Brad Hand has been one of the best relievers in baseball this season, but Tuesday night was not his night. The Indians’ potential All-Star closer blew his first save in 23 chances, allowing five runs on five straight hits to start the ninth inning, capped by a Hunter Dozier grand slam, as the Kansas City Royals stunned Cleveland, 8-6.
Hand entered with a 1.05 ERA on the year in 35 games with just four runs allowed, but that ERA more than doubled to 2.36 in his worst outing of the season. Called upon for the fifth time in the last six days, Hand entered to protect a three-run lead in a 6-3 contest, but his first pitch to Martin Maldonado was sent to left for a leadoff double. Whit Merrifield followed with a single to center after fouling off several pitches. Nicky Lopez reached on an infield single to first that scored Maldonado to make it 6-4. Alex Gordon loaded the bases with a single to center and on the next pitch, Dozier unloaded them with a 406-foot blast to the bleachers to stun the hometown crowd.
Nick Goody replaced Hand on the rubber and struck out the next three swinging.
The Indians brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom of the ninth against Ian Kennedy. After a strikeout by Mike Freeman and a liner to center by Francisco Lindor, Oscar Mercado kept hopes alive with a single to right. He moved into scoring position on indifference, but the possible tying run Carlos Santana struck out swinging on four pitches.
The Royals improved to 28-52 on the season with their 12th road win in 39 tries. The Indians’ four-game winning streak came to a close as the team dropped to 43-36.
“He just proved he’s human,” Indians manager Terry Francona said after the game of his usually reliable closer. “He had been pretty much flawless. It hurts to lose a game, but to expect somebody to never give up runs is not realistic.”
The back-and-forth contest between the two clubs had the Indians out front after one. Facing right-hander Glenn Sparkman, Lindor opened the bottom of the first with a first pitch double to right. Mercado was unsuccessful in his attempt to bunt Lindor over to third, but it worked out for the best as several pitches later, he singled to right to drive in Lindor with the first run of the game.
Shane Bieber had a perfect first inning for the Tribe, but had to battle through the next several frames. He struck out Dozier to start the second, but Jorge Soler reached on an error at third by Jose Ramirez. After a groundout, the Royals loaded the bases on a walk by Lucas Duda and an infield single by Humberto Arteaga, but Bieber struck out Maldonado to get out of that jam. In the third, Bieber put Lopez on with a one-out walk and Gordon on a hit by pitch, but he got a big double play ball to second to end the inning.
The Indians threatened against Sparkman in the third, as Lindor doubled with one out and moved to third on a fly out by Mercado. Santana drew a walk, but Jason Kipnis was unable to deliver in the clutch, flying out to center.
Bieber got another double play ball to get out of the fourth, but was less lucky in the fifth as the Royals took the lead. Arteaga reached on a throwing error by Santana and moved to third on a single by Maldonado. Merrifield doubled both runners in with a drive to deep center, giving the Royals a 2-1 edge. Bieber recovered to get the next three batters, stranding Merrifield at third.
Cleveland responded with two big blows to open the bottom half of the fifth. Roberto Perez drove a payoff pitch from Sparkman the opposite way to right for his 14th home run of the year, tying the game at two. Three pitches later, Freeman followed him out to right with his second blast of the campaign, putting the Indians back on top, 3-2.
Bieber exited after a one-out single to center by Cheslor Cuthbert in the sixth, but the bullpen was unable to protect the lead. Three pitches into his appearance in a left-on-left matchup against Duda, Tyler Olson gave up a double deep to center, tying the game at three. Adam Cimber came on in relief of him and dodged a bullet after a single by Arteaga put runners on the corners. Maldonado grounded to third, where Ramirez got Duda into a rundown on the way to the plate. Merrifield was retired on a fly to right to leave runners on the corners.
The Indians used the long ball again to break the tie. Kipnis drew a leadoff walk before Ramirez and Bobby Bradley were retired. Tyler Naquin jumped on a first pitch hanger and sent it out to right for the Tribe’s third homer of the day, making it a 5-3 game. After Perez reached on a single to short, Sparkman got the hook for Scott Barlow. He gave up a single to Freeman before striking out Lindor with runners on the corners to end the inning.
Oliver Perez and Tyler Clippard retired the side in order in the seventh before the Indians added their final run of the day against Barlow. With one out, Santana pounced on a 2-0 curveball and put it over the wall in center for his 18th homer of the year, giving the Indians a 6-3 advantage at the time.
Bieber left at 100 pitches with one down in the sixth. He allowed three runs (two earned) on five hits with a pair of walks and six strikeouts. He worked from ahead a lot and had some great swing and miss stuff, but the pitch count led to an earlier than expected exit from the mound in the no-decision.
Sparkman lasted one out longer than his counterpart, giving up five runs on seven hits. He walked two and struck out three, but was hurt by three home runs on the night.
Kevin McCarthy earned his second win of the season with a perfect eighth inning of relief, making him the pitcher of record when the Royals claimed the lead with their five-run ninth. Perez took his third loss of the year with his first blown save of the year.
The Indians will look to take the series in the rubber match on Wednesday afternoon in a 1:10 PM ET first pitch. Trevor Bauer (5-6, 3.69 ERA) will draw the starting nod for the Tribe, while Jakob Junis (4-6, 5.18) will make his 17th start of the year for the Royals.
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