A key RBI-single from Carlos Santana in the bottom of the eighth inning proved to be the difference on Wednesday night as the Cleveland Indians eliminated the Kansas City Royals from the AL Central race with a 4-3 victory.
Another impressive start from Corey Kluber paved the way for the Indians as the offense struggled to score against Ian Kennedy, but got just enough to claim a big win. Kluber worked a quality start again and equaled his career high of 18 wins, set in 2014 when he took home the AL Cy Young Award. His performance against the Royals did not hurt his candidacy for a shot at a second piece of the top pitching hardware.
Cleveland used the first of its six doubles on the night to put the first run of the game on the scoreboard in the second inning. Jose Ramirez doubled off of the wall in right and scored on a single by Lonnie Chisenhall to give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
The Royals struck back for two the following inning to jump on top. With two outs, Kansas City put together four straight singles, starting with Whit Merrifield’s hit to right. Eric Hosmer followed with his own base hit to right before Kendrys Morales tied the game with a single the opposite way to left. The fourth straight hit, coming off of the bat of All-Star catcher Salvador Perez, scored Hosmer to give KC a 2-1 lead.
The Indians would strand a pair in the third and fourth innings before they doubled their fun in the fifth. Santana led off the inning with a double deep to right before he scored on a double to the gap in right-center by Jason Kipnis. He would move to third on a fly out from Francisco Lindor, but Mike Napoli popped out for the second out. As fate would have it, Ramirez used his clutch gene to earn a hustle double to the gap in left-center, driving in Kipnis before Chisenhall struck out swinging. The three two-baggers put the Tribe back on top, 3-2.
Cleveland kept putting runners on base, but struggled to do anything more. Rajai Davis singled to start the bottom half of the sixth, but was caught stealing. Tyler Naquin followed with a walk, but was stranded. In the seventh, the Indians loaded the bases on a leadoff double from Kipnis, a two-out walk by Ramirez, and a hit by pitch by pinch-hitter Abraham Almonte. Davis grounded into a force at second to end the threat as the Tribe’s struggles with the bases loaded continued.
After solid relief work by Andrew Miller and Bryan Shaw in the seventh and eighth innings, the Indians got a big insurance run in the bottom of the eighth against Kevin McCarthy. Naquin singled to center and moved to second on a sacrifice. Santana lined a single back up the middle, scoring Naquin from second, but the Tribe’s leadoff hitter was caught between first and second for the second out of the inning before Kipnis struck out.
The RBI from Santana would turn out to be a gigantic run as Perez hit a towering fly off of closer Cody Allen into the bleachers in left that might have scraped the clouds had it not been a crystal clear night in Cleveland. With the score now 4-3, Alex Gordon worked a walk after a lengthy battle with Allen and was lifted for pinch-runner Terrance Gore. The speedster was gunned down trying to steal second by catcher Roberto Perez, who earned the honor of being the first catcher to throw out Gore in a regular season game. Alcides Escobar grounded out to second for the second out and Cheslor Cuthbert lined to Naquin in center to end the game.
The save was Allen’s 28th of the season in 31 tries.
The Indians (88-63) knocked their magic number down to five with the victory, their 51st home win of the season. That number could have been reduced further, but the Detroit Tigers were postponed against the Minnesota Twins after rains hit in the third inning there. Cleveland trails the Texas Rangers by one full game in the standings – the two clubs are equal in the loss column, but the Rangers have played and won two more games than the Indians.
The Royals (77-75) were officially eliminated from contention in the AL Central, falling to 11.5 games in back of Cleveland with ten games left on their schedule. Their AL Wild Card hopes also took a hit as, despite losses from current leaders Toronto and Baltimore, the other four teams ahead of them in the standings gained ground with victories (except the idle Tigers). KC trails the second spot by five games.
KLUBER CONTINUES QUALITY WORK
Kluber (18-9, 3.11 ERA) gave the Indians exactly what they needed on the mound once again. He limited the Royals to just two runs over six and one-third innings, walking two batters while striking out nine.
He improved to 3-1 in the month of September with a 3.29 ERA in four starts. His 35 strikeouts are tied with Chicago’s Chris Sale for the most in baseball in the month.
KENNEDY KEPT IT CLOSE
Kennedy (11-10, 3.64) took the tough loss, his first in his last eleven starts after entering the game with a 5-0 record in that span. He allowed three runs on ten hits with a pair of walks and four strikeouts over five and two-thirds innings. The run allowed by his bullpen teammate turned out to be the difference in the ball game.
Ramirez racked up doubles in each of his first three at bats before earning a walk in his final plate appearance on the night. He was 3-for-3 at the plate, pushing his batting average up to .315, tops on the club.
NO SLOWING DOWN SANTANA
Santana’s September numbers were already healthy before he put up four hits in five at bats against the Royals on Wednesday. The effort pushed his on-base percentage for the month to .437, second to only Mike Trout in the AL among players with at least 50 at bats logged this month.
He had three singles and a double, including what was ultimately the deciding RBI hit in the eighth. He also scored a run in the contest while pushing his batting average to .251 and his OBP to .358 for the season.
LINDOR IN NEED OF REST?
Lindor extended his hitless game streak to four straight with an 0-for-4 at the plate. He has struck out once in each of his last nine games. He has just three hits over his last 35 at bats, causing his batting average to drop from one of the top marks in the league at .319 to its current standing at .306.
BUST OUT THE BROOMS?
The Indians will go for the sweep on Thursday of the Royals while aiming to chip away at their steadily declining magic number.
Rookie righty Mike Clevinger (2-2, 4.76) will look to prove his worth for the postseason rotation picture while making his ninth start of the season for manager Terry Francona. He has allowed a solo homer in each of his last two starts since returning to the rotation, with both blasts providing the only damage against him in a pair of four-inning outings. The Royals will send out lefty Jason Vargas (0-0, 3.00), who will make just his second start of the season after being activated from the 60-day disabled list. He went three innings in his first start back at the Major League level after undergoing Tommy John surgery last season.
The series finale from Progressive Field is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images