The Kansas City Royals completed their three-game sweep of the Cleveland Indians on Sunday and used a little flare for the dramatics to do so, using a walk-off single from Hunter Dozier in the bottom of the ninth to capture a 9-8 win from Kauffman Stadium.
Things did not go as planned for the Indians, who swung through Missouri on the middle leg of a three-city, nine-game road trip while catching the Royals in the horrors of a ten-game losing streak. Instead of being able to beat up on a rebuilding and struggling division rival, the Indians became the punching bag for Kansas City, which took out some pent up anger in routing Cleveland in three straight.
In the final frame with the score tied 8-8, Indians closer Brad Hand walked the leadoff batter Ryan O’Hearn, his third walk of the day in five trips to the plate. He was lifted for the speedy pinch-runner Terrance Gore, who picked off second and moved to third on a throwing error by Roberto Perez to put the winning run 90 feet from the plate. Dozier slapped the next pitch over the head of Jose Ramirez and into the left field corner to easily score Gore with the needed run, giving the Royals a 9-8 walk-off win.
“I don’t know which was more crucial, Dozier’s hit or O’Hearn’s walk,” shared Royals manager Ned Yost following the win. “Probably O’Hearn’s walk, because without that, Dozier’s hit was just a single.”
Starting pitching was a big part of the story again as the Indians got a second rough start from a key member of the rotation. Corey Kluber was given a big early lead, only to cough it up in the second and third innings prior to a quick exit from the pitching slab. His counterpart Jakob Junis put up a sloppy line of his own and his bullpen could not protect a big lead, but late inning heroics from Dozier provided the dagger to a disappointing stay in the largest city in Missouri.
The Indians got a scare with the very first pitch of the game, but the end result turned out to be positive for the club. Leonys Martin fouled Junis’ first offering off of his leg and appeared to be in significant pain, but he remained in the game, took two balls, then blasted a sinker deep to right to give the Indians a leadoff homer and a 1-0 lead. The Tribe was not done there, however, as after the third baseman Ramirez flied to right, Carlos Gonzalez legged out an infield single in his first at bat as an Indian. Carlos Santana followed with a double to deep center to put a pair in scoring position for Tyler Naquin, who drove both runners in with a single to right.
Kluber stranded a base runner at third in the first inning as Adalberto Mondesi singled to short with one out, stole second and third, but was left on base as the Indians ace recorded his second and third strikeouts of the inning. The second was not as kind, as O’Hearn drew a leadoff walk and was joined on the base paths on a single by Dozier. Lucas Duda worked the count full in an eight-pitch battle before winning the matchup, driving a three-run shot over the wall in right to tie the game at 3-3. Kluber retired Cam Gallagher with a fly to left before Chris Owings singled, but was later caught stealing for the second out. The failed base swipe proved costly for the Royals, as Whit Merrifield exited stage right with a solo home run to put KC on top, 4-3.
Things took a turn for the unusual and strange in the third as Kluber did something that he had done just one time in his Major League career. Alex Gordon singled to start the frame before back-to-back walks by Jorge Soler and O’Hearn. Dozier was cut down swinging for the first out, but Duda won another 3-2 battle with Kluber and drew a bases loaded walk, just the second allowed by Kluber in his career. Now with a 5-3 lead and the bases still full, Gallagher grounded to first, where Santana threw to the plate to force Soler for the second out. On the verge of getting out of the jam, Kluber instead walked Owings on another missed 3-2 pitch, issuing his second bases loaded walk of the frame to force in the sixth run and bring Terry Francona out from the dugout for Nick Wittgren. The right-handed reliever got Merrifield to fly to right to stop the bleeding.
The Indians, despite the discouraging results of the previous inning, responded with their second big inning of the game in the top of the fourth to cut into the deficit. Jake Bauers singled to left-center and a double by Perez moved him to third. Brad Miller knocked a run in with a single to right and Eric Stamets plated another, although it came on an inning killing double play ball. Martin grounded out to end the top half, but the Indians cut the Royals’ lead to 6-5.
Wittgren pitched a scoreless fourth before turning over the ball to Tyler Olson for the fifth. He got a quick out of O’Hearn on a foul to third, but walked Dozier and gave up a single to center to Duda to put a pair on the corners. Gallagher pushed the runner across with a bunt single, making it a 7-5 game. Olson walked the next man to load the bases, but Neil Ramirez entered from the bullpen to retire the next two. Soler took him deep with one out in the sixth to make it an 8-5 game.
With the chips steadily stacked against them, the Indians did not back down and put up a third big inning on the afternoon to make a game of it with the Royals. Junis came out to start the seventh and got Stamets to ground to short before turning the game over to Richard Lovelady. The 23-year-old left-hander immediately gave up singles to Martin and Ramirez before getting Gonzalez to ground out to first. With two in scoring position but two down, Santana was intentionally walked. Yost went back to his bullpen for Jake Newberry, who came on to face pinch-hitter Hanley Ramirez. The veteran worked the count full and earned a bases loaded walk to make it an 8-6 contest. Bauers then dropped in a 3-1 single to left-center, scoring both J. Ramirez and Santana, but pinch-runner Greg Allen was thrown out at third to end the inning with the score now tied, 8-8.
After tying up the game at eight with their three-run seventh inning, the Indians were retired in order in the next two trips. Hand allowed a two-out single to Gordon in the bottom of the eighth, but left the mound with the game still tied. The final out of the eighth was the last batter retired by Hand ahead of their first walk-off celebration of the season.
The Royals improved to 5-10 on the year and have now won a season-high three straight games after losing ten in a row. The Indians have lost three in a row and are now 8-7 on the season. They have started their road trip with a 2-4 mark and are 3-6 on the year away from Progressive Field.
Kluber’s rough day ended after two and two-thirds innings. He did not factor in the decision due to the Indians’ late comeback, but that did not save him from an ugly final line that included six earned runs on six hits with a career-high five walks and just four strikeouts. He threw just 49 of 89 pitches for strikes. Three of five relievers behind him were charged with an earned run.
“He started getting under some pitches,” said Francona. “I know he knew it, but he had a hard time self-correcting. He just hasn’t gotten to the point yet where he’s a consistent Kluber. He will, and we’ll all be thrilled. It’s still a work in progress.”
The team has been keeping an eye on Kluber and even brought minor league pitching coordinator Ruben Niebla on the road trip to monitor Kluber’s routine both before and during the game.
Junis was in line for a win until his bullpen dropped the ball in the seventh. He worked six and one-third innings, allowing five runs on eight hits with a walk and four strikeouts. Lovelady was charged with three runs on two hits with a walk in one-third of an inning, and Newberry was tagged with a blown save.
The Indians offense was guided by Martin, who took over the team lead with his third home run of the road trip. He had three hits on the afternoon and scored a pair of runs. Every Indian in the lineup had at least one hit except Stamets, who was 0-for-4 to drop his season average to .053. Cleveland was 3-for-5 with runners in scoring position and stranded four.
Every Royals starter reached base safely over the course of the game. O’Hearn was the only one to do so without a hit, as he was walked three times on the day. Gordon, Dozier, and Duda each had two hits, with Duda driving in four and Dozier dealing the game-winner.
The Indians will continue their disappointing trip in a bad spot on Monday night as they face the team with the most wins in baseball, the Seattle Mariners, which have put on a home run display over the course of the first few weeks of play. The Royals will pack up and head to Chicago, where the club will face the White Sox in three straight.
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