Naquin Backs McKenzie With Big Two-Homer Game; Indians 5, Royals 0
Bob Toth | On 02, Sep 2020
Tyler Naquin had a game to remember on Wednesday, putting the Indians on the board with a two-run homer in the second before erasing all doubt with a three-run blast in the ninth to back Cleveland to a 5-0 shutout of the Royals from Kansas City.
Not to be lost in the shuffle, but the Indians got a quick and quiet six innings of scoreless baseball from Triston McKenzie, who looked much more like the pitcher from his big league debut against the Detroit Tigers than the one that opened the road trip with four tougher innings of work against the St. Louis Cardinals in his second start. McKenzie allowed just three base runners on a pair of singles and a double and protected the early lead provided to him by Naquin.
Jakob Junis got the start for the Royals, in search of his first win of the season. He had been unable to get to the end of the fifth inning in each of his first three starts while allowing two runs in each contest.
That story would repeat itself once again on Wednesday.
Both pitchers retired the side in order in the first before the Tribe offense got the night started. After a groundout by Carlos Santana, Franmil Reyes singled to right to give him hits in each of his last eight trips to the plate. Junis fell behind 2-0 and left a slider out over the plate to Naquin, who drove it deep to right-center for a two-run home run, putting the Indians in front, 2-0.
The Indians threatened briefly in the fourth against Junis. Francisco Lindor singled to right to start the inning. After flyouts by Santana and Reyes, Naquin singled to center with his second hit of the game to put runners on first and second. Josh Naylor stepped in for his second AB and lined one off of the right arm of Junis. The pitcher recovered to retire the batter, but it was the final one that he faced on the night.
McKenzie allowed his first hit of the game in the fourth. After retiring the first ten batters in a row with five strikeouts and benefitting from a fantastic catch in center by Delino DeShields to rob Maikel Franco of extra bases to start the second, Hunter Dozier reached on an infield single to third. McKenzie got ahead of Jorge Soler and got the big slugger to ground to short, starting an inning-ending double play.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Royals gave the Tribe a scare in a two-run contest as Ryan McBroom singled with one down and was chased to third on a double to center by Alex Gordon, but the slumping Adalberto Mondesi continued his poor luck at the plate, grounding into a weird double play. He sent a chopper to first to Santana, who stepped on the bag and fired across the diamond to nab McBroom wandering too far off of third for the final out.
Kyle Zimmer came on for Junis and pitched well in a pair of innings, allowing a single with one out in the sixth to Lindor before erasing him on a double play.
McKenzie wrapped up his night with an efficient ten-pitch sixth, getting a nice play by Lindor with one out on a grounder by Cam Gallagher, before turning the game over to the bullpen. Phil Maton walked the first batter that he faced, Dozier, to start the bottom of the seventh before striking out pinch-hitter Cam GallagherRyan O’Hearn for the first out. Franco then provided Maton with the pitcher’s best friend, grounding to second to start a twin killer.
The Indians were unable to do anything against Josh Staumont in the seventh as Reyes was doubled up after his second hit of the game on a deep fly ball by Naylor. DeShields became the fourth Indian to record a hit on the night with a one-out single against Jesse Hahn in the eighth, but he was stranded at first as Cesar Hernandez lined out deep to Whit Merrifield in center before Jose Ramirez popped out to short.
Nick Wittgren pitched a perfect eighth before the Indians got some very big insurance runs from the bats. Lindor led the inning off with a double to left against Scott Barlow. Santana fouled out to third before Reyes reached for the third time on the night with a first-pitch single to right to put runners on the corners. In stepped Naquin, who jumped on Barlow’s first pitch and punched it over the right field wall for a decisive three-run home run, putting the Indians up by a 5-0 count. Right-hander Tyler Zuber relieved and got the final two outs.
Brad Hand pitched in the non-save situation in the ninth and continued his strong results over the last month, retiring the side in order with a strikeout to secure Cleveland’s 23rd victory of the season.
The Indians moved to 23-14 and 14-7 on the road this season and retained their top spot in the American League Central standings. The Royals fell to 14-23 and sit nine games in back of Cleveland.
McKenzie has looked strong in a pair of starts against AL Central rivals, making it exciting to see what his future may hold as a member of the Indians rotation. For the second time in three starts to begin his big league career, he threw six scoreless innings, allowing just three hits on the night (two singles, one double). He ran into real trouble just once and was aided several times by nice defensive plays and double play balls. He needed just 81 pitches to clear six innings, then turned things over to the bullpen, which allowed just one base runner (a walk by Maton) with three strikeouts in three hitless and scoreless frames.
