CLEVELAND — Sonny Gray deserved better.
Thrust into the thick of the AL East division race after being on a last-place club in Oakland, Gray showed why Brian Cashman surrendered three prospects to get him in his Yankee debut on Thursday night, producing groundballs and featuring filthy breaking stuff.
And if this start is any indication of what’s to come, the 27-year-old righty seems like a guy you want on the mound in a big spot come October — if the Bombers get that far. But Gray couldn’t overcome the atrocious defense behind him in the first inning — and the Yankees were neutralized by the man simply known in Cleveland as “Klubot.”
“That’s probably as bad a first inning as we’ve had all year,” Joe Girardi said after the Bombers committed three errors in the first that led to two unearned runs in their 5-1 loss to the defending AL champion Indians at Progressive Field.
Kluber, who came in ranked fourth among MLB starters in WAR behind only Chris Sale, Max Scherzer and Luis Severino, threw a dominant complete game in which he gave up a run on three hits, walked one and struck out 11.
“His stuff was dynamite, but we have been sluggish offensively, and we have to figure it out,” Girardi said.
In their last five games (1-4), the Yankees have scored just 14 runs while hitting .181 — including .171 with runners in scoring position.
Despite the recent team-wide struggles at the plate, the defensive blunders took center stage Thursday.
Inexperienced first baseman Chase Headley booted a routine grounder, rookie second baseman Tyler Wade did the same, and Clint Frazier airmailed a throw to third on Jose Ramirez’s RBI single that went into the stands and made it 2-0 Indians, all in the first frame. Gray ultimately gave up four runs (two earned) on four hits in six innings. He walked three and struck out six.
But Gary Sanchez’s 427-foot solo shot off Kluber with one out in the seventh was all the Yankees could muster.
“I was excited,” Gray said. “I was looking forward to this moment for a while. It’s been a while since I’ve been out there on the mound. Overall, I felt pretty good. But at the same time, I came up just a little short there at the end.”
Of late, the Yankees have gotten better performances from the struggling Masahiro Tanaka (2.89 ERA last eight starts), Aroldis Chapman (five straight scoreless appearances) and Dellin Betances (0.71 ERA last 12 appearances).
But they still need to hit, and they still need to field. Nevertheless, Gray looked steady, and he could line up nicely in front or behind Severino in a playoff series.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about winning,” Gray said. “No matter what happens on the field after the ninth inning — if you win the game you’re going to be happy, and when you come away with a loss it kind of leaves a bad feeling in your stomach. We want to win in any way possible, and we just weren’t able to do that tonight.”