One win at a time, the Royals are scrapping their way toward the top in the AL Central.
Pinch-runner Elliot Johnson scored from third base on a wild pitch by reliever Matt Albers in the ninth inning as Kansas City rallied for a 2-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Monday night.
Johnson, inserted after Billy Butler opened the ninth with a double, sprinted home and slid in safely after Albers’ pitch got under catcher Carlos Santana and went all the way to the backstop.
With their 11th win in 13 games, the Royals, who were last in the division on June 5, moved past Cleveland into second place.
“We’re grinding out wins now, so I’ll take it,” said starter James Shields, who went six innings but got another hard-luck no-decision. “We’re real resilient as a team. Even when things got rough, we never gave up. We believe in ourselves.”
Before going on this surge, the Royals lost 15 of 18 and at 23-32 manager Ned Yost’s future was very much in doubt. But the Royals are rising quickly.
“A win is a win,” Butler said. “We’ve been playing good baseball and we’re enjoying it. We’re more confident now than we were when we started 17-10.”
Royals reliever Aaron Crow (3-2) struck out two after putting the potential go-ahead run at third in the eighth, and Greg Holland stranded the tying run at third in the ninth for his 15th save in 17 tries.
Bryan Shaw (0-1) couldn’t protect a 1-0 lead for Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco, charged with just one run and four hits in 71/3 innings.
Santana homered in the sixth off Shields, who remained winless since April 30 and has pitched much better than his 2-6 record.
“He never gives in,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He can throw any pitch in any count for a strike.”
The Indians were unable to get the big hit all night.
Twice they loaded the bases against Shields, who both times struck out Jason Kipnis to end the threats. In the ninth, Cleveland got the tying run to third when Michael Bourn doubled and advanced on a wild pitch. But Holland struck out Mike Aviles and retired Kipnis on an easy grounder to second.
The Royals scored one run in the eighth and ninth to eke out the win.