Cleveland September is almost halfway over. The Kansas City Royals are nowhere near finished.
They won’t go away.
Jeremy Guthrie got a major assist from his defense in pitching six innings, Alcides Escobar hit a rare home run and the Royals snapped a six-game losing streak in Cleveland, 6-3 on Tuesday night to close on the Indians and two others in the AL’s cramped wild-card scramble.
Guthrie (14-10) allowed just one run and nine hits, but was helped by three double plays as the Royals, coupled with Tampa Bay’s loss to Boston, pulled within three games of a wild-card spot.
“We’re excited,” Guthrie said. “We know there’s teams ahead of us. If we win games, we have a chance. If we don’t, we don’t. The scoreboard watching makes it fun. We know we have to win a lot of games. We have to win series to give ourselves a chance.”
Mike Moustakas hit a two-run double in the sixth off Zach McAllister (7-9) and the hanging-tough Royals won for the 12th time in 17 games.
Kansas City had lost seven in a row before this stretch and was on the verge of falling from the race. But the Royals are still in the thick of the wide-open playoff chase, and could still have a say in the AL Central with three games later this week at first-place Detroit.
“I don’t even remember the seven straight,” Moustakas said of the Royals’ slide last month. “That’s the key — just forget it. We go out there every night with the same mindset, to win a ballgame at all costs. We stick with that. “
Royals reliever Luke Hochevar struck out all five batters he faced, and closer Greg Holland worked a perfect ninth for his 41st save.
Guthrie wasn’t overpowering, but he didn’t allow a walk and let his defense get him out of trouble. Kansas City’s infield turned double plays in the third, fourth and sixth innings to back the right-hander, who won for just the second time in seven starts.
Michael Bourn had two RBIs for Cleveland. The Indians had several chances early on against Guthrie, but squandered their opportunities.
“We rolled into a couple double plays,” manager Terry Francona said. “We didn’t do damage. We gave ourselves a chance in a lot of innings, but couldn’t get the big hit to get the ball rolling.”
Of the six current teams in the wild-card chase, the Indians have the most favorable schedule. Kansas City is the only team with a winning record that Cleveland will face the rest of the way.
Moustakas’ two-run double highlighted a three-run sixth, when the Royals chased McAllister and opened a 4-1 lead.
Eric Hosmer walked and Billy Butler doubled into the left-field corner. Moustakas then snapped an 0-for-16 slide by pulling his double to right. Salvador Perez followed with an RBI single to give the Royals a three-run lead and finish McAllister, who allowed four runs and six hits in five-plus innings.
Butler’s sacrifice fly made it 5-1 in the seventh before the Indians rallied with two in their half on Bourn’s two-run double. However, Hochevar came on and fanned Nick Swisher looking and whiffed All-Star Jason Kipnis to preserve the two-run lead. He struck out the side in the eighth.
Escobar’s RBI single in the eighth put Kansas City up 6-3.
Following the game, the Royals’ clubhouse was filled with loud music. These guys are having a ball.
“Playing meaningful baseball this late in the season, it’s awesome,” said Moustakas, who has 21 RBIs since the All-Star break after getting just 17 in the first half. “It’s a lot of fun.”
The Royals hit several long flies that were caught for outs through the first four innings before Escobar ended a long homerless drought to tie it 1-all in the fifth.
With one out, Escobar connected on a full-count pitch from McAllister, driving it onto the pedestrian patio in left for his fourth homer and first since April 28, a span of 467 at-bats. Escobar’s previous homer also came against the Indians, a shot off right-hander Justin Masterson.
With left-handed hitters batting .328 this season against Guthrie, Francona loaded his lineup with eight lefties.
Cleveland strung together three two-out hits in the first off Guthrie to take a 1-0 lead.
Kipnis and Santana singled to right before Brantley, who came in batting just .125 (2 for 16) in his career against Kansas City’s starter, grounded an RBI hit to center.
Guthrie got out of the third with a double play and again in the fourth, when he also got a nice play by right fielder David Lough, who raced back and robbed Jason Kubel before crashing into the padded wall for the final out.
NOTES: The Royals had two steals and lead the league with 136. ... On Wednesday, the Royals conclude a stretch of 44 games in 44 days. “We’ve done really well through it,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I’m very pleased. That’s a very grueling, grinding stretch. It started in dad-gum August and ends in September.” ... The series finale — a 12:05 matinee — will match Kansas City’s James Shields (10-9) against Scott Kazmir (8-7). ... Lough, who is from nearby Akron, is batting .357 (10 for 28) at Progressive Field this season.