Josh Tomlin once again looked like a pitcher who could be counted on and pinch-hitter Brandon Guyer delivered the two-out walk-off single in the bottom of the ninth as the Cleveland Indians defeated the Kansas City Royals, 2-1, from Progressive Field on Tuesday night.
The Indians (87-63) reduced their magic number to six on the game-winner from their own number six while dealing the Royals (77-74) yet another blow to their fleeting hopes to defend their World Series title of a season ago.
The score was still tied 1-1, as it had been after the Royals scored in the top of the fifth against the Indians’ Tomlin. KC manager Ned Yost called upon left-hander Brian Flynn to relief Kelvin Herrera against a lefty and switch-hitting heavy portion of the Cleveland lineup.
Jose Ramirez worked a walk before Indians manager Terry Francona went to his bench, bringing on pinch-hitter Coco Crisp, who dropped down a bunt that Flynn was unable to field cleanly to put two on. Abraham Almonte bunted just out in front of the plate, allowing All-Star catcher Salvador Perez to throw out the lead runner Ramirez by plenty for the first out. Rajai Davis picked up the bat for Tyler Naquin as Yost went to veteran Joakim Soria. Davis connected, but his hit glanced off of Soria over to Eric Hosmer at first for the second out. With runners in scoring position, Francona went to his bench for the third time, bringing in the right-handed hitting Guyer for catcher Roberto Perez. He sliced a long drive into the right field corner that a sliding Paulo Orlando was unable to field, allowing Crisp to score the winning run.
The late inning heroics spelled an appropriate end to a well-pitched game from both dugouts.
Royals starter Edinson Volquez allowed singles in each of the first two innings, but in the third as the lineup turned over, Carlos Santana went first-pitch swinging and delivered the game’s first run on a big blast to right to give Cleveland a 1-0 lead.
Tomlin faced the minimum through the first four and one-third innings, giving up only a single in the second to Kendrys Morales, but he was thrown out trying to stretch it to a double. The next hits led to a scoring opportunity as Perez hit a ground-rule double to left and Alex Gordon drove him in with a single to left that Almonte misplayed, allowing his counterpart to reach second safely before Tomlin struck out Orlando and got Alcides Escobar to ground to second.
The Royals would threaten in each of the next two innings, but could not score. Cheslor Cuthbert singled to start the sixth and reached third after a sacrifice and a groundout, but a fly out from Kansas City’s top RBI man Hosmer left him standing at third. Gordon knocked out Tomlin with two outs in the top of the seventh on what was ruled a triple on a bad diving effort in center by Naquin, but Bryan Shaw came on from the bullpen and left Gordon at third as he got Orlando to line to right to end the second straight threat.
Cleveland would have similar struggles with runners on base, as batters reached in the fifth, sixth, and seventh against Volquez but could not get to the plate.
The victory for Cleveland was its eleventh walk-off of the season and the club’s 50th home victory on the season. Their lead in the AL Central remained at seven games over the second place Detroit Tigers.
Guyer’s game-winning hit was the first of his career.
TOMLIN TAKES A BIG STEP
After appearing lost and potentially unreliable for the coming postseason with his month-long struggles on the mound in August, Tomlin has put together back-to-back positive and strong starts on the mound for Cleveland.
On Tuesday, he went six and two-thirds innings, giving up a run on five hits with his usual zero walks and three strikeouts. Despite working deep into the ball game, he needed only 84 pitches to do so.
Tomlin pounded the strike zone early, throwing first pitch strikes to 18 of the 24 batters that he faced. When the ball was put in play, he kept it down, retiring 13 batters on the ground and just three through the air.
SANTANA SLUGS ANOTHER
Santana continued to build upon his new career homer high with his 33rd of the season for Cleveland. The blast was the 150th of his Major League career and the most by a switch-hitter in the American League since Mark Teixeira hit 39 in 2011.
Andrew Miller (9-1, 1.55 ERA) came on to work the final one and two-thirds innings for the Indians, entering with one down in the eighth. He would strike out three more batters on the night while retiring five in total. He was the pitcher of record when the Indians walked off, giving him his ninth win of the season while reducing his ERA to 1.55.
RECORD FOR NAPOLI
Mike Napoli set an all-time Indians record on Tuesday night, but it might not be the sort of record that he is too proud of. With his two strikeouts on the night, he equaled and then passed the franchise record for strikeouts in one season with 186.
The previous season-high in the category was 185 by Jim Thome in 2001. He hit .291 that season with 26 doubles, 49 homers, and 124 RBI in 156 games.
The Indians officially added starter Adam Plutko to the roster on Tuesday when they purchased his contract from Triple-A Columbus.
To make room on the 40-man roster, the Indians designated left-hander T.J. House for assignment.
Plutko is expected to work a bullpen session and will be available on Saturday in relief of Cody Anderson.
VOLQUEZ DID HIS PART
Volquez gave the Royals his first quality start since August 14 against Minnesota, when he allowed four runs (just two earned) in six innings in a win. He had been marred by some substantial run totals piled up against him, but he limited the Indians to just the Santana solo homer over six and two-thirds innings. He gave up four hits and walked three while striking out five on the night in the no-decision.
QUALITY MATCHUP WEDNESDAY
A pair of pitchers performing well of late will go toe-to-toe on Wednesday.
Corey Kluber (17-9, 3.12) will look to match his previous career high for wins in a season while continuing his Cy Young pace on the rubber. He is 9-1 with a 2.28 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in his last 13 outings, which included quality starts in eleven games. Right-hander Ian Kennedy (11-9, 3.60) is 5-0 with a 2.14 ERA and 1.06 WHIP in his last ten starts with seven quality starts.
First pitch from Progressive Field is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images