In the span of 11 days, the AL Central cellar-dwelling Royals have beaten the division-leading Indians three times in four games. On Monday afternoon at Progressive Field they put the boots to the Indians, 5-1, behind the pitching of Jakob Junis and the home-run hitting of rookie Ryan O'Hearn.
Rookie Adam Plutko (4-5, 5.04) had the kind of game where pitching coach Carl Willis probably doesn't know exactly what to say to him. Plutko struck out a career-high eight batters, but along the way he allowed three homers — one to Jorge Bonifacio and two to O'Hearn. The second homer by O'Hearn came with a runner on base in the sixth inning to give the Royals a 4-0 lead.
Considering that the Tribe's offense has all but stopped scoring, that was pretty much the game. The Royals made it 5-0 on another homer, this one by rookie Hunter Dozier in the eighth off Jon Edwards.
In case you forgot — and no one would blame you if you did — it was O'Hearn and Dozier who stunned Cody Allen and the Indians with consecutive homers in the ninth inning on Aug. 24 at Kauffman Stadium for a 5-4 walk-off win. The Royals have been rolling ever since, while the Indians haven't been able to get back on track.
The Royals have won six straight, while the Indians have lost three straight and seven of their last 11 games.
But the weight of the season still favors the Tribe. Their Magic Number dropped to 12 to clinch their third straight AL Central title following Houston's victory over the Twins on Monday.
Since scoring eight runs in the first game of this nine-game homestand, the Indians haven't scored more than four runs in a game. They're 3-4 with two games left before leaving on their second-last trip of the regular season.
Junis (8-12, 4.32) was 0-2 against the Indians this year, but he was a different pitcher Monday. In seven innings, he allowed two hits with six strikeouts.
Plutko allowed four runs on seven hits in six innings. He did not walk a batter for the fifth time this season.
Junis and relievers Brian Flynn and Wily Peralta retired 13 straight batters before Francisco Lindor ended the avalanche of outs with a one-out homer in the ninth to prevent the Indians from behind shut out for the eighth time this season.
It was the Lindor's 30th homer of the season, making the Indians the only team in history have two switch-hitters with at least 30 homers. Jose Ramirez has 37.
The homer stirred the Indians to a mini-, but futile rally as they loaded the bases on Michael Brantley's single and walks by Ramirez and Edwin Encarnacion. Lefty Tim Hill relieved Peralta and induced pinch-hitter Yandy Diaz to hit into a 4-6-3 game-ending double play. It was Hill's second save.
What it means
The Indians trail AL West-leading Houston for home-field advantage in the ALDS by 7 1/2 games following Monday's loss to the Royals. Houston improved to 85-53 with a win over the Twins on Monday. The Astros have won three straight and eight of their last 11 games.
Plutko threw 95 pitches, including 64 (67 percent) for strikes. Junis threw 93 pitches, 60 (65 percent) for strikes.
Thanks for coming
The Royals and Indians drew 20,536 to Progressive Field on Monday afternoon. First pitch was at 4:10 p.m. with a temperature of 85 degrees.
Right-hander Mike Clevinger (10-7, 3.17) will face the Royals and lefty Danny Duffy on Tuesday at 7:10 p.m. SportsTime Ohio and WLKR-FM will carry game.
Clevinger is coming off a win against the Twins in his last start. He's 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA in three starts against the Royals this season. On Aug. 24, he allowed three runs on four hits in a six-inning no-decision against them at Kauffman Stadium.
Duffy is coming off a win against the Tigers. He's allowed 22 runs in his last 33 2/3 innings. Duffy is 0-3 with 10.80 ERA against the Indians this season and 2-9 with a 5.38 ERA in his career.