A two-out ninth inning rally by the Cleveland Indians, capped by alert base running, a game-tying triple, and a walk-off sacrifice fly, stunned the world champion Royals, 5-4, in Thursday’s big series opener with Kansas City.
Ahead a run in the bottom of the ninth, Royals manager Ned Yost brought in reliever Joakim Soria (2-2, 3.81 ERA) instead of his usual closer Wade Davis, who had worked in the club’s last two games and three of their last four. The Indians took full advantage, as leadoff man Carlos Santana singled to right to start the rally and alertly picked up an extra base as the right fielder Paulo Orlando, who just entered as a defensive replacement, was slowed in getting the ball back into the infield after slipping. Michael Martinez ran for Santana at second and advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Jason Kipnis that was bang-bang at first. Francisco Lindor then delivered the biggest hit of the night, a clutch triple just past the diving Orlando in right to score Martinez and tie the game at four.
Mike Napoli ended the game after a pair of big home run hacks that came up empty. He lofted the third pitch of his at bat into medium deep left-center. Jarrod Dyson made the catch, but his throw to the plate was not nearly in time to catch Lindor, who scored the game-winning run to give the Indians back-to-back walk-off victories at Progressive Field.
“Seeing Santana, the way he hustled, as soon as he hit the ball he went to second. He knew he wanted to get to second, he knew he was an important run,” shared Lindor after the game. “As soon as he missed the ball he went to second base. He’s not the fastest guy on the team, but he had that in mind and that’s huge. Then Kippy comes in, one of the best hitters on the team, sacrifices himself to get to me. It was just a matter of getting the barrel to the ball.”
“You don’t see that very often,” said Indians manager Terry Francona after the game. “Carlos put himself in a position where, maybe he kinda helped the miscue because if you don’t push it that one doesn’t happen, and getting himself in a position to not only maybe cause it but to be in a position where he could move up, which kind of set up the inning.”
With the magic back for a second straight day, the Indians (28-24) start off the biggest series of the early season with a win. Cleveland is now 26-6 when scoring four runs or more this season. The Royals (30-23) were 24-0 when leading this season after seven innings and 27-0 when leading after eight. They fall to 11-16 on the road this season.
“That’s why I love this team, because everyday it’s gonna be someone different,” said Lindor. “I’m excited, I’m excited, I can’t say it enough. It means a lot. It means my team doesn’t quit. No matter who’s in the other dugout, we’re going to go all out. We’re going to play nine innings, ten innings, twelve. However long it takes. I keep on saying it, everyday it’s someone different. That’s why we believe in each other and we’ve gotta continue to push each other so we can be the best team out there.”
The Tribe now trails the Royals by just a game and a half in the AL Central. Tommy Hunter (2-1, 3.75) got the win.
The Indians got on the board early before the Royals began an obnoxious habit of responding to Cleveland runs.
With Yordano Ventura on the mound, the Indians put three straight singles together to knock in the first run of the night. Napoli singled to left, moved to second on an infield single for Jose Ramirez, and scored on a single to right by Lonnie Chisenhall.
It took just two batters in the third for the Royals to take the lead against Indians starter Carlos Carrasco. Dyson singled to center and Drew Butera, in heavy rotation behind the plate for Kansas City with Salvador Perez limited by injury, deposited a two-run homer to the home run porch in left to put KC on top, 2-1.
Cleveland responded with a big two-out hit in the third. With one down, Lindor reached on a shot fielded by Eric Hosmer way off of the bag at first. His throw to Ventura was off the mark and Butera, backing up the play, inadvertently knocked the ball out of play, allowing Lindor to take second on the error. Napoli struck out on a low fastball to wrap up an eight-pitch at bat, but with two outs, Ramirez delivered with a single to right, driving in Lindor to tie the game at two.
As would be the story all game long, the Royals responded again to take the lead. After Carrasco retired the first two batters on six pitches, Reymond Fuentes singled to right. He moved to second on a single to center from Cheslor Cuthbert. Dyson delivered, despite Carrasco working the count full after falling behind 3-0, as his single to left drove in Fuentes to give Kansas City a 3-2 lead.
The Royals added another in the sixth against reliever Austin Adams. After striking out Fuentes to start the inning, Adams gave up a long ball to Cuthbert to extend the KC lead to two runs.
Cleveland made it a one-run game again against the difficult Kansas City bullpen in the bottom of the eighth. Napoli reached on an infield single and advanced to second on the throwing error by shortstop Alcides Escobar. Ramirez struck out swinging before a walk on four straight to Chisenhall. Yan Gomes grounded into a fielder’s choice, with Chisenhall out on the force at second, but a bad side-armed throw to first from Omar Infante was not in time to get Gomes. The Indians cashed in on the unofficial error, as Tyler Naquin singled to right to plate Napoli and make it a 4-3 game.
CARRASCO’S FIVE AND FLY
Carrasco entered with an expected pitch count of 80 and nearly hit it at 78 on the evening, lobbing 50 strikes in the process in his first game back off of the disabled list. He lasted five innings, giving up three runs on nine hits with a walk and two strikeouts. There was a lot of traffic on base, but he kept the damage to a minimum.
“I thought he threw the ball well,” said Francona. “He made a couple costly mistakes. The pitch to Butera, he’s trying to go down and away and it came back middle-middle.
“It’ll be nice to have him back and contributing because he’s a big guy for us.”
Carrasco entered the game with a 6-4 record in 16 games (eleven starts) against the Royals with a 3.57 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. He owned Kansas City in four starts in 2015, going 4-0 with a complete game shutout, a 1.55 ERA and 0.83 WHIP.
VENTURA MUCH IMPROVED THIS TIME OUT AGAINST CLEVELAND
Ventura took just his second career loss against Cleveland in early May, but looked to be a much different pitcher in Thursday’s contest. He gave the Royals six innings, allowing two runs (one earned) on seven hits with a pair of walks and three strikeouts and left in position to earn the win.
“We had some really good chances,” said Francona, “but Ventura has such a good arm that you gotta take care of some of that stuff yourself.”
BOTTOM HALF BOTHERS INDIANS
The bottom half of the Royals lineup did all of the damage against Indians pitching on the night. Fuentes and Cuthbert each had three-hit games, Dyson had two hits, and Butera led the bunch with two runs batted in on his only hit of the night, a home run in the third. Each scored a run in the game, accounting for all four KC runs. The quartet combined to go 9-for-15 (.600).
NAPOLI DOES HIS PART
Indians first baseman Napoli did his part to get the Tribe a win. He had a pair of singles, scored two runs on the night, and delivered the game-winning sacrifice fly.
HOCHEVAR HOLDING HIS OWN
Reliever Luke Hochevar had stranded 18 of 19 inherited runners entering the game Thursday. He added to that tally, stranding Rajai Davis in the seventh.
Cleveland is now 21-6 when scoring first this season.
CLEVINGER BACK TO COLUMBUS
Prior to the game, the Indians optioned starter Mike Clevinger to Triple-A Columbus in order to create roster space for Carrasco, who was activated from the 15-day disabled list.
Friday night will be another solid pitching matchup, as Kansas City will start right-hander Edinson Volquez (5-4, 3.74), while Cleveland will counter with their own righty, Danny Salazar (5-3, 2.39).
First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.
Photo: AP Photo/Tony Dejak