By Jordan Bastian and Jeffrey Flanagan
CLEVELAND -- Francisco Lindor continued his scorching second half and strengthened his case for the American League Rookie of the Year Award, igniting the Indians' offense in a 5-1 victory over the Royals on Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
Lindor (batting .361 since the All-Star break) churned out three hits, including a solo home run in the first inning, and matched a career best with four RBIs to back a strong start by Danny Salazar. Cleveland, which dropped to four games back of the second Wild Card spot with the Astros' 14-3 loss to the Rangers, has won 14 of its past 20 games overall and 13 of 16 at home.
"We knew he could do those things," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "The level he's played at and the consistency he's shown is really exciting. I think now that he's gotten a taste of it, you can see that it looks like he's trying to understand more, the impact of each out. With the skills he has, it gets real exciting in a hurry."
Salazar was charged with one run -- courtesy of a seventh-inning home run off the bat of Mike Moustakas -- in seven innings, in which the right-hander struck out six and walked two.
Kansas City's magic number is eight, with the Twins' 7-4 loss in 12 innings to the Tigers. And the Royals hold a two-game lead over Toronto for home-field advantage throughout the postseason, following the Blue Jays' 9-1 win over the Braves on Wednesday.
"My level of concern is really just how we played the last two weeks," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We're not really swinging the bats really, really well, but I know that will come back. We're not pitching really well and I know that will come back.
"What you want to do is balance it out. If you're not swinging the bats well, starting pitching has to bail you out. And if you are swinging the bats well, then that picks up the pitchers. Right now, we're not doing either."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Century club: Lindor put the Indians on the board in the first with a towering home run to the left-field bleachers. With the blast (No. 9 on the year), the rookie reached 100 hits in his 82nd game. Lindor became the fastest player to reach 100 hits to begin a career with Cleveland since Joe Vosmik (80 games in 1931). More >
"It's an honor, a blessing, cool," Lindor said. "But, at the end of the day, that's not what matters. What matters is winning. That's what I try to do, day-in and day-out. Prepare myself as good as I can to help the Indians win."
Moose blast: Moustakas began to walk toward first base in the seventh inning when a 3-1 pitch from Salazar sailed over his shoulders for what appeared to be ball four. But the pitch was called a strike and Moustakas, in disbelief, walked back into the batter's box. He then sent the next pitch into the right-field seats, his 19th homer of the season, tying him with Salvador Perez for the team lead.
More Lindor: The dynamic young shortstop wasn't done after his blast. Lindor followed an RBI single by Jason Kipnis in the second with a two-run base hit of his own, capping a string of four straight batters reaching with two out. In the fourth, Lindor delivered again with another RBI single, pushing the Indians ahead, 5-0.
Guthrie does his job: The veteran right-hander, who was pulled from the rotation for ineffectiveness, did a terrific job of holding the Indians down in hopes the Royals might rally. Guthrie came on with one out and two on in the third. He quickly got two outs and gave up just one run until he exited after seven. Guthrie's line: 4 2/3 innings, two hits, one run, three walks, five strikeouts.
"Kind of lost in all of this was how well Jeremy pitched," Yost said. "He really kept us in the game."
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Dating to at least 1914, Lindor is the sixth-fastest to 100 hits to start a career with the Indians. Only Roy Weatherly (67 games in 1936) and Vosmik reached the milestone quicker than Lindor in one year. Dale Mitchell (1946-47) and Joe Sewell (1920-21) achieved the feat in 80 games and Hal Trosky (1933-34) did so in 81 games.
"I've just never been a fan of a guy that makes a great play and acts like he's done it 10,000 times. Smile, man. That's what we play for. We've got to enjoy the game. Smiling doesn't mean you're hot-dogging it or disrespecting the game. It's a smile. I look at my teammates and they're always making comments, so I've got to smile at that, too." -- Lindor, on his on-field exuberance
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Right-hander Yordano Ventura (11-8, 4.42 ERA) will start the finale of this four-game road set at 6:10 p.m. CT on Thursday. Ventura struggled in his last outing, lasting only 5 2/3 innings while giving up eight hits and four runs against the Orioles, though he did earn the victory.
Indians: Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber will make his return at 7:10 p.m. ET on Thursday in the finale of a four-game set against the Royals at Progressive Field. Kluber (8-13, 3.41) hasn't pitched since Aug. 29 due to a right hamstring issue.