KANSAS CITY: This was not the Bruce Chen the Indians have become accustomed to facing.
No, this must have been some kind of imposter, not the guy whose 5-2 lifetime against the Tribe.
That’s because the Chen wearing a No. 52 jersey for Kansas City certainly was not the same dominating left-hander that entered Friday’s night’s game at Kauffman Stadium with wins in his last five games and owning the Tribe’s batsmen in the process.
Just last Sunday, Chen held the Indians to a run in 7 1/3 innings in a dominating 2-1 victory at Progressive Field. Then five days later he dishes up five runs on eight hits - including two home runs in just six innings - in the Tribe‘s 5-4 victory?
Well, it appears everyone does indeed have an off day now and again. This time it was Chen‘s turn - much to the Indians relief.
“He’s been good,” Tribe manager Manny Acta said of Chen before the first contest of the three-game series. “He knows how to pitch, how to stay off the barrel of the bat - and that’s what good pitchers do. He changes speeds and arm angles, which is tough against us because we have a lot of left-handers in our lineup.”
Acta defended the Tribe’s anemic record against Chen with a little logic.
“For us, you see (Chen wins a lot) because we face him 18 times, so he gets more of chance against us than teams in the other division,” he said.
But Friday it was obvious from the first inning Chen didn’t have the kind of stuff he usually does against the Indians, allowing runs in four of the first five innings.
Although Tribe right-hander Justin Masterson didn’t struggle as much as Chen did, two misplayed balls - a throwing error by Masterson himself in the third inning and a mental error in centerfield in the sixth inning by Ezquiel Carrera - helped the Royals climb out of an early 5-0 hole and make it a game late.
By the time Masterson exited the mound after seven innings and handed it over to the bullpen with the visitors clinging to a one-run lead, he’d allowed all four earned runs on seven hits but no walks.
But hey, we’re talking the Tribe bullpen here - the group MVP of the season.
So the relievers did what they’ve done a majority of the season. Vinny Pestano held the Royals in check with a scoreless eighth inning. Closer Chris Perez topped off the victory by breezed through Kansas City’s six, seven and eighth hitters in order to secure his 31st save, as the Indians did what they could to keep pace with American League Central division-leader Detroit.
But the Tigers won as well, defeating Chicago handedly, 8-1. That leaves the Tribe still 5 ½ games behind Detroit. But they do move a game ahead of the White Sox, who are now back in third place at 6 ½ games out of first.
The Indians did it by getting off to a quick start. They took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Carlos Santana’s RBI-double scored Kosuke Fukudome and Jim Thome followed with a single that scored Santana from second.
In the third, the Tribe’s batsmen continued to build on to their lead when Asdrubal Cabrera’s home run to left field put them up 4-0.
But it was a costly plate appearance. Before Cabrera’s liner just snuck over the outstretched glove of a leaping Alex Gordon at the fence, Cabrera fouled a Chen offering off the inside of his left knee.
Although he finished the half inning, he left the game in the bottom half of the inning with a left knee contusion. Jason Donald moved over to short from second to cover for Cabrera, while rookie Cord Phelps entered the game to take over at second.
After the game, Acta said X-rays on Cabrera’s knee were negative.
In the fourth inning, Donald also homered off Chen, his solo shot sailing 409 feet up into the left field bleachers. But Chen settled in from there, pitching two scoreless innings before the Royals bullpen took over.
The Royals began to play catch up in the fifth inning, scoring four runs between the fifth and seventh innings against Masterson.
The bottom of the Royals lineup got to Masterson first in the fifth inning. With one out, Johnny Giavotella singled and took second on a wild pitch. He came home to break up the potent ional shutout on Salvador Perez’s single.
In the sixth inning, Melky Cabrera led off with a double and Billy Butler followed with an RBI single. Butler soon scored on a sacrifice fly by Eric Hosmer before Masterson rebounded to get the final two out of the inning, still leading 5-3.
But with one out in the seventh, Masterson hit Perez to put him on first base with one out. Two batters later, Gordon’s two-run homer had pulled the Royals to within a run.
But that was Masterson’s last inning and the Tribe’s Pestano and Perez retired the next six batters in order to quell the threat for good.