KANSAS CITY: Another rough first inning by a starting pitcher could have cost the Indians another loss. Instead, it led to extra innings.
Despite Indians players holding a team meeting before the game that prompted plenty of fight throughout it, the result was still the same – a 7-6 defeat in 11 innings.
The loss extended the Indians losing streak to six games, as they were swept for the second consecutive series. It was the Royals first sweep of the Tribe since 2006.
With the Indians having fought their way out of a six-run deficit after the first inning, the bullpen held Kansas City batters in check for six scoreless innings.
But with two out and runners on second and third base, Chris Perez was summoned to relieve Esmil Rogers in the bottom of the 11 inning to face Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar. Looking for a fastball, Escobar broke his career 0-for-5 streak against the Indians closer with a groundball through the left side of the infield for the game-winning hit that scored Eric Hosmer.
“The ball got some of the plate and he was able to pull it into the hole,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “But you gotta give them credit. They beat our best guy. That was the best matchup we could find there. We didn’t think Rogers was a very good matchup against (Alex) Gordon (who was intentionally walked).”
Just like each of the Tribe starters before him on this road trip, rookie Corey Kluber struggled out of the gate. He spotted Kansas City a six-run lead in the first inning before settling in to hold the Royals scoreless over the next three-plus frames – with an assist from reliever Tony Sipp, who retired the final two batter of the inning.
Over his last 16 appearances, Sipp owns a 1.88 ERA and appears to be one hurler to have put his struggles behind him.
Kluber started in place of ineffective Josh Tomlin, who was moved to the bullpen Tuesday. But now, two-thirds of the way through this three-city, nine-game road trip that continues tonight with the first of three games in Detroit, Indians starters have posted an 0-5 record and bloated 11.93 ERA.
Kluber’s starting debut (he pitched briefly out of the bullpen last season) was one he’d like to fast forget. The Royals batted around against the young right-hander, who threw 46 of his 85 pitches and gave up six of his nine hits – including a pair of home runs – in the nightmarish first.
“I think I just caught too much of the plate with some pitches,” the quiet-spoken Kluber said in a whisper. “They’re an aggressive team. There’s some guys I fell behind then had to come back with a fastball in a fastball count. There were other guys who I got ahead of and then caught too much plate.”
Gordon welcomed Kluber to the major leagues again with a leadoff homer on the first pitch, marking Gordon’s first longball in 188 at-bats. Six batters later, a two-run homer by Hosmer traveled an estimated 423 feet over the centerfield wall to make it 5-0.
A triple by Chris Getz and RBI-single by Jarrod Dyson followed before Kluber, 26, came back to strike out Gordon in his second at-bat of the inning to finally halt the offensive onslaught.
Kluber’s early implosion pushed the total of runs that Indians starters have allowed in the first inning to 12. Over that same span, the opposition has limited Tribe batsmen to one run.
“The kid had a very rough first inning,” Acta said. “He didn’t start throwing his good slider until after the first inning. But after that, he gave us a few good innings…For some reason, he was just trying to establish his fastball and the cutter. But the swing-and-miss pitch, the good one, is that slider. Unfortunately, it was too late when he broke it out.”
Given Kluber’s rough start, who could have imagined that it would be Royals starter Bruce Chen – a lefty for heaven’s sakes – who would be out of the game after just 2 2/3 innings? Yet, that was the case as Chen’s six-run cushion was reduced to two runs after the Indians scored a run in the second and three more in the third to knock him out of the game.
Michael Brantley led off the second inning with a double and scored on newcomer Vinny Rottino’s sacrifice fly. In the third, Chen loaded the bases with one out and Carlos Santana drove in Shin-Soo Choo and Brent Lillibridge with a single up the right field line. Brantley went on to add a sacrifice fly. When Chen responded by walking Jose Lopez, he was replaced by another lefty in Everett Teaford.
While Chen had probably already showered and changed into street clothes, Kluber kept plugging away, rebounding to allow only three more hits the rest of the way.
“I like what I saw out there with his stuff after the first inning,” Acta said. “I think he can compete up here with what I saw today. His stuff is much better than last year, especially his command of it.”
For all their well-documented struggles this season against southpaws, the pesky Indians continued the comeback against Teaford. With one out in the fifth inning, Santana lifted a line drive that just snuck over the left field wall, his two-run home run tying the game.
The homer was his second in as many days and continued the recent hot streak that has come as he’s focused on cutting out a majority of the movement in his active batting stance. Over the last 14 games entering Thursday, Sanatana has hit five of his 11 home runs along with eight doubles and 13 RBI.
“He’s swinging the bat better,” Acta said. “The body movement will be an issue for him – it comes with the leg kick and all that. But right now he’s a little bit more under control, which gives him a better chance to see the ball. The numbers are there – he’s hitting for better power and walking.”