Santana is dominant again as Royals beat Indians 3-2

Is it possible to view a $12 million expenditure as a bargain?

Right-hander Ervin Santana is doing his best to make it look that way after delivering another dominant performance Saturday night in the Royals’ 3-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium.

Salvy Perez provided the Royals with an early lead by hitting a two-run homer in the second inning, and Santana took it from there — with a little late scrambling from Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland.

Santana, 3-1, threw seven shutout innings for his fourth straight quality start. He allowed just five hits, all singles, while striking out five, walking none and lowering his ERA to 2.00.

“I feel very good,” he said. “Salvy and I, the whole game, were on the same page. We did the job. I’m just trying to be on the same page with the catcher. Not shake too much. And just throw strikes.”

Check, check and check.

Herrera inherited a 3-0 lead to start the eighth against the top of the Cleveland order — and immediately yielded a leadoff double to Michael Brantley.

A wild pitch moved Brantley to third before Herrera struck out Jason Kipnis and retired Asdrubal Cabrera on a pop to third. Herrera then walked Nick Swisher but ended the threat by striking out Jason Giambi.

That was mere prelude to even greater anxiety in the ninth inning when Holland allowed two unearned runs before gaining his sixth save in seven opportunities.

The Indians put runners at first and second with one out.

Mark Reynolds reached on an infield single by Mark Reynolds before first baseman Eric Hosmer bobbled a potential game-ending, double-play grounder by Lonnie Chisenhall.

“It was just a mental mistake on my part,” Hosmer said. “I was trying to get back, play the hop and throw to second right there. In that situation, you’re playing for outs. Luckily, I can learn from it after a positive way out.”

Holland struck out Drew Stubbs, but Brantley ripped a two-run triple into the right-center gap. That quickly, the lead was down to one run — with the trying run at third.

But Holland closed the victory by striking out Kipnis, and the Royals, 12-8, maintained their lead in the American League Central Division by one game over second-place Detroit.

“Holland, that was huge by him to pick me up after the error,” Hosmer said. “We needed this win, and Erv deserved the win. That’s what good teams do — pick guys up.”

Good teams also pick up key guys in the off-season.

The Royals acquired Santana in an Oct. 31 trade with the Los Angeles Angels by agreeing to pick up all but $1 million of his $13 million salary in his final season before he becomes a free agent.

Right now, there might not be a better acquisition in either league. Santana has allowed just four runs over 30 innings in his last four starts.

“He established his fastball for strikes so well,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “and you have to respect everything else. When you can’t eliminate any pitches, he becomes very effective.”

The Indians’ best chance against Santana came in the third inning when they loaded the bases with one out on singles by Stubbs, Kipnis and Cabrera.

Swisher followed with a hard grounder, but it went straight to second baseman Elliot Johnson, who turned it into an inning-ending double play.

“That was big,” Santana said. “I just threw a sinker down and away, and I got a ground-ball double play.”

Cleveland starter Scott Kazmir, 0-1, wasn’t particularly efficient — he threw 99 pitches in five innings — but still limited the Royals to two runs before exiting.

Those two runs came on Perez’s homer, which followed a leadoff walk by Jeff Francoeur in the second inning. Perez reached for an outside pitch and sent a drive to deep right that stayed just fair.

“I knew I hit it pretty good,” he said. “I was just worrying about it being foul or fair. It was pretty close. I was giving it (body english).”

Kazmir had trouble believing it.

“That pitch was probably behind a left-handed batter if he was in that side of the box,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that — someone able to connect with a ball that was that far off the plate.

“But he did it, and he didn’t miss. It didn’t slice or anything.”

It was Perez’s first homer in 122 at-bats dating to Sept. 15 walk-off against Angels closer Ernesto Frieri. It was also the only scoring until the seventh, when the Royals produced a run against a relay of five Cleveland relievers.

Cody Allen replaced Kazmir to start the sixth and retired four straight batters before Francona called on Nick Hagadone with one out in the seventh.

Hagadone struck out Johnson but departed when Alex Gordon sliced a two-out single to left. In came Bryan Shaw to face Alcides Escobar, but Gordon stole second and went to third on a wild pitch.

Shaw then walked Escobar, who stole second. A intentional walk to Billy Butler loaded the bases and brought lefty Rich Hill into the game to face Hosmer, who saw a steady diet of sliders.

Hosmer swung through a 1-0 pitch before taking the next three for a walk that forced in a run for a 3-0 lead.

“Basically there,” he said, “I’m just telling myself to see the ball up and drive something to left field. In that situation, a reliever coming in is going to give you his best pitch. That’s what his game plan is.

“That’s when you’ve got to step out, take a deep breath and not let the situation get too out of control. Just slow everything down.”

That walk provided the Royals, who managed only six hits, with just enough offense to win.

“That’s all I need every night,” Yost said. “Just enough.”

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