Trevor Bauer pitched deep into the eighth inning and the Cleveland Indians used three early runs to hold on for a 3-2 win over the Kansas City Royals from Kauffman Stadium on the Fourth of July.
After scoring 15 runs in the first two games of the series and 30 runs over their last three contests, the Indians bats were held to just four hits on Wednesday night, but early run support and a strong start from Bauer helped the Indians end their nine-game road trip with a sweep of the Royals to finish with a 5-4 record away from home. Cleveland (48-37) pulled within two games of hitting 50 wins on the year with its fourth straight win and pushed its MLB-leading divisional lead to 11.5 games over Detroit as all four AL Central teams below the Tribe in the standings took Ls on the national holiday.
With scheduled starter Ian Kennedy placed on the disabled list on Tuesday, the Royals had to call upon rookie right-hander Trevor Oaks to make a spot start in his call-up from Triple-A Omaha. The Indians did not let an unfamiliar face pose a problem early, as they jumped on the scoreboard twice just four batters into the game. Francisco Lindor worked a leadoff walk and stole second, allowing him to score on a double by Michael Brantley. Jose Ramirez moved the runner to third on a fly out to center and a second straight fly ball to the middle of the outfield, this time from cleanup man Edwin Encarnacion, gave the Indians a 2-0 lead.
Bauer worked around a two-out single from Salvador Perez in the first before the Tribe bats got back to work with plenty of help from Oaks. Back-to-back leadoff walks from Jason Kipnis and Tyler Naquin set the stage before Roberto Perez sacrificed the pair up 90 feet. A sacrifice fly to center from nine-hitter Greg Allen in his first at bat back with the Indians put Cleveland up, 3-0.
The Royals got on the board in interesting fashion in the home half of the second. After a strikeout of Emilio Bonifacio, Alex Gordon was hit by a pitch. An infield single moved him to second and a fly ball to right put runners on the corners. With two outs, Hunter Dozier broke for second and Perez’s throw caught the runner well short of the bag. Dozier broke back to first to start a run down and the second baseman Kipnis fired behind Gordon dancing down the third base line. Ramirez had to fall to his behind to corral the throw, allowing Gordon to break for the plate and dive around the attempted tag of Perez with the steal of home to make it a 3-1 game. With a new runner in scoring position, Bauer struck out Drew Butera to prevent further scoring.
The Indians would have a couple more threats in the middle innings, but were otherwise quieted the rest of the night as they were unable to expand their lead. Kipnis doubled to lead off the fourth, but was stranded at second. Ramirez walked with two outs in the fifth and stole second, but Encarnacion left him there with a swinging strikeout against first man out of the bullpen, Heath Fillmyer.
Kansas City made it a one-run game in the bottom of the fifth. After a fly out, Alcides Escobar singled to right and advanced to third on a single by Butera. A sacrifice fly to right by Whit Merrifield scored Escobar. Rosell Herrera drew a two-out walk to push the tying run Butera into scoring position, but once again, Bauer buckled down and recorded a big strikeout, setting down Perez swinging.
Fillmyer stepped up big in relief for the Royals. After striking out Encarnacion to end the fifth, he retired the side in order in the sixth and seventh. Bauer followed suit, striking out a pair in a perfect sixth before getting a grounder and two fly outs in the seventh.
In the eighth, the Royals ran themselves out of an inning in curious fashion. With Bauer still on the bump, Merrifield started the frame with a double to left. Herrera flied out for the first out. With the struggling but capable Perez at the plate, Merrifield attempted and failed to steal third, thrown out by the Indians’ Perez for the second out. His counterpart would reach on an infield single deep up the middle, bringing manager Terry Francona to the mound for Oliver Perez, who struck out Lucas Duda swinging to end the inning.
Cleveland left a pair on in the one-run game in the top of the ninth after a two-out rally attempt. Perez and Allen each singled, and the duo each moved up on a wild pitch from Wily Peralta. With big runs in scoring position, Lindor grounded out to short in a close play at first.
Cody Allen came on for the ninth and in somewhat fitting fashion, had an entertaining inning while looking to save the 3-2 contest. He retired Bonifacio on six pitches swinging before Gordon doubled to deep right. Dozier was cut down on three straight fastballs for the second out, and with the tying run still standing at second, Allen struck out Escobar swinging on three more pitches to end the ball game.
The save, Allen’s 18th of the year, was a big one as it was the 140th of his Major League career, moving him past Bob Wickman for sole possession of first place on the Indians’ all-time saves list.
The Royals dropped to 25-61 the loss and are just 11-32 at home this season.
Bauer lasted seven and two-thirds innings for the Tribe on Wednesday in earning his eighth win of the year. He allowed two runs on seven hits, walked one, and struck out eight while hitting the 108-pitch mark on the night. The caught stealing of Merrifield in the bottom of the eighth may have been the biggest play of the night.
“He was thinking he was going to try and steal,” said Bauer’s catcher Perez. “He called fastball up and in and I thought that was the game right there. That was on Bauer. He hit me right in the chest and I made a strong throw, and [Jose] Ramirez made a good tag on him. I was fired up.”
Bauer’s opposition, the rookie Oaks, gave the Royals four innings in his spot start on regular rest while taking his second loss of the season. He allowed just two hits, but he walked four on the way to three earned runs crossing the plate. The bullpen behind him allowed just two hits and two walks in the final five scoreless innings, with Fillmyer picking up the lion’s share with three hitless innings.
The Indians will take Thursday off before resuming play from Progressive Field on Friday night as they host the Oakland Athletics for their only trip to Cleveland this year. Carlos Carrasco is expected to be activated from the disabled list for the Tribe to make the start in the series opener.
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