Royals right-hander Luis Mendoza, in his recovery from strep throat, found what might be the American League’s top cure-all Friday night in the Cleveland Indians.
Mendoza escaped a nasty jam in the first inning before settling into a groove for six-plus innings in a 6-3 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
“I felt 100 percent,” he said. “Since Wednesday, I’ve felt good. On Monday, I was terrible. All of my body hurt. By Tuesday, I was starting to feel better.”
Friday completed the recovery.
Mendoza got his first victory is six starts dating to Aug. 17.
“His breaking ball was a little flat at times,” manager Ned Yost said, “but he had real good movement on his two-seamer. He got a lot of ground-ball outs to second base. It was funny; he’d get two quick outs, and then get into trouble.
“But he pitched around it, for the most part, real effectively.”
A rocky outing by Tim Collins injected some anxiety into the evening before the Royals put the game away with a two-run eighth inning. Greg Holland breezed through the ninth with a three-run cushion for his 15th save.
The Indians have been just brutal over last eight weeks — losing 40 of 52 games and falling into last place in the American League Central Division. Friday showed why. They blew a chance for an early lead and gave back runs whenever they closed the gap.
“We’ve got all the confidence in the world in Holland,” said Eric Hosmer, whose sacrifice fly made it 5-3 in the eighth. “But anytime you can make it a two-run save rather than a one-run save, it takes a lot of pressure off of the defense and Holly.
“Then (Brayan) Peña got a huge knock to make it a three-run save.” Peña drew a start in place of ailing Salvy Perez and responded with an RBI single in the second inning, which opened the scoring, before delivering a two-out RBI double in the eighth for the game’s final run.
“Every time I get the opportunity to go out there and play,” he said, “I try to take advantage of it. The way we’ve been going is very contagious. Everybody knows this is Salvy’s team. So I just try to fit in when he gets a day off.”
Perez is battling two sore hands and is unlikely to play until Monday, when the Royals open a four-game series at Detroit.
Mendoza, 8-9, handed a 4-1 lead to Collins when he exited after Ezequiel Carrera’s leadoff bunt single in the seventh inning — and things soon got interesting. Collins started his night by hitting Shin-Soo Choo, which put runners at first and second with no outs.
The runners advanced on Jason Kipnis’ grounder to first. Collins got a break on a called third strike on Asdrubal Cabrera on a 2-2 pitch that appeared outside. But Collins still couldn’t escape unscathed: Carlos Santana punched a two-run single up the middle on an 0-2 curve.
It continued a rough September for Collins, who has allowed five runs and 14 base runners in 6 1/3 innings over his last eight appearances. He has also allowed both inherited runners to score in that span.
“I wouldn’t say scuffling,” Collins said. “It’s just a couple of pitches here and there that could be made. Obviously, that last pitch I made to Santana, I tried to do too much with it. It happens. I’m not going to say I’m having the best month, but I’ve had worse.”
Francisley Bueno worked around a leadoff single in the eighth before the Royals made things easy for Holland by scoring twice later in the inning. Mike Moustakas and Billy Butler started the rally with singles against Indians reliever Cody Allen.
After Jason Bourgeois replaced Butler as a pinch runner, Jeff Francoeur hit a grounder to third that resulted in a force at second.
Cleveland summoned Scott Maine to get a left-on-left matchup against Hosmer with one out and runners at first and third. Hosmer delivered a sacrifice fly to left for a two-run lead.
“The main goal there is to get one run in first,” Hosmer said. “Two is a bonus. I just wanted to shorten up and put it in play right there.”
Peña then pulled a double past third, and Francoeur scored all the way from first when Carrera was slow to the ball. When Holland went three up and down in the ninth, the Royals, 69-81, had their third straight victory.
Indians starter Justin Masterson, 11-15, took the loss after permitting four runs and seven hits in six innings.
Cleveland blew a great chance — or Mendoza executed a nifty escape, take your pick — in the first inning after Choo and Kipnis opened the game with singles. The runners advanced on Cabrera’s sacrifice.
Santana struck out with runners at second and third. Mendoza then loaded the bases with an intentional walk to Michael Brantley before stranding all three runners when Travis Hafner grounded out to second.
The Royals grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second on RBI singles by Peña and Irving Falu. After Cleveland scored in the third, the Royals answered with a run later in the inning before stretching their lead to 4-1 in the fifth.
“We feel good,” Hosmer said. “We want to finish strong. We’ve been playing some tough teams, and Cleveland is no letdown, not the way they play us.”
The numbers say differently. The Indians won the first four games between the two teams — including three straight victories that started the Royals on that dreadful 0-10 first homestand. But the Royals have won eight of the last nine against Cleveland, including six in a row