Royals

Royals lose 6-3 to the Indians, need a victory Sunday to secure a winning season

The Indians’ Abraham Almonte and Michael Martinez scored on a two-run double by Francisco Lindor in the eighth inning against the Royals on Saturday at Kauffman Stadium. Cleveland scored three runs in the inning to beat Kansas City 6-3.
The Indians’ Abraham Almonte and Michael Martinez scored on a two-run double by Francisco Lindor in the eighth inning against the Royals on Saturday at Kauffman Stadium. Cleveland scored three runs in the inning to beat Kansas City 6-3. jsleezer@kcstar.com

Perhaps this is not the kind of early October drama that the Royals envisioned when they convened at spring training in February. But here it is. One more day to achieve a goal.

If the Royals wish secure a fourth straight winning season for the first time in 36 years, they must beat the Cleveland Indians on Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium. If they wish to finish on a positive note heading into the offseason, they must avoid a season-ending sweep at the hands of the AL Central champion Indians and stop their current losing streak at three.

Yes, nobody will mistake this for postseason suspense or the magic of the fall classic. But for the 2016 Royals, this is the reality after a 6-3 loss to the Indians on Saturday afternoon. This is their lot after a hot grounder to second baseman Whit Merrifield turned into a costly error, opening the floodgates in a three-run eighth inning.

“That’s a play I should make,” Merrifield said.

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The moment came with one out in the top of the eighth. The score was knotted at 3-3. Left-handed reliever Matt Strahm had entered in the seventh inning and returned in the eighth, and he opened the inning by issuing a walk to pinch hitter Rajai Davis.

Strahm responded by striking out Coco Crisp, recording the first out in the inning. Royals manager Ned Yost emerged from the dugout, summoning rookie right-hander Kevin McCarthy to face pinch hitter Abraham Almonte in a tie game. Moments later, after Davis stole second, Almonte ripped a grounder to the right side.

Merrifield moved to his left but couldn’t corral the baseball. It clipped off his glove and into shallow right field, allowing Davis to score easily.

“I should make that play just about every time,” Merrifield said. “But he hit it hard and he hooked it hard. I thought it was going to be to my right. I took a pretty hard step to my right, and it hooked back to the left. I kind of got my feet tangled up.”

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McCarthy compounded the problem by issuing two more walks before shortstop Francisco Lindor broke open the game with a double just inside of third base.

The ever-streaky Royals, 81-80, lost their third straight game after a four-game winning streak. The Indians, 93-67, are set to face the Boston Red Sox in an American League Division Series — though home-field advantage in the series remains up for grabs, depending on the Red Sox’s result against the Blue Jays on Saturday night.

Saturday was Fan Appreciation Day at Kauffman Stadium, and a crowd of 28,569 showed up to enjoy the final days of the 2016 season. The attendance figure pushed the Royals past 2.5 million for the second straight year — settling in at 2,528,237 with one home game left — just more than 180,000 short of last year’s club-record mark of 2,708,549.

As the finish line neared, Yost fielded a lineup without two of his remaining regulars — catcher Salvador Perez and first baseman Eric Hosmer. Perez was sitting for a second straight day while batting nagging knee and hamstring issues. Hosmer was simply beat up and fatigued, Yost said.

That left Daniel Nava to make his first start at first base and outfielder Paulo Orlando to man the cleanup spot in the order. And after starter Edinson Volquez took the mound for what could be his final Royals start, the Indians took a 2-0 lead with single runs in the second and third innings.

Volquez has said that he is open to returning to Kansas City, but it may not be his decision. His current contract includes a mutual option for 2017, and if that is not exercised, the Royals are extremely unlikely to proffer a one-year qualifying offer to Volquez.

As Volquez warmed up for the game, pitching coach Dave Eiland told him to enjoy the afternoon. For a moment, Volquez didn’t realize what Eiland meant. Then he realized: Yes, this could be his final start in Royal blue.

“I feel like I still got a lot of passion for the game,” said Volquez, 33. “And this is the game I love. So when I got an opportunity to get on the mound, that’s what I want to do. I want to enjoy the game.”

Volquez allowed three runs in five innings while striking out five and walking four. He needed 103 pitches to navigate five innings, and by the top of the sixth, Yost had turned the game over to his bullpen.

After falling behind 2-0, the Royals struck for a run in the third on a two-out RBI single by Merrifield. After the Indians stretched the lead back to 3-1, the Kansas City offense stirred again in the sixth, scoring two runs on an RBI double from Orlando and an RBI single by Alcides Escobar.

