Just when it seemed John Axford had smoothed out the delivery problems that plagued him to the point of losing his closing role for the Indians in mid-May, back-to-back bad outings in Kansas City may have set back his progress.
Just as manager Terry Francona has begun to trust him the right-hander again in close games in a late-inning set up role, Axford has begun to struggle again. Before Friday's outing, Axford hadn't allowed a home run over his last 11 appearances.
Thursday, Axford gave up the game-winning hit in the 14th inning of the Tribe’s loss one-run loss.
Friday, he dished up a no-doubt, two-run home run to pinch-hitter Billy Butler that handed the Royals another victory, this one by a score of 6-4.
It was the third home run by the host on the humid, 98-degree summer night, but the one that hurt the most.
When Francona was asked recently about Josh Tomlin’s propensity to give up home runs, the Indians manager said the silver lining is that the right-handed starter tends to keep the damage to solo shots.
But when Tomlin dished up back-to-back homers to Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas to lead off the second inning, that wasn’t exactly what Francona meant.
However, the Indians rode the long ball as well Friday at Kauffman Stadium - both coming off the bat of Carlos Santana. The first baseman cut the Royals 2-0 lead in half in the fourth inning with a solo homer of his own via a 392-foot shot.
But the Royals got to Tomlin again when 42-years and 44-day- old Raul Ibanez became the oldest major leaguer to hit a triple – a run scoring hit deep into the right field corner. Moments later, Ibanez trotted home on the same play following a throwing error by second baseman Jason Kipnis.
The Indians rallied again to pull to within 4-3 when Michael Brantley snapped a 0-for-16 streak at the perfect time - just before Santana's second homer of game sailed even further, landing in the Indians bullpen beyond the right field wall.
The pair of homers marked Santana's fourth career multi-homer game and his first since Sept. 23, 2012 – which ironically also came against the host Royals. Kipnis helped make up for his error with a sacrifice fly that scored Yan Gomes in seventh inning to tie the score 4-4.
But Butler one-upped the Tribe in the timing department, slamming his second career pinch-hit hone run high over the left field fence – just the fourth long ball of the season for the struggling slugger.