By William Kosileski and Brian McTaggart
CLEVELAND -- Michael Brantley does not look like he's missed a beat. In a 7-6 victory over the Astros at Progressive Field on Wednesday night, the Indians left fielder continued his impressive comeback with a pair of hits and three RBIs to pace the Tribe's offense.
"Getting him back in name is one thing," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But getting him back as the player he was is pretty impressive on his part. I think the more repetition he gets, you're starting to see him get some timing. That's good."
Brantley, who was limited to 11 games in 2016 due to right shoulder issues, used an RBI double in the first to spark an early rally off Astros starter Lance McCullers Jr. Brantley later added a two-run single off the right-hander in the fifth. Carlos Santana delivered a two-run double in the sixth to pad the Indians' lead just enough for them to hold on for the win.
Indians starter Trevor Bauer went six innings and allowed four runs -- Evan Gattis and Brian McCann each connected for a two-run home run -- while striking out eight en route to his second win of the season. In his six career starts against the Astros, Bauer is now 6-0 with a 2.61 ERA and has allowed seven earned runs in 38 innings.
McCullers was handed his first loss of the season after going five innings and allowing five runs on seven hits. He has a 9.74 ERA in two road starts this year. The Astros rallied late, as Marwin Gonzalez added a two-run double off Indians reliever Bryan Shaw to cut it to a one-run game, but closer Cody Allen came in to record the four-out save.
"I just didn't throw the ball well in the first and didn't start well," McCullers said. "I didn't finish the fifth well. I felt a little in my groove there in the middle innings, keeping us in it pretty decent. Sometimes that stuff happens early on, and you have to hang in there the best you can as far as the game goes on and give yourself a chance to win. I felt I did that until the fifth."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Not this time: Following Josh Reddick's leaping catch at the wall to rob Jason Kipnis of a home run on Tuesday, the Indians tested the Astros center fielder early in Wednesday's game. After the first two Tribe hitters reached, Brantley drove an 0-2 pitch to deep left-center, where Reddick was unable to make the catch as he banged against the wall. Two hitters later, Ramirez also sent a pitch to left-center. Reddick attempted to make a diving catch in the gap, but the ball hit off his glove, allowing Brantley to score to give the Indians a 3-0 lead.
"They were tough," Reddick said. "Brantley got his pretty good, and I felt I should have caught both of them. I had the second one in my glove and just popped out on the landing. Very frustrating for me, especially knowing deep down I should have had them."
Miller escapes a jam: After six innings, Bauer left the game with a 7-4 lead and was replaced by Indians reliever Andrew Miller. The left-hander struck out Norichika Aoki to start the inning, but an error by Santana at first allowed Gonzalez to reach base safely. The next two hitters, Reddick and Carlos Beltran, reached via a walk and a hit-by-pitch, respectively, loading the bases with one out. Miller then got back-to-back strikeouts of Carlos Correa and McCann to end the inning. It took the left-hander 35 pitches to get out of the inning.
"They really pushed him," Francona said. "You saw in the end, not just his ability to have good stuff and pitch, but his competitiveness. He reached back for some really good stuff there, and he needed it. They made him work really hard. That was fun to watch. That was a fun game to watch. That was two good teams playing."
"It was very frustrating for me, as you could see. I didn't feel like it was a strike so I felt like I had to voice my opinion." -- Reddick, who was visibly upset after grounding out to end the eighth in an at-bat in which he thought a 2-0 pitch was a ball, not a called strike
"He's such an unheralded player, and I think after missing a year, it's literally like getting a middle-of-the-order bat to sign as a free agent. It's a new player for them, even though he's been around. He's such a good competitor." -- Astros manager A.J. Hinch, on Brantley
WHAT'S NEXT Astros: Right-hander Mike Fiers (0-1, 5.40) gets the start in Thursday's 5:10 p.m. CT series finale against the Indians at Progressive Field on MLB.TV. All three runs he allowed in his most recent outing came on solo home runs, and he's allowed six homers in 15 innings this season (five solo shots).
Indians: Ace Corey Kluber (2-1, 4.28 ERA) is scheduled to make his fifth start of the season in Thursday's 6:10 p.m. ET series finale with the Astros on MLB.TV. The right-hander is coming off his strongest performance of the season, pitching a three-hit shutout against the White Sox on Friday.