“He didn’t walk anybody. He was under control. He was the McKenzie we saw against the Tigers,” said interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. “He was composed and knew what he had to do. He executed his pitches.”
The Royals had three hits and one walk as a team, with a single and a walk from Dozier, a single by McBroom, and a double from Gordon. They had only one opportunity with runners in scoring position and left just one batter on base on the night. The Indians pitching staff faced one batter over the minimum.
Meanwhile, the Indians had three different players record three-hit games in a ten-hit team performance. The Cleveland lineup did not draw a walk the entire game.
Lindor extended his hitting streak to nine straight. He had a pair of singles, his ninth double of the year, and he scored a run. He is now hitting .283 on the season.
Naquin had the biggest contribution in the Tribe lineup. He went 3-for-4 at the plate, hitting his third and fourth home runs of the season while driving in five. One of the top hitters in the clutch this season for the Indians in his limited body of work, Naquin has now driven in 17 runs on the year and is hitting .284.
“This game’s crazy. You feel amazing at the plate, barrel some balls right at some people, and you have nothing to show for it,” said Naquin. “Even Frankie came out here, he barreled five balls last night and he comes out here and he hits two off of the handle. It’s a crazy game. I don’t get the opportunity for those RBI and stuff without Franny doing what he does and Lindor and him doing it again later in the game.”
It was Naquin’s second career multi-homer game. The first one was also at Kauffman Stadium.
Reyes continued his tear at the plate as he made it eight straight plate appearances with a hit with his second inning single ahead of Naquin’s home run. He became the first Indians player to record hits in eight straight trips since Julio Franco, who did so from June 21-23 in 1988. It ended with a deep fly ball to right in his second plate appearance of the night.
Reyes totaled ten hits in the three-game set with the Royals, becoming the first Indians player to record ten hits in a three-game series since Mike Hargrove did so against Boston in 1981. Like Lindor and Naquin, Reyes went 3-for-4 on the night, hitting three singles to shoot his season batting average to .336. He scored twice via Naquin long ball.
Catcher Roberto Perez was pulled after three innings with what the team was describing as right shoulder fatigue. That was the same shoulder that sidelined the Tribe’s starting backstop for a chunk of August.
“They did all the tests with him. It’s not the same kind of pain. He feels like his arm is kind of dead in some area,” said Alomar Jr. “He’s day-to-day. We’ll get more tomorrow.”
The Royals removed the designated hitter Soler from the contest for precautionary reasons with right oblique tightness.
Earlier in the day on Wednesday, Major League Baseball announced that Cleveland right-hander Shane Bieber had been named the American League’s Pitcher of the Month for August. One of the leaders in the chase for the Cy Young Award in the junior circuit, the 25-year-old went 4-0 in six starts in the month with a 1.63 ERA and a 0.91 WHIP in 38 2/3 innings of work, striking out an MLB-leading 57 batters.
It was the first Pitcher of the Month Award in Bieber’s three seasons in the Majors.
Major League Baseball announced late Wednesday that Hall of Fame pitcher Tom Seaver had passed away at the age of 75. One of ten 300-game winners in MLB history, Seaver pitched for 20 years with the New York Mets, Cincinnati Reds, Chicago White Sox, and Boston Red Sox, posting a lifetime 311-205 record with a 2.86 ERA. The 1967 National League Rookie of the Year, a 12-time All-Star, and a three-time Cy Young Award winner won a World Series in his third big league season with the Miracle Mets in 1969 and was a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1992, receiving 98.84% of the vote (which was the highest percentage of votes achieved by an inductee until Ken Griffey Jr. was named on 99.32% of the ballots in 2016).
Seaver’s death was caused by complications of Lewy body dementia and the coronavirus.
Their week-long trip to Missouri in the books with a 4-2 record against the St. Louis Cardinals and the Royals, the Indians will take a deserved day off on Thursday before opening a homestand on Friday. The first contestant to visit the Tribe will be the Milwaukee Brewers, which will play three straight over the weekend.
First pitch from Progressive Field on Friday night is scheduled for 7:10 PM ET, with right-hander Carlos Carrasco (2-3, 3.75 ERA) listed as the tentative starter in the series opener. Corbin Burnes (1-0, 2.78 ERA) is the pitching probable for the Brew Crew.
Photo: Ed Zurga/Getty Images