July 13, 2013
This is an important series for the Indians, but an even more important series for the Royals. They are in the midst of their toughest stretch schedule-wise this season, and if they can at least stay in the race, they'll have a chance to make a run in August. And with this series the last time they'll face the Indians until September, it's their last chance to make up ground on the second-place Indians for quite a while. From the Indians' standpoint, a sweep of the Royals would essentially make the AL Central a two-team race, and a series win would keep Kansas City a comfortable distance back in the standings.
Corey Kluber, after a couple poor starts, has started to turn things around. Last time out he threw 6.1 solid innings against the Tiger offensive machine, and last night he dominated the Kansas City lineup. He had get through one jam, and it was a doozy. Local product David Lough lined a triple past Nick Swisher (I bet Swisher would tell you he should have at least gotten a glove on it to start the game) to start the fifth inning, but Kluber managed to keep the Royals off the board. The Tribe infield played back, content to allow Lough to score on a slow-hit grounder, but when Alcides Escobar hit a sharp liner towards Jason Kipnis, Lough had to freeze at second, as he thought that Kipnis might catch the ball in the air. The ball did bounce before it reached Kipnis, but Lough had to remain at third. Kluber then walked the eighth and ninth hitters in the order, loading the bases for the top of the order. He struck out Alex Gordon, then induced Eric Hosmer to hit a weak grounder that he took to first base himself to end the inning and the threat.
After that inning, Kluber cruised, retiring the Royals in order in the sixth and the seventh. Terry Francona took him out in the eighth to a standing ovation from the Progressive Field crowd. Joe Smith got Billy Butler for the final out of the eighth.
Before the game, the Royals made their first rotation change all season. Believe it or not, Kansas City has only had six pitchers make starts in 2013, and that sixth starter was used only because of that doubleheader in April against the Indians. Luis Mendoza has struggled of late (including in a recent game against the Indians), so manager Ned Yost moved him to the bullpen, and moved Bruce Chen from the bullpen to the rotation. Chen had been a fixture in the Kansas City rotation, starting 91 games from 2009-2012, so this wasn't that drastic a move, and based on last night's results, it looks like it's going to work out. Chen, who nowadays throws in the mid-80s, managed to keep the Indians off the board through six innings in a combination of good pitching and luck. He struck out four and allowed just one hit, and when the Indians made solid contact, a Royals fielder was standing right in the path of the ball.
The Royals have one of the league's best bullpens, but it almost seemed as if the Tribe breathed a sign of relief when Chen was removed after six innings. Tim Collins came in to face Jason Kipnis, and the All-Star second baseman lined a single to left field. Then Nick Swisher singled to left, and Collins gave way to Aaron Crow. Carlos Santan greeted him with a shot to center, and even though the ball reached Dyson about the same time Kipnis reached third, Kipnis was sent home. The ball reached home plate ahead of Kipnis, but because the ball was a couple feet to the third base side of the plate, catcher Salvador had to reach to his left. That gave Kipnis an opening, and he was able to avoid Gomez's tag while reaching the plate with his left hand. It was an outsanding slide, a play that most of the players on the Tribe roster wouldn't have been able to make.
The Indians weren't done yet. Mark Reynolds, who has been in the midst of an horrendous slump, surprised everyone in the ballpark by laying down a bunt that reloaded the bases. Francona, sensing that now was the time to strike, lifted Ryan Raburn for Michael Bourn, and the Tribe center fielder lined a two-run double to right-center field. The Indians should have broken the game completely open, as they had runners at second and third with nobody out. But MIke Aviles, Drew Stubbs, and Michael Brantley couldn't get a run home, and the score remained 3-0 Indians.
But that was enough. Chris Perez had been given the night off after all his work over the past week, meaning Cody Allen would get a save opportunity. After striking out the first two batters of the inning, Allen allowed two singles and a walk, bringing the go-ahead run to the plate in the form of Jarrod Dyson. But Allen struck Dyson out on an inside fastball (which I'm fairly certain wasn't where the pitch was intended to go) to end the game and to give the Indians a crucial win.
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