By Jordan Bastian and Jeffrey Flanagan
CLEVELAND -- The Royals have experienced plenty of late-season magic over the past two years. Now the Indians want a turn. On Tuesday night, Cleveland continued its march toward an American League Central title with a 2-1, walk-off win over Kansas City.
Brandon Guyer played the role of hero, sending a fly ball deep into the right-field corner for a pinch-hit RBI single off Royals reliever Joakim Soria, setting off the on-field party at Progressive Field. The win was the 11th in walk-off fashion this year for Cleveland, which improved to 50-26 at home and 42-22 against AL Central foes.
"It's a lot of fun," Indians setup man Bryan Shaw said of Cleveland's playoff push. "Any time you're in a race, especially when you're ahead like we are right now, it's a lot of fun. It's a little bit of a weight off your shoulders almost. In '13, we had to win every single game to finish up the year to be able to make it.
"Now we've put ourselves in a better position. We can almost relax a little more and have fun and play the game like normal."
Royals manager Ned Yost hinted it was just more bad luck for Soria as the winning hit, which scored Coco Crisp from third, landed fair by maybe two inches.
"Again, there is a lot of weird stuff going on [for Soria]," Yost said.
For the first time this season, Soria waved off reporters approaching his locker afterward.
With the win, the Indians maintained their seven-game lead over the second-place Tigers, who beat the Twins, with 12 games to play. The Tribe trimmed its magic number to six to clinch its first division crown -- one worn by Kansas City last year -- in nine years.
Indians starter Josh Tomlin -- pitching more under a microscope in the wake of injuries to Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco -- turned in a quality start, limiting the Royals to one run over 6 2/3 innings. The righty's lone misstep came in the fifth, when Alex Gordon singled to left to drive in Salvador Perez. Tomlin ended with three strikeouts and no walks.
"I thought he was outstanding," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Efficient, threw strikes, everything was crisp. He did a heck of a job."
Like Tomlin, Edinson Volquez walked away with a no-decision for his effort. The Royals right-hander also held Cleveland to one run over 6 2/3 innings, in which his one blemish was a home run by slugger Carlos Santana.
The Royals' elimination number for the second Wild Card spot in the AL is seven.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Naquin flashes arm:Kendrys Morales tried to ignite a rally in the second, when he led off by sending a pitch from Tomlin to deep left-center. Rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin retrieved the ball and unleashed a throw that registered at 95.7 mph, per Statcast™. Second baseman Jason Kipnis made the catch, dove to the bag and tagged Morales for an impressive out. Naquin's throw was the ninth hardest among outfield assists in the Majors this season.
"That's huge," Tomlin said. "That was a great play by him getting the ball in as quick as he can, and then the tag by Kip was unbelievable. It kind of took a bad hop on him and jumped up on him, and he grabbed it and turned around and tagged him. It was a great play by both of those guys."
Knotting it up: The Royals tied the score at 1 in the fifth, when Perez scorched a one-out double to left. Gordon followed by flipping a liner into left that scored Perez, and Gordon took second when left fielder Abraham Almonte bobbled the ball for an error. But the Royals could not do any more damage, as Tomlin struck out Paulo Orlando and got Alcides Escobar to ground out sharply to second.
"We just couldn't get anything else going on all night," Yost said.
Carlos Slamtana: With the season winding down, Santana and Mike Napoli (34 homers) are in a race for the team high in home runs. In the third inning, Santana launched his 33rd shot of the season with a towering drive to right off Volquez. The one-out solo shot had an exit velocity of 106 mph and a projected distance of 405 feet, according to Statcast™.
The Gore effect … almost: Speedy Terrance Gore entered the game as a pinch-runner in the eighth inning as the potential go-ahead run with one out. With left-hander Andrew Miller pitching, Gore took off on the first pitch and easily stole second. Gore now is 17-for-17 in stolen bases during the regular season in his career. Moments later, Gore sped to third on a wild pitch. But Miller promptly struck out pinch-hitter Christian Colon and Whit Merrifield -- both looking -- to end the threat.
The Royals were furious with both strike-three calls.
"I think [you] have to be better in that situation," Colon said of the calls. "You can't just be giving pitches, especially with a guy like Miller. You can't help a guy like that. … We're all human and make mistakes. We get that. But you have to be better."
Yost said he didn't even consider the two strike calls borderline. Were they low and inside?
"Yeah, took us completely out of the inning," Yost said.
"Our job is to step up. Our job is to go out there and give this team a chance to win. It's not to try to do what Carlos Carrasco or Danny Salazar can do. It's to try to be ourselves and give our team a chance to win every fifth day. Both of us, we know we have to step up." -- Tomlin, on the role he and Mike Clevinger will play down the stretch
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
Napoli's strikeout in the eighth inning against Kelvin Herrera marked the 186th punchout for Cleveland's first baseman this season. That moved Napoli past Jim Thome (185 strikeouts in 2001) for the most whiffs in a single season in Cleveland history. The good news is that Napoli leads this year's Indians club in both home runs and RBIs.
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Right-hander Ian Kennedy (11-9, 3.60 ERA) takes the mound for the Royals in game two of the series Wednesday at 6:10 p.m. CT. Kennedy gave up two runs and five hits over six innings Friday against the White Sox.
Indians: Ace Corey Kluber (17-9, 3.12 ERA) will start in a 7:10 p.m. ET clash with Kansas City at Progressive Field. Kluber has a 2.50 ERA with 21 strikeouts against six walk in three starts (18 innings) against the Royals this year. The righty is 11-2 with a 2.43 ERA in his past 16 turns.