Cleveland used three runs in the final two frames to come from behind and defeat the Kansas City Royals on Saturday afternoon in a 3-1 final.
Josh Tomlin made his best start of the season and allowed just one run to the Royals, but heading into the late innings, it looked possible that the slumbering Indians lineup was not going to be able to defeat left-hander Jason Vargas, who has been pitching at an incredibly high level to start the season, and the Kansas City bullpen. The comeback victory for the Tribe (16-13) served as an important reminder of why games aren’t over until the 27th out, give or take some extenuating circumstances.
Tomlin did his part in giving the Indians every chance to win, facing one over the minimum through the first three innings to avoid some early game troubles. His teammates missed out on some opportunities in the early going, as the club got two on with two outs in the second on a fielder’s choice by Jason Kipnis and a hit by pitch by Brandon Guyer, but Yan Gomes flied to center to end the second. A two-out single by Michael Brantley the next inning put two on again, but Edwin Encarnacion grounded to second.
The Royals got to Tomlin in the fourth as Lorenzo Cain doubled to left with one out and scored as Eric Hosmer singled him home to give Kansas City a 1-0 lead. The hit extended the red-hot Hosmer’s hitting streak to ten straight.
Both pitchers were locked in in the middle innings. Tomlin retired eleven straight after the Hosmer single to end his outing, while Vargas walked Gomes to start the fifth before setting down six straight heading into the seventh. Kipnis reached on a head-first slide into first to start that inning, sending Ned Yost out of the dugout for another left-hander, rookie reliever Matt Strahm. He struck out Guyer before walking Gomes and both runners moved up on a groundout by Abraham Almonte. Hopes for a Tribe rally quickly disappeared, however, as Carlos Santana’s two-out fly ball to shallow left was caught by a diving Alex Gordon to save two runs as the Indians were down to their final six outs.
Joakim Soria relieved Strahm in the eighth and got a groundout to start the inning before Brantley and Encarnacion each singled, putting runners on the corners for Jose Ramirez. The little hitter with a big clutch gene struck out swinging for the second out, but Kipnis picked up his fellow infielder with a perfectly placed single up the middle past a diving Alcides Escobar to drive in Brantley and tie the game at 1-1. Lonnie Chisenhall grabbed a bat for Guyer, but struck out swinging after fouling off a handful of pitches to send the game to the bottom of the eighth.
Andrew Miller took over for Tomlin after seven, but Gordon started the inning by reaching safely on a low throw to first by Kipnis. Miller responded by retiring the next three in order, setting the stage for a magical ninth for the road team.
Closer Kelvin Herrera replaced Soria and moved quickly through the first two batters in the ninth, getting Gomes to fly to center before striking out Almonte swinging. In stepped Santana, who had no success whatsoever in his career against the hard-throwing right-hander. Despite an 0-for-14 effort against him lifetime with seven strikeouts, Santana lifted a 2-0 pitch and turned it into a sky scraping solo homer to right to put the Indians on top for the first time, 2-1. Francisco Lindor followed suit two pitches later, as his eighth homer of the year extended the Indians lead.
“Herrera has really good stuff. He throws hard. That’s why he’s the closer,” shared Santana after the game. “He has a very good changeup. I tried not to do too much off him. I tried to make good contact and make a home run.”
Terry Francona called upon closer Cody Allen for the save and he gave another nail-biting effort on the mound. After striking out the first batter of the inning, he walked Mike Moustakas on five pitches and gave up a single to center to Cain to bring the winning run to the plate with only one out in Hosmer. The first baseman grounded a slow roller to Kipnis that he turned into a force out at second as it was not hit hard enough to turn two. Drew Butera, the last hope for the Royals and taking his first looks on the day at the plate after entering for Perez in the ninth, popped up a 2-1 pitch to Ramirez in foul territory to end the game.
Allen earned save number eight in as many chances and Miller earned his second win of the season while the Royals fell to 10-19 on the year.
WHO’S THIS GUY?
For the first time this season, Tomlin did not factor in a decision on the mound. He deserved the win with the way that he pitched, but the offense did at least get him off of the hook for the loss with the game-tying single by Kipnis in the eighth.
He worked a season-high seven innings on the mound, giving up just one run on three hits with no walks and three strikeouts. He was aggressive with the zone, throwing 56 of his 76 pitches for strikes while averaging less than 11 pitches tossed per inning. He entered the day averaging 7.6 hits allowed per start (roughly 1.63 per inning), but held a Royals lineup that has struggled all year at the plate in check.
“I knew all four pitches were working pretty well,” said Tomlin. “They were in the zone. I was able to locate them. I knew where they were going.”
ENCARNACION IN THE FIELD
For the first time since April 15, Encarnacion got the start defensively at first base after being rested with a mild leg injury. It was just his eighth appearance in the field for the Tribe this season.
VARGAS REMAINS EFFECTIVE
The Royals left-hander Vargas has been good all season long and Saturday was no different. He worked one batter into the seventh inning, allowing just four hits and two walks in his six innings of work while striking out six. His scoreless quality outing dropped his already low ERA to 1.19 for the season.
Outfielder Jorge Soler made his Royals and 2017 debut on Saturday with an 0-for-3 effort. He was activated from the 10-day disabled list prior to the game and had yet to appear for the club after being acquired in the offseason from the Chicago Cubs in the Wade Davis trade.
Right-hander Miguel Almonte was optioned back to Double-A Northwest Arkansas to make room on the roster for Soler.
THE RUBBER MATCH
The Indians will look to the Columbus Clippers for help in winning their series with the Royals in the Sunday afternoon finale.
Right-hander Mike Clevinger will be recalled from Triple-A to make the start on normal rest, with Trevor Bauer pushed back to the start of the Toronto series on Monday. Clevinger allowed a run on seven hits in six innings in his last start for Columbus and is 3-1 to start the season with a 1.50 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP. The Royals will counter with Danny Duffy, a second straight left-hander. He has dropped his last two decisions and the Royals have lost four of his six starts this season. His last time out against Chicago, he allowed six runs on ten hits with two walks and three strikeouts in five innings in a 6-0 loss.
First pitch for the finale from Kauffman Stadium is scheduled for 2:15 PM ET on Sunday.
Photo: Brian Davidson/Getty Images