The Royals dodged and ducked the damage inflicted by Cleveland first baseman Carlos Santana for three days.
But not on Sunday afternoon.
The switch-hitting Santana reached base all five times he came to the plate in the series finale at Kauffman Stadium — including a pair of home runs — as the Indians overpowered the Royals 10-3 and snapped Kansas City’s five-game winning streak.
Santana hit one homer from the right side against starter Bruce Chen and one left-handed against reliever Aaron Crow and became the first visiting player ever to hit five home runs in a series in Kansas City.
Not Reggie Jackson or Mark McGwire or Miguel Cabrera or Albert Pujols can make that statement.
Chen, 2-3, walked Santana in the first and hit him in the fourth. But when he tried to slip the first pitch past him in the fifth, Santana went the other way and deposited a line shot just inside the right-field line for a two-run homer and a 5-2 Indians lead.
“I was thinking foul ball or stay fair,” said Santana, the first major-league player — at home or on the road — to hit five home runs in a series this season. “I see him (signal) home run, and I was happy.
“I’m feeling strong. The first two months, I wasn’t hitting well and I was struggling. But now I get focused and play hard. Things happen now.”
The Royals, 53-51, still took the series three games to one from Cleveland, 52-53, their competition both in the Central Division and in the desperate chase for a wild-card berth.
But Santana made them sweat all series. He came into the weekend hitting just .215, but in the four-game series, he clubbed the Royals for nine hits in 14 at-bats, with five home runs, eight RBIs, and six runs scored and raised his average to .232 with 21 home runs, with 50 RBIs.
Santana’s five home runs in the series matched a club record accomplished by five others (including Johnson County’s Joe Carter). He also drew his league-leading 72nd walk in the second inning and has now reached base in 17 consecutive games.
“You try not to give him anything too good to hit,” said Royals manager Ned Yost, whose club allowed four home runs in a game for the first time all season. “He hit a couple of homers against Yordano Ventura (on Friday) on good fastballs. He’s just hot right now.”
The Royals staked Chen to a 2-0 lead after three innings, and to that point, he had not allowed a hit.
But the Indians nicked him for one run in the fourth, and broke the game open with a four-run fifth, highlighted by Santana’s 344-foot laser to right.
“In the fifth inning, I left a couple of pitches up,” said Chen, who threw a season-most 106 pitches in five-plus innings before he was knocked out by a leadoff home run by Ryan Raburn. “My teammates scored a couple of runs, and I thought I could manage the game and get us a win.
“I thought I was pitching tough. You want (Santana) to hit the ball the other way and see if he can drive it. He’s strong, and he’s feeling good at the plate. The most important thing is to get other people out so when he comes to the plate, there’s not any runners. But he’s on fire.”
Chen, filling the spot in the rotation vacated by Jason Vargas, who is recovering from an appendectomy, was no match for Indians right-hander Danny Salazar, 3-4, who went seven strong innings, allowing seven hits, three scattered runs while striking out seven and walking none.
“It’s not like we were hitting the ball really hard,” said Alex Gordon, who hit a sacrifice fly in the third and blooped a single and scored on Billy Butler’s double in the sixth.
“He’s got really good stuff. I compared him to Ventura … an electric fastball, a good off speed. When he’s attacking the zone with all his pitches, he’s a tough guy to hit.”