A pair of clutch two-out home runs in the top of the seventh put the Indians on top and the Cleveland bullpen prevented the Kansas City lineup from coming all the way back in an 8-6 victory over the Royals on Monday from Kauffman Stadium.
In game one of a four-game set from Kansas City, Missouri, fans were treated to a lot of offense in an early season matchup with a lot on the line for both clubs, as the first place Royals wanted to use this week to put some extra distance between themselves and the third place Tribe. While the Royals used a long ball of their own to take the lead in the fourth inning, the Indians rallied back with a five-run frame in the seventh, then held on the rest of the way as the Royals tried to chip back into the contest against the tough Cleveland bullpen.
The Indians had scoring opportunities in each of the first two innings against left-hander Daniel Lynch, who made his Major League debut in place of Jakob Junis. Lynch retired the first two batters that he faced before walking Jose Ramirez and Franmil Reyes in the first, but he stranded the pair as Eddie Rosario lined to left. He gave up a leadoff double to Harold Ramirez in the second and balked him to third, but the bottom of the Cleveland lineup failed to deliver.
Cleveland starter Aaron Civale dealt with traffic on base all game long, failing to pitch a clean inning in any of the six that he appeared in on the night. The trouble started in the first, when Andrew Benintendi singled with one out and moved to second on a wild pitch, but Civale retired Carlos Santana and Salvador Perez on outs in the air. The Royals loaded the bases in the second, but were again kept off of the scoreboard. A leadoff single by Jorge Soler was followed by a two-out single to center by Jarrod Dyson. Nicky Lopez walked to load the bases, but Whit Merrifield grounded to short to leave the bags full.
Lynch got a double play ball to erase his third walk of the game in the third before the Royals cashed in against Civale. Benintendi drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on a single by Santana, and advanced to third on a fielder’s choice force at second. Soler sent a 2-0 pitch deep enough to center to score Benintendi to put the Royals in front, 1-0.
The Indians got the run back in response in the top of the fourth. Reyes ripped a double to right-center and moved to third on a bunt by E. Rosario. H. Ramirez was unable to get the runner in, grounding to first for the second out, but Josh Naylor found the gap in right-center for a double, plating his longtime teammate Reyes with the tying run. With the go-ahead run in scoring position, Roberto Perez struck out swinging.
The Royals came back with a pair in the home half to break the tie. Hunter Dozier laced a liner to the gap in left-center. E. Rosario was unable to cut the ball off and it rolled to the wall for a hustle triple. Dyson lined out and Lopez struck out, but Merrifield knocked his fourth homer of the year down the left field line to give the Royals a 3-1 lead.
The Tribe bats responded to Royals runs again with a big hit in the fifth. Cesar Hernandez walked with one out before he was forced out at second on a fielder’s choice off of the bat of Amed Rosario. The return throw to first trying to complete the inning-ending double play was wide of the mark, glancing off of Santana’s glove and into the bill of A. Rosario’s helmet to keep the inning alive. J. Ramirez singled through the left side to put two on, bringing manager Mike Matheny out of the dugout to retrieve his rookie starter. Scott Barlow entered, but a wild pitch moved the base runners up 90 feet. That proved costly as the new papa Reyes ripped a single into left field to score both base runners, tying the game at three. E. Rosario walked before H. Ramirez grounded out to first to leave a pair.
Civale faced the minimum for the only time in the ball game in the fifth, preventing a Royals response. He hit Perez with a pitch before getting Soler to ground into a 6-4-3 double play.
Junis, who was originally expected to start the game until a change in direction by the Royals brass over the weekend, took over in the sixth and had a 1-2-3 frame against the bottom of the lineup. His teammates threatened and knocked Civale out of the game in the bottom of the inning, as a two-out walk by Dyson and single by Lopez put the go-ahead runners on base. Tribe skipper Terry Francona went to his bullpen, calling on Bryan Shaw, who walked Merrifield to load the bases before getting Benintendi to ground to short.
