Oscar Mercado went 5-for-5 and the remainder of his offensive teammates provided plenty of support too to pick up Shane Bieber as the Cleveland Indians rolled to their sixth straight victory in a 10-5 final over the Kansas City Royals on Friday night.
The rookie outfielder came through again as his recent tear at the plate has made his slump to open the month of July a thing of the past. After ending the first half in an 0-for-18 skid and extending that stretch to 1-for-25 (.040) through the first weekend of the second half, Mercado’s bat has caught fire. After tallying five hits (and three homers) during the Indians’ four-game sweep of the Detroit Tigers during the week, Mercado went 5-for-5 with four singles, a double, two runs scored, and two runs batted in to push his batting average back to the brink of .300 while hitting .526 (10-for-19) during the Indians’ six-game winning streak.
The Royals scored in unconventional fashion in the first inning as they loaded up the bases against the All-Star Bieber. Alex Gordon singled to short with one out. Hunter Dozier struck out swinging for the second out before back-to-back walks by Jorge Soler and Cheslor Cuthbert loaded the bases. Facing Humberto Arteaga, Bieber got ahead in the count 1-2 before he was called for a balk, moving all runners up and Gordon across the plate to give the Royals a 1-0 lead. Bieber proceeded to strike out Arteaga to end the inning.
The Indians got a pair of hits in the first against new Royals left-hander Mike Montgomery. Francisco Lindor singled to center on the payoff pitch and Mercado singled to left. A fielder’s choice forced Mercado out at second. For the second straight day, Jordan Luplow came through in the first with an RBI as he grounded into a force at second to score Lindor. With Jose Ramirez at the plate, Luplow was caught stealing to end the inning.
Bieber quickly worked through the second, striking out a pair, but he ran into trouble in the third as each of the first three batters reached base. A leadoff double by Whit Merrifield kicked off the inning and Gordon moved him to third on a single to right. Dozier delivered with a 1-1 double to left to put the Royals on top, 2-1. After a strikeout of Soler for the first out, Bieber intentionally walked Cuthbert to set up force plays, but Arteaga flied to right. Tyler Naquin settled under it and made the catch before firing towards the plate to Roberto Perez. Gordon tried to score from third and danced around the tags of Perez before slapping the plate to score another run, but Tribe manager Terry Francona reviewed the play and it was overturned in a controversial ruling.
The good fortune on the reversed call may have sparked the Tribe as the team rallied for four runs in the bottom of the third. Jake Bauers fouled off three straight before singling to right. Naquin worked the count from 0-2 to 2-2 before catching a hanging curveball and blasting it off of the top portion of the right field foul pole for a two-run home run to put the Tribe up, 3-2. The hit parade continued as Lindor doubled to left-center and stole third before scoring easily on a double into the left field corner by Mercado, his third hit of the game, to extend the lead to 4-2. Ned Yost turned to his bullpen to hook his new southpaw, bringing on fellow lefty Brian Flynn. He made matters worse by issuing consecutive walks to Santana and Luplow to load the bases before Ramirez knocked in a run with a grounder to second. With two still in scoring position and a three-run lead, the Indians could not add on further as Flynn got line outs by Jason Kipnis and Perez to end the onslaught.
After Bieber worked around a two-out walk in the fourth, the Indians threatened in the fourth but failed to score. Bieber had a 1-2-3 fifth before the Indians tacked on another insurance run in the bottom of the fifth. Luplow singled off of Flynn and moved to second one out later on a wild pitch. A single by Kipnis moved the runner to third and he scored on a sacrifice fly by Perez to make it a 6-2 game.
That run proved to be big as Bieber was unable to finish the sixth. After getting the first two outs, the Royals aggressively attacked the Tribe right-hander as Nicky Lopez, Bubba Starling, and Meibrys Viloria all singled on 1-0 pitches to load the bases. Francona headed to the center of the diamond and called on Nick Goody, but his 1-1 pitch to Merrifield was shot to the gap in right-center for a bases-clearing triple, cutting the deficit to 6-5. With the tying run at third, Gordon grounded to second to end the inning.
Kevin McCarthy took over for KC in the sixth, but he could not keep the score at one run. Naquin doubled and moved to third on a groundout by Lindor. Mercado singled sharply to short, giving the Indians a 7-5 lead on his fourth hit of the night.
Goody pitched a better seventh and Tim Hill handled the Cleveland lineup after the stretch.
Adam Cimber got a big double play ball in the eighth to keep it a two-run game before the Indians bats added three big runs in their final at bats. Facing Wily Peralta, Lindor doubled and moved to third as Mercado dropped in his fifth hit of the game with a single to center. Mercado moved up to second with a swiped bag and Santana was intentionally walked. Greg Allen pinch-hit for Luplow and was down in the count 0-2 before he was hit by a pitch, forcing in Lindor. Ramirez drove the next pitch to right for an RBI-single and two pitches later Kipnis lifted a sacrifice fly to center to give the Indians a 10-5 edge. A double play ball ended the inning and Oliver Perez used the same technique to end the game after a leadoff walk in the ninth by Viloria.
The Indians (56-40) continued their July surge by winning their sixth straight game to improve to 6-2 in the second half during their ten-game homestand. Coupled with a Minnesota loss against Oakland, Cleveland now trails by just three games in the American League Central. The Royals’ four-game winning streak (and six of seven) came to a close as the club fell to 36-63 and just 14-34 on the road.
Mercado became just the 12th Indians rookie to have a five-hit game (dating back to 1913) and the first to do so since Kipnis in 2011. He went 5-for-5 in five trips to push his season batting average back up to .299. Lindor had three hits in front of him and the bottom of the order (Bauers and Naquin) both had two-hit games. Ramirez and Naquin added a pair of RBI.
“Everybody’s going to go through a tough stretch, but you know a first-year player is,” Francona said of the rookie Mercado. “And to see him not wilt, to see him come back with a vengeance, that’s pretty exciting.”
Bieber lasted just five and two-thirds innings and was charged with five runs on seven hits as the three runners inherited by Goody all came in on the Merrifield three-run triple in the sixth. Command eluded Bieber at times as he walked four batters while striking out six. Despite the showing, he improved to 9-3 on the season.
Montgomery’s first start for the Royals left something to be desired. He allowed five runs on six hits in just two-plus innings of work. He struck out one and threw 30 of 45 pitches for strikes, but he was unable to fool many Indians hitters as he had just two swinging strikes in his outing. Three of the four Royals relievers behind him were charged with at least one run.
The Indians will look to claim another series on Saturday night in a 7:10 PM ET start. Adam Plutko (3-1, 5.40 ERA) will draw the starting nod for Cleveland, looking for his first career win against Kansas City. The Royals will counter with right-hander Jakob Junis (5-8, 5.08), who is 0-2 in three starts against the Indians this season with a 7.94 ERA and a 1.59 WHIP.
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