Fresh from a day of rest after a hard-fought, four-game sweep of the White Sox in Chicago, the first place Cleveland Indians took the field in Kansas City in search of a strong finish to their 11-game road trip. They had two things in mind: put some separation between themselves and the third place Royals and maintain their division lead before the big weekend series with the Detroit Tigers.
The Wahoos came out of the gate looking energized against KC right-hander Luis Mendoza, who pitched well against them last season. Tuesday’s Leadoff man Michael Brantley opened the game with a walk, which was a sign of things to come. After Asdrubal Cabrera popped out, Jason Kipnis and Nick Swisher hit back to back singles to load the bases. Kipnis extended his on-base streak to 33 consecutive games, the longest Tribe streak since Victor Martinez’s 47 in 2005.
Carlos Santana fell behind in the count 0-2 before working a walk to force in the first run of the game.
“My curveball is my strikeout pitch and I couldn’t throw it close or make a good pitch,” said Mendoza. “He (Santana) was making contact with my fastball — foul, foul — and when I tried to throw a breaking ball, he just let it go.”
The ice cold Mark Reynolds was next. Mendoza came in high and tight and hit Big Mark to bring in another run. The pitch glanced high off his shoulder and nearly drilled him in the side of the face. The bases were still loaded with one out and the Tribe had a chance to do some real damage and break the game open early, but DH Jason Giambi grounded into an inning-ending. That too was a recurring theme in this one.
In the fourth, Giambi and Chisenhall got things started with back to back singles. An out later, Brantley walked again to load the bases. Cabrera then came through with a single to right, scoring two. Again Mendoza was on the ropes, but got the double play ball he needed, this time off the bat of the hottest Indian of them all, Kipnis. At the time you had that feeling that the Indians had blown some golden opportunities that may come back to haunt them.
Tribe righty Corey Kluber was cruising along into the fifth, holding the Royals scoreless on one hit. But things changed rapidly. He threw two quality pitches to Mike Moustakas and David Lough, shattering their bats in the process. However both fought the pitches off for singles. The normally cool Kluber became rattled, falling behind Johnny Giovatella 3-0 before walking him on five pitches to load the bases with nobody out. He recovered to get Jerome Dyson, but was not out of the woods. Alex Gordon, who has been an Indian killer over the past few years, got the green light on 3-0 and crushed a Kluber pitch to right for a grand slam. In the blink of an eye, the game was tied at four.
“I was trying to throw a strike, first and foremost, and he was obviously sitting on a fastball,” said Kluber.
It was back to the drawing board for the offense, who took matters into their own hands. Once again, it was the walk that would be a key part of their attack. With the score still tied in the seventh, Royals lefty Tim Collins came on to face Cabrera and Kipnis. Collins has been an Indians whipping boy of sorts over the past three years and last night was more proof. Asdrubal worked a terrific at-bat into a leadoff walk. Collins then looked like a guy who wanted no part of Kipnis, throwing four straight wide of the zone. Out went Collins and in came Aaron Crow. He was no better, walking Swisher on five pitches.
“We’re just kind of passing the torch, taking our walks when we can and not trying to press and saying to yourself, ‘I have to do something this at-bat.’ We have enough faith in each other right now.”
Santana walked in his first two at-bats, but this time he delivered a sacrifice fly to put the Indians back on top. After Reynolds struck out, Giambi stepped to the plate and came through with a two-out double to right, bringing Kipnis home. It proved to be a bigger run that we expected it to be.
“He’s been unbelievably productive,” Indians manager Terry Francona of Giambi. “That’s why he’s still in the league.
Meanwhile, Tito trotted out the old three-headed monster in attempts to secure the win. Joe Smith did his part with ease in the seventh. Vinnie Pestano was up next and made things interesting to say the least. Eric Hosmer greeted him with a single and scored on Billy Butler’s RBI double. Before Vinnie had even recorded an out, the tying run was in scoring position. Salvador Perez did his job, moving pinch runner Elliot Johnson to third on a ground out to the right side. Pestano then walked Moustakas on four pitches, which seemed kind of like the old unintentional, intentional walk. The double play was in order and the Indians needed one in the worst way.
The speedy Lough laced a liner right at Kipnis. On a hop he made the play, flipped to second for one and Asdrubal’s throw to first narrowly beat Lough for an inning-ending double play. It could not have come at a better time.
“That kid was flying down the line,” Francona said. “That was a great play. Kip stayed with it, gave Cabby a good feed and he got rid of it. That kid was flying.”
There were still three more outs to go and closer Chris Perez came on to get them. Once again, he did his best Bob Wickman impersonation, putting two runners on before shutting the door for his eighth save. His slider was moving about as well as we have seen it all season.
Amazingly, the Indians grounded into four double plays and still won the game, in large part due to their patience at the plate.
“It was an exciting game, but you’re kind of shooting yourself in the foot when you’ve got eight walks and a hit batter,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I mean half their runs came on the benefit of walks or guys on base and hit batters.”
It was the Indians fifth straight win and 11th in their last 14 games. They go for six in a row tonight behind the left arm of Scott Kazmir (4-4, 4.83 ERA). He will face former Wahoo Jeremy Guthrie (7-6, 4.11 ERA).
(AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)