Cleveland ended its road trip in dominating fashion, as Triston McKenzie bounced back from a career-worst performance to fire five shutout innings of two-hit baseball before letting his bullpen handle the rest as the Indians blanked the Kansas City Royals by a 4-0 final on Thursday afternoon.
The Indians won six of seven games during their road trip over the last week, taking two of three from the Chicago White Sox before sweeping the Royals in a four-game series in KC for the first time ever. The stretch of improved play on the field for the Tribe moved the team right back into the mix in the American League Central Division, as the 17-13 club has moved from third place to the top of the pack over the course of the last week.
The Tribe lineup took a different route to victory in the series finale Thursday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, supporting McKenzie with three runs while he was on the mound and tacking on another later in the game, notably different than the rallies needed each of the previous three nights to come away with wins over the Royals.
The Royals turned to veteran left-hander Danny Duffy to end their four-game losing skid. He was able to escape danger in the first, getting the Tribe to strand Cesar Hernandez in scoring position after his leadoff double, but he ran into trouble in the second after giving up a double to Harold Ramirez to open the frame. He punched out Josh Naylor for his third strikeout of the game, but Amed Rosario came up swinging, dropping in a single to right to score H. Ramirez to give the Indians a 1-0 lead.
McKenzie allowed a second-pitch single to Whit Merrifield to start his day on the mound, but he locked it in from there. He got out of the first with a strikeout and a double play ball to second. He retired the side in order in the second and worked out of a mess in the third, stranding two men after a pair of walks. He had to strand two more in the fourth after Carlos Santana walked and was joined on the bases by Salvador Perez after a fielding error by Jose Ramirez, but he used two strikeouts around a flyout to escape harm’s way.
Duffy retired seven in a row after a one-out single by Hernandez in the third, but he ran into some two-out drama in the fifth. After retiring the first two men in the inning, new Tribe backstop Rene Rivera kept the inning alive with a single to left. Hernandez notched his third straight hit to push the catcher into scoring position and Jordan Luplow sent him back to the plate with an RBI-single to left to give Cleveland a 2-0 advantage. J. Ramirez popped out to leave the other two men on base.
McKenzie made it six in a row retired in the bottom of the fifth, needing ten pitches to get through the 8-9-1 hitters.
Duffy’s outing came to an end a handful of batters into the sixth. He walked Franmil Reyes, who advanced to second on a wild pitch. Duffy struck out the next two, but Rosario’s big day at the plate continued with a triple to the deepest part of the yard to score Reyes with ease and putting the Tribe up by three. Tyler Zuber replaced Duffy and retired pinch-hitter Jake Bauers.
McKenzie came back out in the sixth, but a single by Andrew Benintendi and another walk by Santana sent Tribe manager Terry Francona out to the center of the diamond to call upon rookie Nick Sandlin. He got the job done and kept the Royals off of the scoreboard, getting Perez to ground into a double play before forcing a grounder to short by Jorge Soler.
Zuber and Sandlin traded off quiet frames in the seventh before Cleveland added an insurance run on a big fly. Facing Jake Brentz, Reyes drove a 1-1 slider to left for his eighth homer of the season, moving the Tribe’s edge to 4-0.
James Karinchak entered for work in the eighth, walking Nicky Lopez before retiring the next three. Emmanuel Clase took over for the ninth in the non-save situation and had a rough start to his body of work, giving up half of the Royals’ hit total for the game on base hits to center by Perez and Soler, but he recovered by getting Hunter Dozier to ground into a double play before striking out Ryan O’Hearn looking to end it.
The Royals dropped a half game behind the idle Chicago White Sox in the AL Central at 16-14, losing their fifth straight and falling to 8-9 at home on the year. These two clubs will match up over the weekend in KC.
McKenzie recovered from a horrendous start his previous time out against Chicago to blank the Royals over five-plus shutout innings. He allowed just two hits and four walks while striking out five to earn his first win of the season. Duffy suffered just his second loss of 2021, giving up three runs on eight hits with a walk and six strikeouts.
Rivera had three hits in his first game with the Indians. Hernandez had three hits out of the leadoff spot, but did not score. Rosario drove in a pair of runs with a two-hit game.
With their road trip complete, the Indians will head back to Cleveland to start a quick five-game interleague homestand against the Cincinnati Reds and the Chicago Cubs. The first visitors will be the Reds, who will face Zach Plesac (2-3, 4.78 ERA) in the series opener at 7:10 PM ET on Friday night.
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