Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was nearly the goat on Wednesday night, but he turned out to be the hero instead.
After making an error that led to a go-ahead Kansas City run in the sixth inning, the JK-Kid provided the Tribe their deciding blow in their 5-3 victory over the Royals. Kipnis’ heroics came on the heels of a strong performance by Tribe starter Justin Masterson (0-0, 4.50), who swapped no-decisions with KC lefty Jason Vargas (2-0, 1.54).
The Royals, who had hit only 7 homeruns coming into the game, slugged their way onto the board first in the second inning. First, catcher Salvador Perez snapped a 0-22 slump at the plate by crushing a one-out solo homerun over the centerfield wall in the second inning. The homer was Perez’s first of the young season after he broke out with 13 during his first All-Star year in 2013. The very next batter, Mike Moustakas, followed with a dinger of his own into the KC bullpen for a 2-0 Royals lead. It was Moustakas’ third homerun of the year and his second in as many games.
The Tribe answered right back in the bottom half of the second, when back to back singles by Asdrubal Cabrera and Yan Gomes got the rally started with one out. A fielder’s choice by Mike Aviles put runners at the corners with two down and then Michael Bourn split the right-centerfield gap for a two run triple that tied the ballgame at 2-2. The hit was Bourn’s second of three on the evening.
It took the teams until the top of the sixth to cross home plate again, when both team’s defenses fell completely apart. First, in the top of the frame, Kansas City delivered an unearned run off of Masterson when Eric Hosmer led off with a single into center. He should have been forced at second on a groundball fielder’s choice to Cabrera, but the throw was a little low and was dropped by the second baseman Kipnis for his E-4. The error—already the 21st of the season by Cleveland—proved costly because three batters later Moustakas made the Indians pay with a two-out, RBI single down the right field line. The base knock gave the Royals a 3-2 lead, but the Tribe was able to fight back again after some more shoddy defense.
With one out in the bottom of the sixth, the Royals “matched” the Tribe’s miscue after Michael Brantley hit a soft liner into right field for a single. With Gomes at the plate, Brantley took off on Vargas’ 2-1 pitch and slid into second base safely as Perez’s throw skipped into centerfield. While Brantley was hustling to third base, the ball scooted under the glove of centerfielder Jarrod Dyson for a double-error that allowed Brantley to run all the way home to tie the score at 3-3.
After the Royals started threatening in the top of the seventh with two runners on base, Masterson was pulled in favor of lefthander Marc Rzepczynski, who retired Hosmer on a strikeout. Scrabble was then pulled for righthander Bryan Shaw, who was able to end the threat by getting Billy Butler to fly out to right. That closed the book on Masterson, who took a no decision after allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits in 6.1 innings.
Just as the Indians pulled their starter, Kansas City also went to their bullpen in the seventh as Kelvin Herrera took over for Vargas. His outing was not as productive as those of the Tribe relievers, as Herrera allowed singles to Bourn and Nick Swisher before Kipnis roped his double into the gap that gave the Indians their first lead of the ballgame at 4-3. The lead could have been extended even more, if Bourn had not been erased trying to steal for the inning’s second out.
Shaw and Cody Allen worked a scoreless eighth inning before the Indians added some insurance off of reliever Wade Davis in the eighth inning. Back-to-back walks to pinch hitter David Murphy and Brantley was followed by a bunt single to Cabrera to load the bases with nobody out. A Gomes strikeout brought up Lonnie Chisenhall, who pinch hit for Aviles and blooped an RBI single into left. Chisenhall’s first RBI of the season pushed the score to 5-3 and marked the first run that the Indians have scored in the eighth inning of any game all season.
John Axford worked the ninth inning and slammed the door shut for his league-leading eighth save of the season.
The four-game series will conclude on Thursday in a 12:05 matinee contest at Progressive Field. Corey Kluber (1-2, 5.40) is scheduled to take the hill for the Tribe and oppose veteran lefthander Bruce Chen (1-1, 6.60). The game can be seen on Fox Sports/SportsTime Ohio and can be heard on the Cleveland Indians Radio Network.
Photo: Marc Duncan/AP Photo