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Corey Kluber was once among the most dominant pitchers in the game before injuries robbed him of two seasons. On Wednesday, he returned to his old self.
Corey Kluber didn’t have many good memories of pitching at Globe Life Field before taking the mound for the New York Yankees on Wednesday night.
Ten months ago, Kluber made his debut for the Texas Rangers on this same field to begin the 2020 season. The two-time Cy Young Award winner was looking to bounce back from a lost 2019 where he missed the final five months after a line drive shattered his forearm. His season, though, lasted one inning and 18 pitches; Kluber suffered a tear in his right shoulder, and another year was gone from the career of a pitcher who once dominated the game.
Those were the memories that Kluber took to the field on Wednesday. The Rangers, in a strange twist of fate, even reminded him of his brief stint with their club, offering the 31,000 fans in attendance unused Kluber bobbleheads that were supposed to be handed out last season. Kluber found another life with the Yankees and, against the team whose uniform he wore for one game, he reminded them that he still has the stuff he once did.
Kluber threw the 12th no-hitter in Yankees franchise history, and first since David Cone’s perfect game in 1999, allowing just one baserunner and striking out nine over 101 pitches. He’s already the sixth pitcher to throw a no-hitter this season and follows up the performance of the Tigers’ Spencer Turnbull just a day earlier.
Kluber took the clock back a few years, displaying the dazzling blend of pinpoint fastballs and sharp breaking balls that once elevated him to the upper echelon of the sport.
The Rangers hit just two balls hard off him, a liner to center by Adolis Garcia in the fourth and a grounder by Willie Calhoun in the sixth. As the game wore on, he came to rely more on his offspeed pitches to keep the Rangers off-balance and taking weak swings. He threw just four pitches above 90 mph over the final three innings; 11 of his 16 pitches in the eighth and ninth innings were either changeups or curveballs.
‘Klubot’ wasn’t fazed by the enormity of the moment
If Kluber was nervous knowing he was chasing history, he never showed it. He has the ideal demeanor for a high-pressure situation, never changing his expression, never showing emotion, never appearing flustered. He fits his nickname, ‘Klubot,’ perfectly, for at times he displays the precision of a machine.
After getting Charlie Culberson on a ground out to begin the ninth, pinch-hitter David Dahl lined a ball to right. Tyler Wade, who came on to replace Ryan LaMarre in the third and who had only 11 games of experience in right-field over his career, ranged to his left and made the catch on the run. That was the only tense moment Kluber faced. Two pitches later he got Calhoun to ground out to shortstop Gleyber Torres playing the shift to the left of second base and was mobbed by his teammates. Finally, he had a reason to crack a smile.
This type of performance is what baseball fans once came to expect from Kluber. Over a five-year span from 2014 to 2018, Kluber had the fourth-lowest ERA among starting pitchers, the second-most wins, and the third-most strikeouts. He won two Cy Youngs, in 2014 and 2017, and in 2016 carried the Cleveland Indians to within one win of the World Series title, compiling a 1.83 ERA in six starts that postseason.
Then came the injuries. Manager Aaron Boone stopped short of calling it a fairy tale after the game, but it’s pretty close.
“That’s certainly a part of it,” Boone said. “Everyone’s got a story. I think the one thing with Corey is, he’s come here and…become entrenched in our culture and embraced in the clubhouse. I think beloved by everyone.”
“I’m excited for him and his story. What he’s been through as a Cy Young Award winner, one of the dominant pitchers of the game. Obviously, coming back from what he’s been through the past couple of years. To work to this point, of course I’m excited for that.”
Kluber has rewarded the Yankees’ faith in him. He’s 4-0 with a 1.78 ERA over his last five starts. After two frustrating and injury-riddled seasons, the old Kluber is back and as good as ever.