The Royals’ reign in the American League Central came to a sudden end Wednesday night. It lasted 363 days and included a second straight pennant, a franchise's second World Series championship and the most raucous parade in Kansas City history. It expired here at Progressive Field, succumbing to injuries, fatigue, an inconsistent bullpen and a successful insurgency from the Cleveland Indians.
This was the end. On a Wednesday night in downtown Cleveland, the Royals suffered a 4-3 loss to those Indians, the team that is likely to clinch the division title in the coming days. The loss left Kansas City 11 1/2 games out with 10 to play, officially eliminating it from the AL Central race.
For now, the Royals, 77-75, remain a mathematical long shot in the race for the second American League wild card, sitting five games behind the Baltimore Orioles. They are not officially dead, but that could change in the coming days. The Royals, who dropped to 1-8 at Progressive Field this season, will play one more game in Cleveland on Thursday night before heading to Detroit for a three-game series against the Tigers.
On Wednesday, the performance crystallized the Royals’ struggles against the Indians this season. They managed just two runs against Cleveland ace Corey Kluber, who lasted 6 1/3 innings while striking out nine. They wasted an early 2-1 lead when starter Ian Kennedy cracked in the fifth. They came up just short in the ninth when pinch runner Terrance Gore was caught stealing for the first time in the regular season. He had been a perfect 17 for 17.
Kennedy, who entered with a 6.00 ERA against the Indians in four starts this year, allowed three doubles in the inning, including the third double of the night from third baseman Jose Ramirez. When the smoke cleared, the Indians had taken a 3-2 lead. One inning later, Kennedy was done, throwing 109 pitches in 5 2/3 innings.
In all, Kennedy (11-10, 3.64 ERA) allowed 10 hits while striking out four and walking two. His most crucial mistake came on a 0-1 fastball that caught too much plate, allowing Ramirez to lash it into the opposite-field gap. As Ramirez slid into second, his helmet popped off and he clapped three times, looking back at the Indians’ dugout.
The modest crowd inside Progressive Field roared its approval.
The Royals had taken a 2-1 lead in the third, scoring twice against Kluber on four straight two-out hits. The rally formed after consecutive singles from Whit Merrifield and Eric Hosmer. It continued with RBI singles from Kendrys Morales and Salvador Perez, who added a solo homer in the top of the ninth.
And yet, before the ninth, that was basically it. The offense managed just one more hit against Kluber — a one-out double in the seventh. From there, the Indians’ bullpen took over, allowing one run over 2 2/3 innings.
If you squinted your eyes, maybe you could see the hallmarks of the 2015 Royals — timely hitting, some team speed, a stingy back end of the bullpen. Except this time, the traits resided in the opposing dugout.
This time, the Indians were poised to ascend to the throne.