KANSAS CITY, Mo. — There might be no team, over the last decade or so, that knows more than the Royals about how bad things can go when things go bad. It’s been a while, though, since they’ve seen how it looks from the other side of the diamond.
The Royals continued their late-season roll Saturday night with a 5-3 victory over Cleveland’s flat-lining Indians at Kauffman Stadium. And they did it with the sort of almost casual disdain that other clubs, including the Indians, once did it to them.
Two quick runs in the first inning. Then a series of wasted opportunities before permitting the Indians, after pulling even, to self-destruct in a three-run fifth inning. The game turned on an errant throw by third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall on a routine play.
That permitted the go-ahead run to score. The Royals scored two more runs that they likely wouldn’t have scored without the misplay.
Oh, the Royals have been there.
This was Cleveland’s 41st loss in its last 53 games. Some perspective: When the Royals lost 19 in a row in 2005, on their way to a franchise-worst 56-106 record, they never lost 41 times in 53 games.
The Royals (70-81) have won four in a row and are virtually assured of finishing third in the American League Central Division. With 11 games remaining, they trail second-place Detroit by 10 1/2 games but lead fourth-place Minnesota by eight games.
Rookie lefty Will Smith, 6-8, was rolled through seven innings with the exception of a short hiccup in the fifth when he surrendered a two-run homer to Cord Phelps that erased the early lead.
But the Royals answered immediately against Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez, 9-17, and the Indians’ bullpen. First, they knocked out Jimenez by loading the bases with one out on walks to Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas prior to Francoeur’s single.
In came Chris Seddon for a left-on-left matchup against Eric Hosmer, who sent a chopper to Chisenhall that should have resulted in a force at home – but Chisenhall’s throw pulled Santana off the plate.
Not by much. Just enough. Everyone was safe, and the Royals led 3-2.
Brayan Peña followed with a sacrifice fly to left for another run before Irving Falu flicked an RBI single into left for a 5-2 lead. All five runs were charged to Jimenez, who threw 94 pitches in 41/3 innings.
Aaron Crow inherited a 5-2 lead from Smith to start the eighth but surrendered a leadoff single to Carlos Santana. Michael Brantley’s fly to deep center should have been an out, but Jason Bourgeois whiffed on the catch for a two-base error. Santana scored.
Right fielder Jeff Francoeur saved more damage with a shoestring catch on Russ Canzler’s sinking liner. A two-out walk to Chisenhall put the tying run on base, but pinch-hitter Casey Kotchman fouled out to first.
The Royals called on Kelvin Herrera in the ninth after using closer Greg Holland in each of the three previous games. Herrera closed out the victory for his second career save — with an assist from Francoeur.
Shin-Soo Choo tried to stretch a one-out single into a double, but Francoeur made a dynamic throw for his major-league-leading 19th assist. It also matched a career high set in 2007 with Atlanta.
Smith breezed through a one-two-three first inning before the Royals struck for two runs against Jimenez. Jarrod Dyson turned a leadoff walk into a quick lead by stealing second, his 28th steal, and scoring on Alcides Escobar’s double into right field.
Billy Butler’s one-out single scored Escobar for a 2-0 lead. It was Butler’s 100th RBI, which extended a career high. The last Royal to reach triple figures was Carlos Beltran with exactly 100 in 2003.
Then came a series of squandered opportunities.
The Royals failed to cash a first-and-third opportunity with one out in the second inning. Dyson took a third strike before Escobar grounded out to second.
Jimenez stranded two more runners in the third after yielding a one-out double to Butler and hitting Francoeur with two outs. Hosmer grounded out.
Cleveland mounted its first threat in the fourth after Brantley served a one-out single to left and went to third on Canzler’s single off the glove a diving Escobar at short. Smith wiggled free by striking out Matt LaPorta and retiring Chisenhall on a fly to left.
Peña opened the Royals’ fourth with a triple into the right-center gap — his first career triple, but that, too, turned into nothing.
First, the Indians shortened their infield and got what they needed when Falu grounded to short; Peña had to hold. Dyson then struck out before Escobar grounded out to first.
All those missed chances came back to bite the Royals in the fifth.
Thomas Neal started the inning by winning a 12-pitch battle against Smith by lining a just-fair single to right. Phelps followed with a two-run homer — and the game was tied 2-2. Not for long, though.