Orlando finished 1 for 4 on the day, his batting average at .305 entering the season’s final day. Center fielder Jarrod Dyson finished 3 for 5 and notched his 30th stolen base in the bottom of the fifth, recording at least 30 steals for the fourth time in five seasons.

For much of the last month, Dyson has been locked in, raising his season average to .277 with a .362 batting average in September. Despite an injury during spring training and a slow start during the first half, Dyson is kicking toward the finish.

“He’s been swinging the bat really well,” Yost said. “Three more hits today. He’s been a little bit of a catalyst for us at the top of the lineup and I think it really did start when we moved him to the top of the lineup.”

For the Royals, it’s one, minor piece of consolation to take into the offseason. Another piece — a winning season in 2016 — could come on Sunday.

“We’ve talked about it, about needing a win this series,” Merrifield said. “And we got one more chance at it. We’ll come here tomorrow and get ready to go.”

Indians 6, Royals 3

Cleveland

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Santana dh

3

0

2

0

2

1

.261

Kipnis 2b

5

0

1

0

0

1

.274

Gomes c

0

0

0

0

0

0

.165

Lindor ss

3

1

1

2

2

0

.303

Napoli 1b

5

0

0

0

0

1

.240

Aguilar 1b

0

0

0

0

0

0

.000

Ramirez 3b

4

0

1

0

0

0

.312

Chisenhall rf

2

1

1

1

0

0

.289

a-Davis ph-lf

1

1

0

0

1

1

.251

Crisp lf

3

1

0

0

1

3

.212

Gonzalez 2b

1

0

1

0

0

0

.313

Naquin cf

3

0

1

1

0

0

.299

b-Almonte ph-rf

1

1

0

0

0

0

.264

Perez c

2

0

0

0

2

1

.183

1-Martinez pr-cf

0

1

0

0

0

0

.242

Totals

33

6

8

4

8

8

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Dyson cf

5

0

3

0

0

1

.277

Merrifield 2b

4

0

1

1

1

2

.280

Morales dh

4

1

1

0

0

0

.265

Orlando rf

4

1

1

1

0

1

.305

Gordon lf

4

0

0

0

0

4

.222

Escobar ss

4

0

1

1

0

1

.262

Nava 1b

4

0

0

0

0

3

.100

Cuthbert 3b

3

0

0

0

1

1

.273

Butera c

3

1

1

0

1

2

.283

Totals

35

3

8

3

3

15

Cleveland

011

010

030

6

8

0

Kansas City

001

002

000

3

8

1

a-walked for Chisenhall in the 8th. b-reached on error for Naquin in the 8th. 1-ran for Perez in the 8th.

E: Merrifield (5). LOB: Cleveland 10, Kansas City 8. 2B: Santana (31), Lindor (30), Dyson (13), Morales (24), Orlando (24). 3B: Santana (3), Chisenhall (5). RBIs: Lindor 2 (77), Chisenhall (57), Naquin (43), Merrifield (28), Orlando (43), Escobar (55). SB: Crisp (10), Davis (43), Dyson (30). CS: Gonzalez (1). SF: Chisenhall.

Runners left in scoring position: Cleveland 7 (Kipnis, Lindor 2, Napoli 2, Chisenhall 2); Kansas City 4 (Merrifield 2, Morales, Orlando). RISP: Cleveland 2 for 11; Kansas City 3 for 9. GIDP: Napoli. DP: Kansas City 1 (Merrifield, Escobar, Nava).

Cleveland

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Bauer

6

6

3

3

2

9

96

4.26

Manship

 1/3

1

0

0

1

1

13

3.12

Clevinger W, 3-3

 2/3

0

0

0

0

1

8

5.26

Miller

1

0

0

0

0

2

13

1.59

Allen S, 31

1

1

0

0

0

2

20

2.55

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Volquez

5

5

3

3

4

5

103

5.37

Alexander

1

1

0

0

0

1

13

3.32

Strahm L, 2-2

1 1/3

0

1

0

2

1

23

1.23

McCarthy

 2/3

1

2

0

2

0

24

6.48

Pounders

1

1

0

0

0

1

14

9.24

Hold: Miller (24). Inherited runners-scored: Clevinger 2-0, McCarthy 1-1. HBP: Volquez (Ramirez). WP: Volquez.

Umpires: Home, Mike Estabrook; First, Bill Miller; Second, Ed Hickox; Third, Greg Gibson. Time: 3:22. Att: 28,569.

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