There was no letdown for the Indians on Saturday afternoon in Cleveland’s first game after the end of its 22-game winning streak as the club used a big four-run sixth inning to break open a one-run game and coasted to an 8-4 win over the Kansas City Royals to reduce its magic number to clinch the American League Central Division to one.
Carlos Carrasco had the unfamiliar task of ending a “losing streak” for the Indians, who had not been in the position of playing after a loss since the fourth week of August. While he did not have his best stuff, he gave the Indians a good start and his offense came up with plenty of needed support to earn the win. At 92 wins and 57 losses on the year, the Tribe will need to go 8-5 in its final 13 games to reach the century mark for just the third time in franchise history.
Double play balls were the story early in the contest, as Carrasco got a pair in the first two innings to erase a one-out single by Lorenzo Cain in the first and a one-out walk by Mike Moustakas in the second. The Indians suffered a similar fate against Kansas City right-hander Jason Hammel after Austin Jackson and Carlos Santana each singled with one out in the first. Edwin Encarnacion grounded sharply towards the third base bag, where Moustakas gloved, tagged the bag, and fired across the diamond to nail the slow-moving slugger for the twin killing.
There would be no double play in the bottom of the second, as the Indians took the first lead of the afternoon. Jay Bruce doubled to center to start the frame and went to third on a swinging strike three by Yandy Diaz as the ball evaded catcher Drew Butera, allowing Diaz to advance to first on the play. Abraham Almonte sent a 1-1 pitch to center for a sacrifice fly, putting Cleveland up, 1-0.
The lead would not last long. After Carrasco got Alcides Escobar to line out to left to start the third, Alex Gordon drove a 1-0 pitch deep to center to tie the game at one.
The Indians responded with their first big inning of the game in the home half of the third. Francisco Lindor singled to right and moved to second on a walk by Jackson. Santana delivered with a single to right-center, scoring Lindor and moving Jackson to third. Encarnacion then joined in on the scoring with a sac fly to left, knocking in Jackson to make it a 3-1 game. Diaz would single Santana to third one out later, but Almonte lofted the next pitch into left to strand runners on the corners.
The Royals countered the Indians runs with a run of their own to keep the game close. Melky Cabrera hit a ground rule double to right before Moustakas lined to center. Cabrera moved to third on a wild pitch by Carrasco, putting him in prime position as Brandon Moss flied to left to score the runner on the sacrifice fly to cut the score to 3-2.
Both pitchers stopped the scoring for two innings before the Cleveland bats got back to work to extend its lead in the bottom of the sixth. Diaz and Almonte each singled to start the inning. Yan Gomes attempted to bunt the runners over but popped out for the first out. Giovanny Urshela flied to right, moving Diaz to third, and Lindor came through with a double off the wall in left, scoring both runners with another big extra base hit. Jackson followed with a bizarre play straight out of childhood, beginning with his single to center. Cain threw to the plate, but the throw was not in time to get Lindor. Butera fired to second to try to gun down Jackson, who was attempting to advance on the play at the plate. His throw went into center and Cain misplayed the ball, allowing Jackson to sprint around third all the way home with the Little League homer. His RBI-single and three-base error gave the Indians a 7-2 lead.
The Royals would once again respond to the Indians scoring, but down five, they could do enough damage, despite running Carrasco from the contest. After a grounder to open the inning, Escobar doubled to left-center. Gordon struck out looking for the second out, but Butera doubled to right-center to score a run. A single to left by Whit Merrifield drove in Butera and sent Carrasco to the showers for the rehabbing Andrew Miller, who got Cain to line to center to end the inning with the score 7-4.
Kevin McCarthy came on for Ned Yost to start the bottom of the seventh and was greeted loudly by Encarnacion. He clobbered a 2-0 pitch to the deepest part of the yard for his 35th homer of the season, pushing the Cleveland lead to 8-4.
Zach McAllister worked the eighth, giving up a leadoff single to the vulgar Eric Hosmer before retiring the next three in order. Nick Goody pitched the ninth, setting down the side in order on eight pitches.
With the win, the Indians reduced their magic number to one, with the Minnesota Twins set to play later in the night in Toronto against the Blue Jays. A Twins’ loss would give the Indians the AL Central crown for a second consecutive season and the ninth time in franchise history (EDITOR’S NOTE: The Twins fell 7-2 to the Blue Jays, giving the Indians a full ride to the playoffs).
The Royals (73-75) fell to 34-39 away from home and saw their chances in their Wild Card pursuit slip a little further away.
Carrasco (16-6) joined teammates Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber as 16-game winners on the pitching staff, the first time the Indians have had three 16-game winners on the same staff since 1956 (Bob Lemon, Herb Score, and Early Wynn). He left after six and two-thirds innings, allowing four runs on eight hits with a pair of walks and five strikeouts. He threw 101 pitches, including 70 for strikes. Nineteen of the pitches crossed for first pitch strikes and 17 pitches were swung on and missed by the aggressive Kansas City bats.
Hammel (8-12) dropped a second straight decision to the Tribe. He pitched six innings and was charged with seven runs (six earned) on eleven hits. He walked one and struck out three. Like Carrasco, he threw 19 first pitch strikes on the afternoon.
The top two-thirds of the Tribe lineup did the heavy lifting at the plate. The six starters combined to go 12-for-22 at the plate with seven runs scored and six runs batted in. Lindor led the way with three hits, two RBI, and two runs and reached a fourth time on a walk. Jackson had two hits and a walk and scored a pair of runs. Santana, Bruce, and Diaz each had two hits while Encarnacion drove in a pair to give him 92 on the season.
In addition to his three hits, Lindor extended his streak of games with at least one extra base hit to ten straight, becoming the first shortstop in the modern era to accomplish the feat and the first Cleveland player to do so. Hal Trosky previously hit in nine straight with an extra base hit back in 1934.
The Indians will go for a series win over the Royals in their season finale with Kansas City on Sunday afternoon. Kluber (16-4, 2.44 ERA) will continue his chase of the Cy Young Award. He went the distance his last time out, blanking the Detroit Tigers on five hits for his fourth straight win. Danny Duffy (8-8, 3.78) will return to the mound for the Royals for the first time since August 22 after missing time on the disabled list with a sore left elbow.
First pitch in the final game of Cleveland’s homestand is scheduled for 1:10 PM ET on Sunday.
Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images