The Kansas City Royals have been a pesky team for Cleveland this season and that continued on Thursday as they responded to every Indians score, but reliever A.J. Cole worked out of a bases loaded jam with a two-run lead in the bottom of the 14th to give the Tribe a 5-4 win in the series opener from Kauffman Stadium.
Cole got the final out four hours and 51 minutes after first pitch in a 14-inning marathon that saw 16 different pitchers throw a combined 461 pitches while scattering 25 hits, 16 walks, and nine runs while also stranding 31 base runners. The two teams were an ugly 2-for-26 performance with runners in scoring position.
With the game tied at three since the bottom of the sixth, the Indians ended seven scoreless frames from the respective bullpens in the top of the 14th. Brian Flynn was back on the rubber for a second inning of work after pitching out of a jam in the 13th after a leadoff double from Francisco Lindor. Jose Ramirez patiently waited for his pitch, working the count to 2-1 to start the 14th before jolting a two-seamer over the wall in left-center to break the scoring drought, making it a 4-3 game. Jason Kipnis followed with a single to center and Roberto Perez sacrificed the runner into scoring position. Jake Bauers fell behind 1-2 before singling to right-center, padding the lead to 5-3.
Cole, the eighth man to work for Cleveland, came on for Nick Goody but immediately pitched himself into a mess with the Royals three outs away from defeat. Whit Merrifield singled to right and Alex Gordon did the same. Hunter Dozier walked on five pitches to load the bases to put the winning run on base. Jorge Soler sent a fly ball to Oscar Mercado in center, scoring Merrifield on the sacrifice fly to make it a 5-4 game. Cheslor Cuthbert just missed ending the game, driving a deep fly to Mike Freeman in left for the second out. Rookie Bubba Starling had a chance to play the hero, but he struck out swinging on a tight 2-2 slider to send the home town crowd home disappointed.
The Indians moved to 60-42 on the season with the victory and are now 8-5 through their first 13 games against the Royals this season. Cleveland remained two games in back of victorious Minnesota. The Royals fell to 39-65, 24 games out of first in fourth place.
The night started with a bang for the Indians as Lindor slugged the first pitch of the game from left-hander Mike Montgomery over the wall in left for his 16th home run of the season, putting the Indians up 1-0. The Royals used a long ball of their own in the bottom half to take the lead against the Indians’ Adam Plutko, as Gordon reached on an infield single against the shift to third before Dozier drove the next pitch out to left to give the Royals a 2-1 lead.
Montgomery allowed a base runner in each of the next four innings, but kept the Tribe from touching home plate. That changed in the sixth when Royals manager Ned Yost went to his bullpen for Jorge Lopez, who issued back-to-back walks on nine total pitches to Carlos Santana and Jordan Luplow before getting a hook from the angry skipper. Kevin McCarthy got the first out of the inning as he got Ramirez to ground into a force at second, but Kipnis tied the game with a single to right that scored Santana easily from third. Perez struck out for the second out, but a grounder by Bauers to Merrifield at second was booted, allowing Ramirez to score the go-ahead run. Greg Allen grounded to short to leave a pair.
Plutko dealt with some base traffic in the early innings before settling in. Meibrys Viloria doubled to start the second and moved to third on a one-out grounder. Gordon walked but Dozier left the runners on a liner to left. In the third, Cuthbert reached on a one-out infield single and Starling singled, but Nicky Lopez grounded into a double play.
Plutko retired the next seven in order before Starling singled with one out in the sixth to end his night. Oliver Perez came on, but he lost the strike zone after getting the second out of the inning on a fielder’s choice grounder to first by Lopez. He walked Viloria and Billy Hamilton to load the bases before manager Terry Francona went to submariner Adam Cimber, but his first pitch rode in and plunked Merrifield to force in the tying run. Cimber’s next pitch was blasted deep to right, but Luplow was able to make the catch on the warning track on a big scare.
Both clubs had opportunities late to claim a victory. The Royals put two on against Nick Wittgren in the bottom of the ninth, but Soler flied out. The Indians had two of their own on in the top of the tenth against Scott Barlow, but left them on a fly to right by Perez. Josh Staumont allowed back-to-back two-out singles in the eleventh to Lindor and Mercado, but Santana grounded to short. Cleveland loaded the bases against the right-hander in the 12th when Ramirez doubled with one out and Kipnis and Perez both walked, but Bauers struck out swinging and Allen flied to left. Lindor was stranded at second in the 13th after his leadoff double as Mercado struck out, Santana was intentionally walked, and Freeman grounded into a double play.
Both starters overcame some early woes. Montgomery lasted five innings, allowing a run on five hits with a walk and no strikeouts. He left after just 64 pitches as he continues to get stretched out to a starter’s work load. Plutko went five and one-third frames, allowing three runs on seven hits with two walks and one strikeout on 102 pitches.
Flynn was charged with his second loss of the season as he allowed as many hits in two innings as the entire Indians bullpen over eight and two-thirds. Flynn gave up two runs on four hits with a walk and two strikeouts. Goody got his second win of the season for Cleveland, working two innings of one-hit relief. Cole’s save was his first of the season and his first since his rookie season in 2015.
The Indians went 2-for-17 on the day with runners in scoring position and left 17 men on base. Lindor went 3-for-8 on the night with a run scored and one drive in. Ramirez went 3-for-6 with a pair of runs scored and an RBI while reaching a fourth time via walk. Kipnis had three hits and two walks in seven trips. Santana recorded a pair of hits and was walked three times. Bauers had two singles and drove home a run. Allen’s 17-game on-base streak ended with an 0-for-7 day at the plate.
Game two of the four-game set from Missouri is scheduled for an 8:15 PM ET start on Friday night. Jakob Junis (6-8, 4.83 ERA) will look to continue his improved pitching of late in his second straight start against the Indians. Cleveland will send out rookie right-hander Zach Plesac (4-3, 3.50) for his second consecutive start against KC, looking to build on a quality start win in that last outing.
Photo: AP Photo/Charlie Riedel