The Indians delivered the knockout blow in the next inning against Junis. Hernandez opened things up with a single to center, reaching base for the third time on the night. A. Rosario grounded into a force at second for the first out before moving up to second on a walk by J. Ramirez. Reyes was cut down swinging for the second out. With the inning hanging in the balance, E. Rosario survived a two-strike pitch on the edge, only to yank the next pitch over the wall in right for a two-out, three-run home run, putting Cleveland up by a 6-3 count. H. Ramirez followed with his second hit of the season, singling to center, and Naylor’s better approach at the plate paid off again as he drove his first home run of the season off of the top of the right field wall for a two-out, two-run shot to extend the Tribe lead to five at 8-3. Junis got the hook for Tyler Zuber, who punched out Perez swinging.
The pesky Royals did not take the deficit lightly, coming back with a big inning of their own after the stretch against Shaw. Santana walked and moved to second on a wild pitch. Perez struck out swinging before Soler doubled to right, scoring Santana easily to make it an 8-4 contest. Shaw was lifted after a groundout for the second out, but the first offering from James Karinchak to Dozier was blasted to left. The no-doubter made it an 8-6 game. Karinchak bounced back and punched out Dyson on a hook.
Zuber and Greg Holland pitched a scoreless top of the eighth, stranding Hernandez at third after his third walk of the game. Karinchak pitched a scoreless frame of his own in the bottom half, working around an error at short by Andres Gimenez.
The Indians left two more on base in the ninth against Josh Staumont, who allowed a double to Reyes leading off the inning before issuing an intentional walk to Naylor with two outs. Perez’s tough night in the box continued with a fielder’s choice force at second.
Down to their final three outs, the Royals brought the tying run to the plate against Emmanuel Clase. He got two quick groundouts to short before Ryan O’Hearn singled to left. Dozier, 2-for-4 on the day with a triple and a homer to his credit, stepped in as the tying run, but he struck out swinging on a cutter away to send the Indians home happy for the night.
Cleveland moved back above even at 14-13. The Indians are 7-7 on the year on the road and now trail the Royals (16-11) by two games in the American League Central.
Civale finished one out short of a quality start in the no-decision. He pitched five and two-thirds innings, allowing three runs on seven hits, walking three while striking out a season-low two batters on an even 100 pitches, a season-high. The Indians are 5-1 in games started by Civale in 2021.
Lynch, the Royals’ late first round pick in the 2018 draft, did not factor in the decision. He gave up three runs on four hits with four walks and three strikeouts in four and two-thirds innings. Junis, who was bumped from the start on Sunday night to give the Royals more depth in the bullpen despite a good start overall to his season as a starter, was tagged for five runs on four hits, including a pair of homers, in just an inning and two-thirds.
The Indians lineup had 16 at bats with runners in scoring position, but cashed in just three times. All three hits, however, drove in runs. Reyes reached safely four times with a single, two doubles, and a walk while driving in a pair to push his season batting average to .300. Hernandez got on base four times as well out of the leadoff spot, recording a single and three walks despite not factoring in the scoring. J. Ramirez and Naylor also found their ways on base three separate times.
Both clubs made roster moves ahead of the series. Cleveland optioned outfielder Daniel Johnson back to the taxi squad after an awful weekend and reliever Kyle Nelson to Triple-A Columbus to make room for the return of Reyes from the paternity list and H. Ramirez from the team’s alternate training site. The Royals placed catcher Cam Gallagher on the 7-day injured list with concussion symptoms and recalled catcher Sebastian Rivero. Pitcher Jake Newberry was optioned to Triple-A Omaha and reliever Daniel Tillo was placed on the 60-day injured list to make room on the 40-man roster for Lynch, whose contract was selected from the team’s alternate training site.
The Indians will look to make it three wins in a row and three straight over the Royals on Tuesday night in another 8:10 PM ET first pitch. Veteran left-hander Mike Minor (2-1, 5.26 ERA) will draw the starting nod for the Royals, while rookie lefty Sam Hentges (1-0, 4.76 ERA) will make his first Major League start in opposition for the Tribe.
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