For several innings the scoring went back and forth as if a basketball game had masqueraded as a major-league baseball contest. Each possession — in this case each turn at bat — provided opportunity for a lead change.
Eventually, it looked as if the Royals offense couldn’t keep pace anymore, while the Cleveland Indians kept hammering mistakes made by Royals pitchers.
Then Hunter Dozier turned the entire night around and hushed the home crowd with one powerful swing in the ninth inning.
Trailing by three runs in the final turn at bat, the Royals scored five runs — four coming on Dozier’s first big-league grand slam — and collected an 8-6 win in the second game of a three-game series in front of an announced 21,766 at Progressive Field on Tuesday night.
“You just can’t really put too much pressure on yourself,” Dozier said. “It’s just another at-bat. Really it comes down to competing against the pitcher. I think the biggest thing is just not putting that pressure on yourself.”
The Royals (28-52) can clinch a series victory with a win in Wednesday afternoon’s finale.
Dozier went 1-for-5 with four RBIs, while Whit Merrifield went 2-for-5 and drove in two runs. Cheslor Cuthbert and Humberto Arteaga had two hits apiece for the Royals. Lucas Duda also had an RBI double.
Martin Maldonado started the ninth inning off with a double down the left field line, and Merrifield followed with a single, his second hit of the night.
After Nicky Lopez’s RBI infield single scored Maldonado and pulled the Royals within two runs, Alex Gordon singled to load the bases.
Dozier blasted a no-doubter that traveled an estimated 406 feet off Indians relief pitcher Brad Hand and gave the Royals a two-run lead, 8-6, before an out had been recorded in the inning.
“He’s a really good pitcher,” Dozier said. “I give the credit to the guys in front of me because if they didn’t get on then I wouldn’t have been in that situation.”
Hand had converted 22 of 22 save chances before he ran into Dozier with the bases loaded in the ninth. Dozier’s grand slam was the first ever by a Royals player that turned a deficit into a lead in the ninth inning or later.
“That was probably one of the cooler (rallies),” Royals closer Ian Kennedy said. “Off probably one of the best closers in the game, it’s kinda like you don’t expect him to give up that many runs. A big save (chance) like that, a three-run lead, you don’t expect that.
“It was cool watching that ball go over the fence. Then you know you’ve got to continue to warm up and get ready.”
Kennedy pitched a scoreless ninth inning for his 10th save. He gave up a two-out single to Oscar Mercado, which brought Indians slugger Carlos Santana to the plate with a chance to tie the game with one swing. Kennedy struck Santana out, swinging, to end the game.
“Honestly, you’ve got to throw quality strikes because one swing of the bat and he ties the game up,” Kennedy said.
Royals starting pitcher Glenn Sparkman gave up seven hits, and three of them left the ballpark. He allowed a season-high five earned runs before manager Ned Yost removed him from the game one out shy of having pitched six complete innings.
Mercado’s first-inning RBI stood as the game’s lone run until the fifth. Merrifield lined a two-run double to center field that gave the Royals a brief one-run lead, 2-1, in the top half of the inning.
The Indians (43-36) started the bottom of the fifth with back-to-back home runs from Roberto Perez and Mike Freeman, both to right field.
The Indians’ 3-2 lead lasted all of a half inning. In the top of the sixth, Cuthbert singled with one out and Indians manager Terry Francona called upon left-handed reliever Tyler Olson to pitch to left-handed hitting Duda.
Duda smashed an RBI double off the center field wall and tied the score 3-3. Again, the lead was of a blink-and-you-missed-it variety. Sparkman gave up a two-run home run to Tyler Naquin in the bottom of the sixth, his final inning.
The Indians led 5-3 when reliever Scott Barlow came on with two outs and a runner on in the sixth.
Barlow gave up a solo home run to Santana, his 18th of the season, in the seventh inning to give the Indians a 6-3 lead. The score remained that way into the ninth inning.
“Our pitching did a really good job of keeping us in the game,” Yost said. “Sparky made some mistakes and they hit them out of the ballpark, three center-cut pitches that they drove out of the park. He kept us in the game, gave us a chance to win.
“Scotty made a mistake and Santana hit him out. But they didn’t multiple the damage, and gave us a chance to battle back. Our guys continue to battle.”