By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: You could tell that what transpired at Progressive Field Monday night was serious business.
Unusual, to be sure, because seldom in the past several decades has there been anything on the line for both teams when the Indians played the Kansas City Royals.
But this season is different. After years of trying to figure out how to put a legitimate roster together, the Royals have a shot at a wild-card berth. It’s not a great shot, but they are in the hunt.
So falling to the Tribe 4-3 was a definite, but not definitive, setback. With so many teams in the wild-card chase, the Indians would like to eliminate the Royals. They didn’t do that, but they lifted their lead over Kansas City to 2½ games.
The win put the Tribe 1½ games behind the Tampa Bay Rays, who hold the second wild-card spot but were off Monday night.
Indians anager Terry Francona felt the intensity, even though only 9,794 fans paid their way in.
“I think everybody knows what’s going on,” he said. “It’s a lot fun, but it’s also nerve-wracking. That was about as nail-biting as it gets.”
That certainly applied to Chris Perez’s portion of the game. Perez notched his 23rd save of the year but again lived on the edge, putting runners on second and third with one out and loading the bases with two outs before finishing the job.
“Yeah, I did,” said Ubaldo Jimenez, when asked if he felt nervous in the ninth. “I prayed a little bit. He got guys on base, but he found a way to get the side out.”
The game got close when Cody Allen gave up a two-run homer to Alex Gordon in the eighth.
Jimenez (11-9, 3.62 ERA) led the way, delivering seven strong innings. He gave up one unearned run, seven hits and nary a walk while striking out 10.
His big pitch was a 94 mph fastball up around the shoulders. Unaccountably, Royals batters seemed to think that was the ideal pitch to swing at. So they swung and usually missed.
“They’re a very aggressive team,” Jimenez said. “Yan [Gomes] was calling fastball then giving me a signal to get it up.”
The Royals never really mounted a sustained rally against Jimenez. But in the sixth, rookie Jose Ramirez, making his first major-league start, tried to make an impossible play and learned that it’s impossible to make impossible plays.
Alex Gordon slapped a ground ball that he clearly was going to beat out, but Ramirez made an off-balance heave to first that ended up rolling down the right field line.
With Gordon now on second because of the error, Eric Hosmer delivered a two-out single to score the run.
If Ramirez gave a run away, he also stole one all by himself. He led off the third with his first major-league hit (“I’m giving the ball to my mother,” he said.) a line drive single to left. Drew Stubbs followed with a routine bouncer to third.
Ramirez was past second before the throw got to first and kept on going. He beat the return throw of Hosmer, whose slingshot sailed wide of the base for an error that allowed Ramirez to score.
“I’ve done that a few times [in the minors],” Ramirez said through his translator Luis Ortiz, from the Tribe’s player development system.
“He was all over the ballpark tonight,” Francona said. “He played with energy and passion. He was just happy to be out there, and he helped us.”
In the eighth, Ramirez showed off his speed again, beating out a ground ball to short. But Ramirez got picked off before anything good could happen, so the rookie had a full night of action.
“I called my mother and all my friends in the Dominican when I found out I was in the lineup,” Ramirez said. “They were trying to find a way to watch the game on TV.”
According to a baseball aphorism, solo homers won’t beat you. But they will if your opponent hits three then steals another run.
Going deep for the Indians in chronological order: Asdrubal Cabrera in the second inning, Gomes in the fifth and Carlos Santana in the seventh.
Santana hit a hooking line drive that landed just inside the right field foul pole. First base umpire Dana DeMuth signaled that it was foul, prompting Francona to ask for a video review that went the Tribe’s way.
“I thought I saw it, but it’s hard [for the umpires],” Francona said.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.