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Axford meltdown in 9th sends Indians to 4-3 loss

CLEVELAND – Three outs from their first three-game winning streak this season, the Cleveland Indians stumbled into a crushing loss.

John Axford gave up a three-run homer to Dayan Viciedo in the ninth inning Sunday, silencing the small crowd of 13,455 at Progressive Field that watched a 4-3 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

Corey Kluber struck out a career-high 13 in eight innings, including an Indians-record seven straight. Backup catcher George Kottaras, who had been in the minor leagues until Saturday, became the first Cleveland player to homer in his first two plate appearances with the team.

One swing by Viciedo changed everything. Axford, who walked two before giving up the home run on a 96 mph four-seamer, took full responsibility.

“I fell behind in the count to too many guys, and it didn’t work out,” he said. “I put two guys on base without me even challenging. I just couldn’t find it. The home run was on a fastball. Not a very good pitch, obviously.”

Axford (0-2) walked Gordon Beckham leading off the ninth, but struck out Jose Abreu. Adam Dunn walked, and Viciedo homered on a 2-2 pitch.

Kluber, who allowed three hits and two walks, left with a 3-1 lead after 110 pitches.

Indians manager Terry Francona, citing pitch count and the narrow lead, didn’t second guess himself for pulling Kluber.

“If anyone got on base, he was going to come out of the game, and I didn’t think that was fair to him,” Francona said.

Kluber had no problem with Francona’s strategy.

“That’s not my decision. I trust Tito’s judgment,” he said.

Kluber’s streak began when he struck out Gordon Beckham and Abreu for the final two outs of the third. He fanned Dunn, Viciedo and Ramirez in the fourth, and Jordan Danks and Tyler Flowers struck out beginning the fifth. Leury Garcia broke the streak by walking on a 3-2 pitch, and Kluber struck out Alejandro De Aza.

Kluber fell two strikeouts short of the AL record set by Doug Fister for Detroit against Kansas City on Sept. 27, 2012. Tom Seaver holds the major league record of 10 for the New York Mets against San Diego on April 22, 1970.

Cleveland’s previous mark was six by Bob Feller, Bartolo Colon, Chuck Finley and Mitch Talbot.

“It’s pretty cool to be mentioned in the same sentence as Bob Feller,” Kluber said. “It’s a nice byproduct of having a good game. I wasn’t keeping track. I just tried to stay in the flow of the game and keep it going.”

“He pitched his heart out,” Francona said. “That’s about as good as you can pitch.”

Axford has blown two saves in 11 chances, both against Chicago. He gave up a walkoff homer to Alexei Ramirez in the ninth inning on April 13 at Chicago.

“As a closer, when you have a hiccup, sometimes you lose a game,” Francona said.

Kottaras, whose contract was selected from Triple-A Columbus when Yan Gomes was placed on the paternity leave list, hit solo homers in the third and fourth. Kottaras had been 2 for 25 (.080) in the minors.

“I wasn’t planning on it,” he said of his day at the plate. “I wanted to go out and help in any way I could. It was a good time out there.”

Lonnie Chisenhall had an RBI single for Cleveland in the third.

Indians center fielder and leadoff hitter Michael Bourn missed the game because of tightness in his left hamstring.

Four of Abreu’s five hits against the Indians this season have been homers.

Chicago broke an eight-game losing streak at Progressive Field, it had lost 20 of its previous 26.

“It hasn’t been good to us here so to be able to come back and take one like this is pretty nice,” Chicago manager Robin Ventura said.

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