Mike Clevinger pitched seven innings of one-run baseball and a four-run first inning by the offense set the tone as the Cleveland Indians cruised to a 9-1 win over the Kansas City Royals to take the first three of their four-game series from Kauffman Stadium on Saturday evening.
Oscar Mercado had another four-hit game, Jason Kipnis drove in four runs, Francisco Lindor had three hits, and Jose Ramirez homered for the third straight game as the Indians offense was alive and well from Kansas City, Missouri. The dominant performance from all sides of the game moved the Indians to 62-42, and with a loss in Chicago by the Minnesota Twins, Cleveland is now just one game out of first place in the American League Central Division.
A four-run first inning put the Indians up big before Clevinger even had the chance to throw his first pitch of the day. Glenn Sparkman, facing the Indians for the second straight start and the third time in just over a month, allowed each of the first five batters to reach. Lindor and Mercado each singled and Mike Freeman was plunked on the ninth pitch of his at bat to load the bases. Kipnis worked the count to 2-1 before catching a four-seamer low in the zone and driving in 417 feet to right-center for a grand slam, putting the Tribe up 4-0. Ramirez kept the hit parade marching with a single to right before Sparkman finally settled in, striking out Jake Bauers and Roberto Perez before Greg Allen flied to left.
The lineup turned over in the second as the Indians added another run. Tyler Naquin opened the inning with a groundout, but Lindor caught a fastball down the middle and deposited it over the wall in right for his 18th homer of the season, extending the lead to 5-0.
Sparkman had his only 1-2-3 inning in the third and he worked around a two-out single by Naquin in the fourth before running into a threat again in the fifth. Mercado singled before a Freeman strikeout. Kipnis walked to put two on for Ramirez, who got his “Home Run Pitch” on a four-seamer up in the zone that he drilled 422 feet to the right of center. His 100th career home run and 13th of the season gave him home runs in each of the last three games and the Indians an 8-0 lead.
Clevinger retired ten in a row before Cheslor Cuthbert started the bottom of the fifth with a single. A single from Bubba Starling, extending his hitting streak to eleven in a row, put two on with nobody out, and Nicky Lopez moved the runners into scoring position with a grounder to second. Clevinger struck out Cam Gallagher swinging for the second out, but Whit Merrifield put the Royals on the board with a single to left. Cuthbert scored on the play, but Starling was thrown out at the plate for the second game in a row, ending the inning.
Cleveland got one more run in the sixth against Richard Lovelady. Naquin and Lindor hit consecutive singles with one out and Mercado doubled home Naquin to make it a 9-1 score. Freeman struck out and Kipnis grounded out to prevent a double-digit scoring night.
Clevinger got a double play ball to end the sixth and came back out after the stretch in the bottom of the seventh. In his final inning of work, he got O’Hearn to fly to center before a Cuthbert single. Starling struck out swinging for the second out before Lopez kept the inning alive with a single to left. Gallagher ended the rally hopes with a grounder to third to strand men on the corners.
The Indians had doubles off of Kyle Zimmer (brother of injured Tribe outfielder Bradley Zimmer) in the seventh and eighth innings, but could not tack on. Nick Goody pitched the eighth for Cleveland, retiring the side in order. Tyler Olson took over for the ninth, striking out the first two men before hitting Cuthbert, but Starling grounded to third to put the game to bed.
The loss dropped the Royals to 39-67 on the year and just 22-32 at home. The club was active before the game, trading reliever Jake Diekman to the Oakland A’s while designating DH/1B Lucas Duda for assignment. They recalled O’Hearn and Zimmer from Triple-A Omaha to fill the vacated roster spots.
Clevinger was crisp on the mound. He allowed eight hits over seven innings, but he did not make matters worse as he issued zero walks. He struck out seven while throwing a season-high 111 pitches. The outing continued some career-long dominance of the Royals by Clevinger as he improved to 8-0 against Kansas City in 12 games (11 starts). He is 5-2 on the season with a 3.28 ERA in nine starts.
“I just think it’s coincidence,” he was quoted after the game about his numbers against the divisional foe Royals. “I’ve found some things in my mechanics lately that have put me in good spots. I’ve found some pitches that are working…Maybe it’s bad luck on their part or good luck on my part.”
Sparkman gave the Royals five innings of work while dropping to 3-7 on the season. He allowed eight runs on nine hits (three of which left the yard while accounting for all of his runs surrendered). He struck out four and walked one.
There was just one walk in total by the two clubs on the night (Kipnis). The first inning grand slam by Kipnis was the first four-run shot for the team this season.
The Indians will go for their second four-game sweep of the second half and third of the season in the series finale from Kauffman Stadium on Sunday afternoon. Left-hander Danny Duffy (4-5, 4.32 ERA) will start for KC. He has allowed three earned runs over his last 12 innings in two starts (a win over Chicago on July 17 and a no-decision at Atlanta on July 23). Trevor Bauer (9-7, 3.49) will go for the Tribe, looking to extend the team’s winning streak to five straight. He fired seven and two-thirds scoreless innings in his last start (a no-decision against Toronto) and has struck out 30 batters over his last three outings.
First pitch from Kansas City, Missouri, is scheduled for 2:15 PM ET.
Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images