On Thursday night, Kipnis wrapped up his homecoming trip to Chicago with a strong performance at the plate, powering Cleveland to a 7-5 victory at U.S. Cellular Field. Kipnis launched a home run, added a triple, drove in four runs and helped the Tribe clinch its fourth straight road series win to begin a season for the first time since 1961.
The American League Central-leading Indians (13-10) will now head home to test their mettle against a powerful Rangers squad. With the win over the White Sox (12-13), the Tribe improved to 9-3 on the road. At the moment, there is no one hotter at the plate for Cleveland than Kipnis, whose versatility as a hitter has made him a spark plug for the lineup.
"He's going to be a very good player for us," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "That's why we feel like our offense is going to be better than last year. Having him full time out there is going to help us."
On the season, the 25-year-old Kipnis has hit .292 with four home runs and a team-leading 17 RBIs through 23 games for the Indians. Beyond that, the second baseman has mixed in two doubles, three triples, five stolen bases, nine walks and 15 runs scored. After his 2-for-3 showing on Thursday night, Kipnis left his hometown sporting an .883 OPS.
In his latest performance, Kipnis ignited a two-run outburst in the third inning by sending a pitch from Chicago lefty John Danks to deep center field for a run-scoring triple. In the seventh inning, following back-to-back one-out hits from Casey Kotchman and Jack Hannahan, Kipnis crushed a 3-1 pitch from Danks into the right-field seats to put the Tribe ahead, 7-3.
"The one to Kipnis is probably the one he wants back," White Sox manager Robin Ventura said.
The Indians will keep it.
Personally, it was a memorable trip for Kipnis, who is a native of nearby suburban Northbrook. He estimated that he had about 10 friends and family, including his parents and grandparents, in the stands on Thursday night. In the three-game series, all he did was go 6-for-11 at the plate with one home run, one double, one triple, a stolen base, two walks, two runs and five RBIs.
It was a little better than Kipnis' first road trip to Chicago last year.
"Just a little
bit," he said while rolling his eyes.
Kipnis was in the starting lineup for a game against the White Sox on Aug. 18, but he strained a hamstring during pregame stretching and wound up on the disabled list. Kipnis made sure to go easy with his pregame routine this time around.
One of the biggest beneficiaries of Kipnis' night was Masterson (1-2), who notched his first win of the season after holding the White to three runs on eight hits over 6 1/3 innings. Two of those runs came on a chopper up the middle by Alejandro De Aza, who collected a single after watching the baseball deflect off Masterson before rolling into no-man's land in shallow right field.
"I just missed it," said Masterson, who struck out six and walked three. "It was off me. I thought it was going to stay down, and then it just kind of hopped up last second and I couldn't get my glove up quick enough. It went off my arm. And then it goes just far enough so that Kip can't get it."
Fortunately, between Kipnis' contributions and some more offensive support -- Asdrubal Cabrera also had a solid day with a solo homer in the sixth inning and an RBI single in the third -- the Tribe was able to withstand a brief Chicago rally. The White Sox plated one run in the sixth and then two in the ninth on a homer by Adam Dunn.
Dunn's blast off Dan Wheeler ended a run of 17 2/3 consecutive shutout innings for the Tribe's bullpen. Indians closer Chris Perez entered and halted Chicago's comeback attempt, however, notching his ninth save in the process.
This win was all about Kipnis, though.
Over his past 11 games, Kipnis has hit .439 (18-for-41) after managing only a .167 (8-for-48) average in his first 12 games of the season. That was not the kind of opening act that the young second baseman envisioned, but he never doubted that he could turn things around.
"I had confidence still in myself," Kipnis said. "I knew my average wasn't that high, and I knew I didn't come out of the gates like I wanted to, but I was still having good at-bats. I still had the right approach and I was swinging at the right pitches, so it was only a matter of time."
The White Sox are witnesses to that.