By Jordan Bastian and Jeffrey Flanagan
CLEVELAND -- Omar Infante had not appeared in a game for the Royals in more than a week before seeing his name in the starting lineup on Thursday night. The second baseman then knocked in a week's worth of runs in an 8-4 romp over the Indians at Progressive Field.
Infante powered Kansas City's offense with a career-high seven RBIs, ending the evening 3-for-4 to help the Royals split the four-game series. He got them rolling with a three-run homer in the second inning -- his second long ball on the year, both at Progressive Field -- and added a two-run double and two-run single.
The Royals' magic number to clinch the American League Central fell to six, after the Twins lost to the Angels, 11-8, and Kansas City maintained a two-game lead over Toronto for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (Blue Jays own the tiebreaker). For Cleveland, the loss hindered the club's progress in the AL Wild Card standings. The Indians remained four games back of the second Wild Card spot, after the Astros fell to the Rangers, 8-2.
Indians ace Corey Kluber (8-14) was hung with the loss after logging four innings in his first start this month, following a comeback from a strained right hamstring. After Kluber left the game, the Tribe's bullpen was charged with five runs. While Infante did the bulk of the damage, Eric Hosmer also contributed an RBI double in the fifth.
"For the most part, we made some mistakes to Infante tonight," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He had seven RBIs. When we got it where we needed to, we were OK. And when we didn't, he killed us."
Royals right-hander Yordano Ventura improved to 12-8 after allowing three runs (two earned) on eight hits in five innings. He surrendered an RBI single in the second inning to All-Star Jason Kipnis -- plating two due to an error -- and later loaded the bases in the fifth before giving up a run-scoring groundout to Jose Ramirez.
"He was grinding, and he really didn't want us to lose another game," Royals manager Ned Yost said of Ventura. "He was competing intensely. To give him some runs early was big. He put every effort he had to get us a win."
Added Ventura, "I had good stuff. I felt strong. If I keep fighting and keep battling, that's all I care about."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Have a day, Omar: Infante hadn't played on this entire road trip and hadn't started a game since Sept. 6. But he blasted a three-run homer in the second off Kluber. In the fifth, he smacked his two-run double to put the Royals up, 6-2, before adding his two-run single in the seventh. Infante might have had more RBIs, but he put down a sacrifice bunt with a runner on second and none out in the fourth. He had a chance to hit for the cycle but lined out to right-center in the ninth. More >
Pulling Kluber: When Carlos Carrasco came off the disabled list earlier this month, the Tribe lifted him after 58 pitches in his return. Similarly, Kluber was pulled after 61 pitches in his first start since Aug. 29. The right-hander struck out five and walked none in four innings, but he yielded three runs (two earned) on five hits.
"I might have been overprotective," Francona said. "If that's the case, I don't want to apologize for it. I just think that after being down for [19 days], I just thought that he'll be better, and he'll be better suited now to start pitching like he can and not have to think about it. He wanted to go back out. I just thought it was in his best interest, and I think I have an obligation to keep an eye on guys like that." More >
Sizzling Rios:Alex Rios continued to scorch the ball as he extended his hitting streak to eight games. Rios had three more hits, including a pair of doubles, and reached four times, tallying 11 hits in his last 25 at-bats (.440). He has four doubles, two homers and four RBIs on the trip as he tries to anchor the job in right field for the playoffs.
"Rios is hot as a firecracker, too," Yost said. "To have him and Omar down in the order give us a boost, that was big."
Error opens door: Rookie third baseman Giovanny Urshela made a wild throw on a grounder from Salvador Perez to help Kansas City get a rally going in the second inning. Following that inning-opener blunder, Rios singled and Infante sent a 1-2 pitch to deep left for his three-run home run. Kluber escaped further harm in the frame, but the Royals had a swift 3-0 advantage.
"I tried to talk him into letting me go back out, but I also understand his point of view of not wanting me to push it to where it's going to make things worse. So I'm not going to question him. I tried to state my case, and ultimately he makes the call, so it is what it is." --Kluber, on being pulled by Francona
"We had Brant up with a 3-0 count and had a chance to do some damage there. That's the way the game goes. I would rather have the opportunities than not. And I like the fact that he's confident enough to swing there, because that's the situation we're looking for." --Francona, on Michael Brantley popping out on a 3-0 count, stranding two runners to end the fourth inning
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: All eyes will be on struggling right-hander Johnny Cueto (9-12, 3.47 ERA) as he takes the mound to open a three-game set against the Tigers at 6:08 p.m. CT on Friday at Comerica Park. Cueto is 0-5 with a 9.57 ERA over his last five starts.
Indians: Rookie right-hander Cody Anderson (4-3, 3.68 ERA) is scheduled to start opposite White Sox lefty Chris Sale (12-9, 3.55 ERA) in a 7:10 p.m. ET divisional clash on Friday at Progressive Field. Anderson, 25, has gone 2-0 with a 2.35 ERA and a .184 opponents' average in his past four turns.