Carlos Santana supplied the Tribe with the deciding runs for the second straight night as his three-run home run in the bottom of the sixth inning broke a 2-2 tie while sending the Cleveland Indians to a 5-2 victory and three-game sweep over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night.
With the game knotted up at deuces and reliever Dillon Gee on for his second inning of work in relief of Kansas City starter Jason Vargas, Jason Kipnis was plunked by a pitch with the count full. Francisco Lindor worked a five-pitch walk before Mike Napoli popped up to short for the first out. Two pitches later, Santana hooked a homer into the seats in right to put Cleveland on top by a 5-2 count.
Dan Otero worked a second inning of relief in the seventh, getting a double play ball to erase a one-out single from Paulo Orlando. Bryan Shaw allowed an infield single to Jarrod Dyson to start the eighth and the swift KC outfielder moved to second on an error by Lindor, but he was stranded at third as Shaw got a groundout and back-to-back strikeouts of Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales to leave a big run at third.
Cody Allen worked an easier ninth this night, needing eight pitches to get a pair of groundouts and a fly out to earn his 29th save of the season.
The Indians jumped out early on Vargas, putting up two in the first from some of the usual sources of offense. With one down, Kipnis homered to right to give the Tribe a 1-0 advantage. The slumping Lindor drew a walk and Napoli struck out before a double to the gap in right center by Santana knocked in the All-Star shortstop with the second run of the game.
The Royals countered with a two-run punch with two outs in the next half inning against Indians starter Mike Clevinger. Alex Gordon singled to extend the inning and Alcides Escobar homered to tie the game at two.
Kansas City would get runners into scoring position in each of the next three innings, but Clevinger was able to work out of each jam to keep the game tied.
The Indians (89-63) completed the sweep one night after knocking the Royals out of the AL Central race. Their magic number dropped to four games with their win while they remain in full control of their playoff destiny. They will need some help from others to be able to clinch at home, as they have just three remaining home dates on the schedule this weekend as the Chicago White Sox come to Cleveland.
The Royals’ (77-76) three straight losses to the Tribe put their AL Wild Card hopes almost out of reach as well, with six teams still above them in the standings fighting for the two spots for the play-in game.
CLEVINGER CONTAINS KC
Clevinger drew a no-decision in the outing, but was able to reach the five-inning mark in his longest start since August 13, when he worked five and two-thirds innings in a grudge match against the team that drafted and traded him, the Los Angeles Angels.
He allowed two runs on four hits in his five and fly, walking two and striking out four while keeping the Indians in the game.
“He could have gone back out,” said manager Terry Francona on his decision to pull Clevinger after 80 pitches. “I just thought that trying to turn the lineup over one more time…you might be asking for trouble.”
Otero (5-1, 1.49 ERA) earned the win with two scoreless innings of relief, giving up a single while striking out two on the night.
VARGAS ALLOWED JUST TWO RBI HITS
Vargas similarly took a no-decision after leaving with four innings of work logged on the night.
Making just his second start of the 2016 season after working his way back from 2015 Tommy John surgery, the southpaw Vargas allowed just two runs on two hits and a walk while striking out four.
Gee (7-9, 4.63) took the loss in relief, allowing three runs on two hits with two walks and two hit batters in two and two-thirds innings of work.
NO SLOWING DOWN SANTANA AGAIN
Santana has been heating up while the weather should be cooling. He used the Royals for batting practice in the three-game midweek series, going 7-for-12 with two homers and six RBI. He was 2-for-3 on Thursday with a single, double, and a walk while driving in four.
In the month of September, Santana is now hitting .310 (22-for-71) with a .451 on-base percentage, six homers, and 17 RBI. He has hit at least six homers in each of the last five months and his RBI production for the month matches a single month high. His key three-run blast in the sixth inning extended his new career high to 34 blasts.
With their 52nd home win, the Indians have now put up their most home wins in a season since 1995, when the club had 54 wins in Cleveland in the shortened season.
Cleveland will play host to the Chicago White Sox and, hopefully, some large crowds over the weekend in the final home series of the regular season.
Right-hander Trevor Bauer (11-8, 4.24 ERA) will start the series opener. It will be his third start and fourth appearance of the season against the White Sox; he is winless with a 4.40 ERA and 0.98 WHIP in 14 1/3 innings. Miguel Gonzalez (4-7, 3.83) will counter for Chicago. The 32-year-old right-hander defeated Cleveland in his last start against them on September 12 in Chicago, allowing three runs on six hits in six and two-thirds innings.
Friday’s game is scheduled for a 7:10 PM ET start.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images