Entering Monday night, the Royals found themselves firmly placed in the basement of the American League Central. Sitting 24 games back of .500, their road woes and inept bullpen have resulted in a poor first half for the most part. However, for the Cleveland Indians, the winning record is far from indication of how 2019 has progressed for them. Plagued with a multitude of injuries to their core talents, the Indians inability to stay healthy has allowed the Minnesota Twins to build a hefty lead in first place. Despite holding the title of division champs for three consecutive seasons, Cleveland’s window for World Series contention is fading faster than most had envisioned. Although still in the heat of the Wild Card race, the inconsistency clouds what could be Cleveland’s final year to win with their bunch.
Kicking off the fourth game of 2019 between the two clubs, the Royals came in on a three-game win streak against the Tribe. Collecting their only series sweep of the season versus this Cleveland team back in April, Kansas City looked to continue the trend at Progressive Field on Monday. Waiting through a two and a half hour rain delay, the Indians walked it off in extra innings to claim game one, 3-2.
As Brad Keller took the mound in the bottom of the first, most could recall his previous outing at Seattle last Wednesday. Battered around with no mercy for the better part of four innings, surrendering seven runs on nine hits, Keller struggled keeping the ball down. Allowing two home runs in the first inning alone, the Royals fell out of it before they had a chance to bat for the second time. However, the 6’5 right-hander would not let the same struggles dictate his performance on Monday night. His most impressive trick came in the second inning when Keller danced himself out of danger. Following a single and a double to leadoff the inning, the Indians had runners at second and third with nobody out. The 23-year-old pitcher proceeded to strike out the next two hitters and induce a soft grounder to first base, eliminating the early threat.
Offensively, the bats struggled to produce solid contact off of Cleveland starter Adam Plutko. Failing to record a hit in the first three innings, the Royals finally broke through in the top of the fourth. Back at the top of the order, Whit Merrifield clubbed his 11th home run of the season to not only end the no-hitter, but the scoreless tie as well. Before the teams took the field for the bottom half however, the skies opened up. Making the decision to delay play until the storm passed through, the outings for both starters were ended suddenly by mother nature.
Lasting nearly two and a half hours, Kansas City elected to go with the Brian Flynn to hold the 1-0 lead when play resumed. Only the long wait seemed to awaken the Tribe’s offense. After Carlos Santana doubled to the left field corner, José Ramírez drove him in on roped double to the corner as well. Two innings later, rookie first baseman Bobby Bradley tagged Flynn for a second run run on a double to the gap. Unfortunately coughing up the one-run advantage, Kansas City’s dormant offense still got their opportunity to respond late off of the Cleveland bullpen.
Notching just one hit post-rain delay, the top of the eighth inning started with a boom. Leading off the frame, Martín Maldonado pounded a double off the wall in left-center field, putting the tying run on with nobody out. Unfortunately, Billy Hamilton couldn’t get a bunt down to move him over and Merrifield grounded out sharply to third base. Putting Terrance Gore in to pinch run, Nicky Lopez was presented the opportunity to come through with two outs. Falling behind 1-2 in the count, Lopez slashed one down the third base line to plate Gore, tying it back up at two a piece. The other Lopez, Jorge, stifled another Indians scoring opportunity in the bottom of the eighth, striking out Roberto Perez to end the threat. In his last five innings, Lopez has only allowed one run and has struck out four.
Unable to muster up much through innings nine and ten, the Indians finally did what most do to the Royals bullpen. Turning to Wily Peralta in extra innings...again, the bottom of tenth lasted all but two pitches. Waiting on the off-speed, Jason Kipnis blasted a hanging slider from Peralta deep into the night, ending the near six-hour contest and handing Kansas City their 52nd loss of the season. Tomorrow, the Royals will call on Glenn Sparkman to even up the series. The Tribe will send out Shane Bieber. First pitch is set for 6:10 CT