"There were definitely a lot of things that happened tonight," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "A lot of variables that both teams kind of had to battle. That's part of the game. We had to face everything they did. It was a back-and-forth game."
Following a decent effort from starter Scott Kazmir, and an electrifying inside-the-park home run from the red-hot Kipnis, the Indians' relief corps could not keep Kansas City down. The bullpen's missteps brought an end to Cleveland's five-game winning streak and knocked the club back into second place in the American League Central.
The Indians are 7-3 on their road trip through Baltimore, Chicago and Kansas City with one game remaining against the Royals.
Wednesday's decisive blow came in the seventh inning, when Eric Hosmer crushed a 95-mph fastball from Indians right-hander Cody Allen to deep center field. Hosmer's go-ahead home run brought an end to the tug-of-war that the Indians and Royals engaged in all evening.
"With Allen, he's got a great fastball," Hosmer said. "I was telling myself to get to him early and just get in that ready position early and, if he gives you that [fastball] early, don't miss it. Fortunately enough, I didn't miss it."
The Indians (45-39) appeared to have the game's momentum in hand in the sixth inning.
Following two straight singles from Michael Bourn and Asdrubal Cabrera, Kipnis sliced a pitch from Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie deep to left field. Kansas City left fielder Alex Gordon drifted back as the ball continued to carry and made an awkward attempt at a catch as it dropped to the warning track.
On the play, Gordon spun and fell, slamming the back of his head on the wall while Kipnis sprinted around the bases. Kipnis had enough time to make it all the way home for an inside-the-park homer -- the second baseman's 13th home run of the season -- to give the Indians a 3-1 lead. It marked the first inside-the-parker for the Tribe since Jhonny Peralta accomplished the feat on July 18, 2010.
Kipnis quickly stopped celebrating at home plate once he realized Gordon was still down on the warning track, and the second baseman went as far as apologizing to Royals catcher Salvador Perez.
"I touched home I was like, OK, inside the park home run, three runs, we took the lead," Kipnis said. "It's exciting. I turned around and saw he was still down and was like, 'Oh, hey, we're not celebrating that.' It was an apology. [Perez] was like, 'No, I know you didn't [mean it].'"
Kipnis watched from the dugout's top step as Kansas City trainers tended to Gordon, who exited the game with a possible concussion and a right hip contusion.
"It was a big play in the game for us," Kipnis said. "It was kind of a break, but you never want to see it happen like that. All of us respect Alex over in this locker room, so we all wish him the best."
Indians manager Terry Francona echoed that sentiment.
"As exciting as it is to see Kip running the bases, it's hard not to worry," Francona said. "I mean, that kid [Gordon] plays so hard. He's such a good player."
Cleveland's lead proved short-lived.
After rain forced a delay of two hours and 37 minutes, the Royals (39-42) broke through against Kazmir in the first inning, when Gordon pulled a pitch down the right-field line for a double. Later in the inning, Kansas City's Billy Butler pushed another of Kazmir's pitches into right for a single that scored Gordon, putting the Indians behind, 1-0.
Kazmir held the Royals in check over the next four innings before running into trouble in the sixth. The left-hander allowed consecutive singles to Alcides Escobar and Hosmer, convincing Francona to turn to right-handed reliever Bryan Shaw.
"Normally, we feel pretty good handing it over to Shaw or to Cody in those situations," Francona said. "Tonight, [Shaw] just didn't get them out."
The Royals produced three run-scoring singles off Shaw, putting the finishing touch on Kazmir's line. The lefty was charged with three runs on six hits in his five innings. Later in the sixth, first baseman Nick Swisher missed a catch on a pickoff attempt from Shaw, allowing Lorenzo Cain to score from third base to give Kansas City a 5-3 lead.
"Shaw throws those cutters," Francona said. "He threw him a cutter to first."
In the top of the seventh, while Ryan Raburn stood in the batter's box with a 2-2 count against Guthrie, several lights around the stadium went out as the clock struck midnight CT. The malfunction caused a 12-minute delay, and Guthrie struggled with his command when the game resumed. Raburn drew a one-out walk and Yan Gomes followed suit, forcing Guthrie from the contest.
Bourn then delivered an RBI single off Royals lefty Will Smith and Cabrera followed with a sacrifice fly, tying the game at 5.
The Indians appeared poised for another comeback win on this tough road trip, but Hosmer's home run brought an end to that prospect.
The game ended at 2:18 p.m. ET, but the Indians were not celebrating the Fourth of July just yet.
"I'd say it was one of those strange nights," Kazmir said. "It's one of those games where it keeps going back and forth, back and forth. We'll come out tomorrow -- or should I say today -- and finish the series out."