The Cleveland Indians were rewarded nicely for making it out of a harrowing ninth inning: They gained ground in the AL wild-card chase.
Chris Perez retired Alex Gordon on a fly ball with the bases loaded to end the game and preserve Cleveland’s 4-3 win over the Kansas City Royals on Monday night.
The Indians, who won despite having only five hits, moved a half-game closer to idle Tampa Bay, 11/2 games back for the second wild-card spot. The Royals dropped to four games behind the Rays.
Ubaldo Jimenez struck out 10 in seven innings and Asdrubal Cabrera, Yan Gomes and Carlos Santana each hit solo homers, as Cleveland built a 4-1 lead. It appeared as if the Indians were safe but Alex Gordon hit a two-run homer in the eighth off Cody Allen and Perez needed 27 pitches to get through the ninth.
Even Indians manager Terry Francona, who led Boston to two World Series titles, admitted he was on edge.
“I had a stomachache,” he said. “That’s about as nail-biting as you can get.”
Jimenez (11-9) wasn’t sure he wanted to watch.
“I was praying a little,” he said.
Francona has stressed to his players to take their season one game at a time and not worry about the previous day or the following one. With 19 games remaining and the Indians in the middle of the chase for the postseason, they have obviously listened.
“You try to be one run better,” he said. “Tonight, I feel like we were a tenth of a run better.”
A crowd of only 9,794 attended the game, despite the matchup of two contenders. Several hundred dogs were also in attendance with a “Puppypalooza” promotion. The Indians were 14th in the league in attendance entering Monday, but Francona was diplomatic when asked about the small crowds.
“Everybody would love to play in front of a packed house, but my view of it is we have a responsibility to play as well as we can and hope that the people that come enjoy it and are proud of us,” he said. “I think that’s the best we can do. That’s how I feel.”
Salvador Perez led off the ninth with a single and Mike Moustakas walked on four pitches. Pinch-hitter David Lough’s sacrifice moved the runners to second and third. Carlos Pena, another pinch hitter, struck out looking on a full-count pitch. George Kottaras, the third straight pinch hitter, battled back from an 0-2 count and walked to load the bases.
Gordon flied out to center fielder Michael Bourn and Chris Perez recorded his 23rd save.
“I liked the matchups with Pena, Kottaras and Alex [Gordon],” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “We just couldn’t get it done.”
Royals starter Ervin Santana (8-9) made three mistakes, but they cost him the game. Cabrera homered in the second and Gomes hit his in the fifth. Santana led off the seventh with a line drive down the right field line that landed in the seats. First base umpire Dana DeMuth ruled the ball foul, bringing Francona out of the dugout.
The umpires huddled briefly and left the field to view a replay, which clearly showed the ball hit the foul pole. The umps returned to the field, DeMuth gave the home run signal and Santana rounded the bases.
The Indians also got a boost from rookie infielder Jose Ramirez, who got his first major league hit and used his speed to score a run in his first start since being called up from Double-A Akron on Sept. 1.
Francona said before the game he started Ramirez because he thought the rookie could do something to help the team score. Ramirez made his manager look good in the third when he started the inning with a single, moved to third on a groundout and scored on Hosmer’s throwing error.