CLEVELAND — A rare bullpen hiccup and a base-running blunder Tuesday kept the Royals from climbing above .500 and instead dumped them back into third place in the American League Central Division.
Kelvin Herrera and Tim Collins spit back a two-run lead in the eighth inning in a 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
Even so, the Royals appeared poised to tie the game in the ninth when Alcides Escobar drove a one-out single to right against Vinnie Pestano with runners at first and second.
David Lough wheeled around third and seem likely to score easily before halting when he picked up the stop sign from third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez.
Lough then hesitated between third and home, which enabled the Indians to trap him in a rundown. Lough appeared to have sufficient time to retreat safely to third.
The rundown lasted long enough for the other runners to reach second and third. A walk to Alex Gordon loaded the bases, but Pestano escaped when Eric Hosmer grounded out to first.
It was the sort of giveaway loss the Royals haven’t had in a while. Overall, it was just their third loss in 14 games for it dropped them back under .500 at 34-35. The Indians, at 35-35, slipped back into second place.
The base-running mistake came after Cleveland struck for three runs in the eighth inning. Michael Brantley’s sacrifice fly against Collins capped the comeback after Ervin Santana handed a 3-1 lead to Herrera (3-5) at the start of the inning.
All three runs were charged to Herrera, who recorded just one out and saw his ERA balloon from 4.01 to 5.04. The Royals’ bullpen had permitted just two runs in its previous 37 innings.
Herrera’s problems started with a leadoff walk to Ryan Raburn, who went to second on Drew Stubbs’ dribbler back to the mound. Michael Bourn then squirted an RBI single past third.
A strong throw by Alex Gordon held Bourn at first. Mike Aviles followed with a single to left, which moved Bourn to second and finished Herrera.
In came Collins, who served up a bloop double to Jason Kipnis that tied the game and struck Santana with a no-decision.
It also put runners at second and third with one out, which led to an intentional walk to Carlos Santana.
Brantley followed with a drive to right, which scored Aviles with the winning run.
Reliever Cody Allen (2-0) got the victory despite a three-base throwing earlier in the inning that led to the Royals’ third run. Pestano got his second save.
Lough started the ninth with a single against Pestano and went to second on Mike Moustakas’ single. Chris Getz failed to execute a sacrifice by taking a strike and fouling off a bunt before striking out.
Escobar then lined a single to right and, well, the opportunity turned sour.
Ervin Santana deserved better after limiting the Indians to one run and three hits in seven innings. He has pitched at least seven innings in each of his last seven starts and at least six innings in each of his 14 starts.
His six-inning streak is the second-longest active streak in either league. The longest one belongs to teammate James Shields at 29 — 15 this season and 14 last year with Tampa Bay.
The Royals appeared well position after adding a gift run in the eighth when Allen threw wildly on Eric Hosmer’s leadoff squibber to the left side of the mound.
With Stubbs slow to back up the play from right field, Hosmer got all of the way to third. Salvy Perez followed with a single up the middle through a drawn-in infield for a 3-1 lead.
Santana permitted just two runners in the first five innings — one single and one walk — and erased one of those by getting a double-play grounder.
Stubbs served a one-out single to left in the sixth and immediately stole second base. Santana struck out Bourn, but Aviles floated an RBI single into left field that trimmed the Royals’ lead to 2-1.
The Royals scored their first two runs on a gift in the inning after Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez started the inning by walking Escobar and Gordon.
A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third with no outs, which meant Hosmer’s grounder to short produced a run and just one out — instead of two outs and a runner on third.
Another wild pitch enabled Gordon to score for a 2-0 lead. Two runs on two walks, two wild pitches and an RBI grounder.
Jimenez pulled it back together after that and permitted nothing further before exiting with two outs in the sixth and a runner at first. He threw 114 pitches in 5 2/3 innings.