Other than the rain, it was the perfect formula the Indians have been using to win.
The Tribe took an early lead, manufactured runs and played small ball in a three-run third inning, then rode solid starting pitching and the bullpen to a 6-1 victory over Kansas City on Friday night. Danny Salazar pitched five strong innings, to out-pitch veteran Jason Vargas before a 45-minute rain delay cut his evening short. The scrappy, Indians offense used three hits in the third inning that didn’t travel more than 150-feet each to take control of the game.
Cleveland took the lead in the top of the second inning, courtesy of a bloop and a little blast. Jason Kipnis dropped a shallow single in over the infield with one out and moved to scoring position on Yan Gomes’ ground out to third base. Then, Zach Walters continued to drive in runs, gapping a double to the left center field gap, scoring Kipnis and giving the Indians a 1-0 lead.
The Tribe kept right on hustling, playing small ball, in the third inning when they took control of the game. Tyler Holt reached safely on a bunt single to start the inning and advanced to second on the errant throw by Vargas. After Michael Bourn struck out, Jose Ramirez singled to left and Holt slid home to beat the throw at the plate, giving the Indians a 2-0 lead.
Ramirez kept the offense moving while on the base paths when he stole second base. Michael Brantley reached on an infield hit in the hole at shortstop. Alcides Escobar fielded the grounder, but had no play at any base. Carlos Santana kept the mini-hit parade going, dropping a single in to right center field that scored Ramirez and moved Brantley to third. Kipnis grounded into a fielder’s choice, scoring Brantley, and the Indians led 4-0 after three innings without a sharply hit ball in the inning.
Vargas (10-7) survived six innings, tossing the ball well despite the loss. He pitched six innings, allowing four runs on 10 hits, while striking out five and he did not walk a batter. It was only the sixth time in 25 starts this season that Vargas allowed more than three runs in a start.
Salazar’s (5-6) was cut short when the storms in the Kansas City air finally opened up after his first pitch in the sixth inning. The young, fireballer scattered four hits—allowing a single in each inning from the second to the fifth, but never allowing the Royals to put together an inning. He walked a pair and struck out three in his five shutout innings. For Salazar, it was his fourth start in August in which he did not allow more than two runs in the start. Only his poor performance in Cincinnati on Aug. 6 doesn’t meet the standard.
After the 45 minute rain delay, Indians manager Terry Francona went to his bullpen. C.C. Lee pitched a scoreless sixth inning before Kyle Crockett, Scott Atchison and Marc Rzepczynski worked their way through a rocky seventh inning. Bryan Shaw kept the zeros next to Kansas City’s name in the eighth and Santana hit his 22nd homer of the season in the ninth. Santana’s 410-foot blast to left center field gave the Indians a 6-0 lead and sealed the win for Cleveland.
Josh Tomlin pitched the bottom of the ninth, allowing a run on three straight singles. Escobar drove in the run to make it 6-1, but Kansas City could not scrape any closer and the Tribe took the first game of a key, three-game series. The Indians are now 4.5 games back for the Central Division lead and four back in the Wild Card race.
The Indians banged out 13 hits Friday night, including a pair from Ramirez. Ramirez has registered a hit in seven of his last eight games, including six multi-hit games in the same span. Gomes and Santana each had two hits and Brantley had three in the game. Santana drove in three of the Tribe’s six runs.
Saturday the Indians will try to keep their winning ways going and climb closer to first place. Winners of five of their last six the Feisty Featherheads will send Trevor Bauer (5-7, 4.18) to the mound to keep the momentum going. He’ll be opposed by Kansas City’s James Shields (12-7, 3.45).
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