KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It’s getting very crowded at the top of the AL Central. The surging Cleveland Indians have turned the division into one of baseball’s best playoff races.
Michael Brantley and Carlos Santana each had an RBI single in the 11th inning, leading the Indians to a 3-2 victory over the sliding Kansas City Royals on Saturday night.
Kansas City has lost three in a row to fall into a first-place tie with Detroit, which split a doubleheader at Chicago. Cleveland, which has won six of seven, is just 3½ back.
“It’s extremely agonizing,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It’s frustrating.”
The Royals got a run back in the bottom of the 11th when Salvador Perez’s two-out double scored Jarrod Dyson. But Erik Kratz struck out to end the game.
Jose Ramirez sparked Cleveland’s winning rally with a leadoff triple. Brantley followed with a base hit against Scott Downs (0-4).
“It was a hustle triple,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I about swallowed my tobacco when he went around second. Instead of Brantley trying to get the runner over they have to bring the infield in and he hit a chopper over the infield.”
Brantley then stole second and went to third on Perez’s throwing error before Santana singled into center field.
The Royals loaded the bases with one out in the 10th, but failed to score off Josh Tomlin (6-8). The reliever got Alcides Escobar to hit a grounder to third, forcing Perez at the plate. He then struck Jayson Nix, who was making his Royals debut.
The Royals went 2-for-18 with runners in scoring position and stranded 16 runners, twice leaving the bases loaded.
“We weren’t getting any hits with runners in scoring position, it was plain and simple,” Yost said. “One was an infield hit and didn’t score a run.
“We had a multitude of opportunities starting in the first inning. We just couldn’t take advantage of it.”
Cleveland grabbed a 1-0 lead when Yan Gomes doubled in Jason Kipnis in the fourth.
The Royals tied it in the eighth without the benefit of a hit. Alex Gordon led off with a walk. Billy Butler then hit a comebacker that should have been a double play, but reliever Scott Atchison threw the ball into center field, putting Gordon on third. With the bases loaded, Lorenzo Cain’s grounder scored Gordon for an unearned run.
“That’s tough, leaving that many runners on base,” Cain said. “We should have definitely beat these kids. We had a few chances to walk it off. I did myself. We just didn’t get the job done. We’ve got to come through in those tight situations if we want to get to the playoffs.”
Indians rookie Trevor Bauer pitched 5⅔ scoreless innings despite issuing five walks. He allowed four hits and struck out six.
The Royals loaded the bases with none out in the first, but Bauer escaped the jam.
“I was fortunate to get out of it,” Bauer said. “With the way the game turned out it was important to get out of it with no runs. Usually in that situation you try to keep it to one or two, but that was big with no runs.”
James Shields tossed seven innings of one-run ball for Kansas City. He gave up five hits, struck out four and walked one.
“It’s disappointing,” Shields said. “We had the game right in our grasp, right in our hands and we didn’t come out of it.”
Wade Davis replaced Shields and struck out the side in the eighth to run his scoreless streak to 25⅔ innings, the longest active streak in the majors. He has allowed just one run in his 49 innings, lowering his ERA to 0.76.
The Indians have won five straight series and are a season-best six games above .500. They have won eight of their past 10 road games. They are 17-9 in August for their fourth straight winning month.
Indians: DH Jason Giambi (left knee inflammation) and OF Ryan Raburn (right wrist soreness) are on a rehab assignment with Double-A Akron. Giambi is eligible to come off the disabled list Monday and Raburn on Tuesday.
Royals: DH-OF Josh Willingham was unavailable with a stiff back. .1B Eric Hosmer (fractured right hand) went 2-for-6 with two RBIs and struck out twice in his first rehab game with Triple-A Omaha. ... 2B Omar Infante (right shoulder inflammation) started after missing four games.
Indians: Rookie LHP T.J. House, who won his first big league July 5 over the Royals, is coming off a rocky outing, giving up five runs Tuesday in a no-decision against the White Sox.
Royals: LHP Danny Duffy’s 2.47 ERA ranks third in the American League, but he has a losing record at 8-11.