By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
KANSAS CITY, Mo.: It was a play that seldom happens outside of youth baseball.
It’s not as if the Royals planned it, and it’s a stretch even to call it a “play.” But the incident (?) kind of goes with the way Kansas City plays the game: aggressively, especially on the bases.
You might even say it was reckless, except it helped the Royals beat the Indians 7-2 Wednesday night and win the series two games to one Kauffman Stadium.
Alcides Escobar delivered a one-out single in the fifth and dashed to third on Alex Gordon’s single. With Emilio Bonifacio at the plate, Gordon broke for second prematurely and got caught in a rundown.
Escobar made no move to sprint the plate. At least he didn’t until he thought he saw a chance to score.
But he got caught in a rundown, though not for long. Third baseman Mike Aviles chased him down the third-base line, and Escobar executed what amounted to a sophisticated version of the limbo.
He got so low that Aviles missed the tag and went careening off balance, allowing Escobar to get up and race a few yards to the plate on what was scored as a steal of home (Gordon got credit for stealing second).
“I thought we handled it perfectly — until he went underneath Aviles,” manager Terry Francona said. “That was a big run, because we would have had two outs and a runner on second.”
Danny Salazar continued his education as a major-league starter, enduring a painful first inning.
After inducing the first two batters to bounce to the shortstop, he gave up a single to Eric Hosmer, walked Billy Butler and yielded a two-run double to Salvador Perez, who took third on the throw to the plate.
Salazar then unleashed the first of two wild pitches to leave the Tribe three runs behind.
“I thought early on Danny was pretty amped up,” Francona said. “There were a couple of at-bats where he was overthrowing. Later, he was using all his pitches, and he was really good.
“He was a little strong, which for his future is great, but some of those guys, you can’t throw fastballs past them.”
Salazar (1-3, 3.09 ERA) was on the same page as his manager.
“I think I was trying to do a little too much,” he said. “Maybe not too much, but I used my fastball [too much] in the first inning. After that, I started mixing my pitches. They’re a good fastball-hitting team, but I had to get loose in the first inning.”
If the botched rundowns in the fifth didn’t undermine his faith in baseball, he likely will make his next start.
“For me, this is very exciting,” Salazar said of being in the race. “Every time I go out there, I want to do the best I can, because we are fighting for a good spot.”
The wild-card standings line up this way: The Rays hold the first spot, one game ahead of the Rangers. The Indians remain a half game out of the second wild-card berth, a half-game ahead of the Orioles, two ahead of the Yankees and 2½ in front of the Royals.
Not for the first time have Tribe batsmen been perplexed when Bruce Chen is on the mound.
Whatever it is that Chen (8-3, 3.13 ERA) does to the Indians was on display for five innings plus two batters. At least the Tribe scored against him.
In the third inning, Yan Gomes led off with a flare to right that landed in no-man’s land for a single. Michael Brantley followed with a double to right on a ball that was kicked around by Lorenzo Cain for an error that allowed Gomes to score. Mike Aviles bunted Brantley to third, from where Michael Bourn’s sacrifice fly made it a two-run inning.
Francisley Bueno replaced Chen with two on and nobody out in the sixth. He retired the next two batters and Louis Coleman got the third.
In a total departure from form, Royals relievers gave up four runs Tuesday night. It was not going to happen again, at least not so soon.
That was not the case with the Tribe bullpen. Suffice it to say it took five relievers to complete the eighth, when the Royals scored three runs, due in part to a dropped fly ball in right by Ryan Raburn.
Inasmuch as the Indians trailed, Francona wanted to rest his primary relievers.
“We had chances tonight,” he said. “If we cash in, we would go to different guys out of the pen. I tried to piece that last [eighth] inning together, and obviously didn’t do a good job.”