, being in the zone as much as we could, especially with the off-speed stuff,” Bieber said. “I just hung with Bebo (Roberto Perez) all game. He called a great game and they made great plays made behind me. That made it definitely easier.”
Meanwhile, Indians hitters are averaging better than 5.4 runs per game since June 4. They clubbed three more home runs against Los Angeles in support of Bieber’s effort, giving them seven in the series. The Indians swept L.A. for the first time since September of 2017 and have won 21 out of their last 25 matchups with the Halos.
The win keeps Cleveland two games ahead of Tampa Bay in the American League Wild Card chase and three games behind Minnesota in the AL Central Division.
Bieber, who took a tough-luck loss Tuesday when he allowed just two runs in seven innings against Houston, has won four of his last six decisions. Francona said Bieber’s performance is paralleling Corey Kluber’s career when he began to take off as an ace.
“Like Kluber, when he hits a point in the season, he holds it,” Francona said. “Bieber has those trends and characteristics because all of the things we talk about, his hard work. I think you can go back six or seven years ago, and everything I said about Kluber, probably just put in Bieber’s name and it would be true, which is a big compliment to Bieber.”
Bieber (11-4, 3.34) benefited from some home run help early thanks to the top of manager Terry Francona’s batting order, and clutch hits from a surging Jason Kipnis as the game wore on. Kipnis smacked a solo home run in the fourth and added a two-run single in the fifth that stretched the Tribe lead to 5-1. Kipnis has hits in six of his last seven games, including three multi-hit efforts.
Since June 16, the 32-year-old infielder is batting .315 with six doubles, nine homers, 36 RBI and 26 runs scored. He’s recorded an extra-base hit in five straight games and has not struck out in 43 straight plate appearances.
“We’re just in one of those grooves right now where we’re really confident going up to the plate,” Kipnis said. “We have a plan each at-bat, we have a plan each day and a routine that I think it’s very important to me right now that I have to stick to that routine because it’s working so well.”
Oscar Mercado put Cleveland in front with a solo home run to center against Angels starter Jaime Barria (5-4, 6.36) in the first. The rookie’s ninth homer gave him 32 RBI and 46 runs scored. Francisco Lindor pushed the lead to 2-0 when he belted a 2-2 slider from Barria to deep center field in the third.
Lindor’s blast gives him 20 or more homers in three consecutive seasons. He’s just the second Indians shortstop to accomplish that feat, joining Woodie Held (1959-61). The All-Star shortstop added an RBI sacrifice fly in the eighth to give Bieber a little more breathing room with a four-run lead.
The Angels’ Albert Pujols cut the lead in half with an RBI single in the fourth, and Kole Calhoun’s solo home run off Bieber in the seventh trimmed Cleveland’s advantage to three. But Bieber settled in and retired the final eight batters, getting Trout on a fly ball to right in the ninth before striking out Shohei Ohtani and getting Pujols on a grounder to third.
An unlucky bounce in the first inning kept the Indians from adding to their lead when Puig stole third and appeared to score as Barria’s pitch skipped away from catcher Max Stassi. But the ball hopped over the fence behind home plate and Puig was sent back to third before Jose Ramirez struck out to end the inning.
The Texas Rangers ride into Cleveland to open a three-game series at 7:10 p.m. tonight against the Indians at Progressive Field. Rookie right-hander Aaron Civale (1-0, 0.00) will be recalled from Triple-A Columbus to start for the Tribe, while Texas sends righty Ariel Jurado (6-6, 4.92) to the mound.
Civale made his big-league debut June 22 in a spot start against Detroit, throwing six scoreless innings and allowing two hits while striking out six. Jurado has never faced the Indians.