CLEVELAND — As the days in September dwindle, the Kansas City Royals understand that this October will be very different for them.
Their playoff hopes hanging by a thread, the Royals were beaten 5-2 on Thursday night by the Cleveland Indians, who swept the three-game series and pushed the defending World Series champions nearer to elimination.
Dylan Gee (7-9) gave up a three-run homer to Carlos Santana in the sixth inning as the Indians moved closer to their first AL Central title since 2007. Kansas City was eliminated from the division race on Wednesday and began the night trailing six teams in the wild-card race.
“You’re not going to live a charmed life forever, and we did last year by not really suffering any major injuries,” manager Ned Yost said. “This year we did.”
With the loss, the Royals went 1-9 in Cleveland this season.
Alcides Escobar hit a two-run homer for Kansas City (77-76), which can’t afford many more losses to have any chance of returning to the playoffs.
At this point, finishing above .500 is a more attainable goal.
Gee hit Jason Kipnis to start the sixth and Francisco Lindor walked. One out later, Santana drove his 34th homer into the right-field seats. After he crossed home plate, Santana pointed at NBA free agent swingman J.R. Smith, who helped the Cavaliers win the NBA title this year and end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought.
“It wasn’t an awful pitch, he made the adjustment and got enough of it to get it out,” Gee said. “Hitting a guy and walking a guy makes it tough to pitch.”
Santana went 7 for 12 with five RBIs in the Indians’ series sweep.
It’s been that kind of year for the Royals, who have endured a number of injuries to key players. Catcher Salvador Perez, third baseman Mike Moustakas, outfielders Alex Gordon and Lorenzo Cain, and closer Wade Davis all missed extended time.
“I’ve been very proud of the way this team continues to battle through all adversity,” Yost said. “They don’t quit. They’re every bit into these games as they were at this time last year. That’s a good trait to have.”
Royals left-hander Jason Vargas made just his second start since coming back from Tommy John surgery last year. He allowed a homer to Kipnis and an RBI double to Santana in the first and went four innings.
“I’m just happy to go out there and be healthy and not have any issues when I come out of the game,” said Vargas.
With Cleveland starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar dealing with injuries and likely out for the playoffs, Mike Clevinger could hold a pivotal role for the Indians in October. The rookie showed poise in working out of potential trouble as the Royals put the leadoff man on in three straight innings.
It was a solid postseason audition for Clevinger, who allowed four hits in five innings before giving way to Cleveland’s solid bullpen.
The Indians jumped on Vargas for two runs in the first.
Kipnis made it 1-0 with his 23rd homer. Once he was back in the dugout, the second baseman was carried through a lineup of welcoming teammates by catcher Chris Gimenez and outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall, a celebratory ride that has become a staple this season.
Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales is finishing the season strong after struggling the first two months. Morales leads the majors with 26 RBIs in September and has hit 29 homers, the second-highest total of his career.
“You knew it would be a matter of time until he turned it around,” Yost said. “There’s too much talent not to. You don’t see him losing his skills. He was going through a tough period.”
Escobar’s shot to center tied it 2-2 in the second. It was Escobar’s sixth homer in his last 149 at-bats, quite a power surge for the shortstop who had homered just once in his previous 600 at-bats.
Royals: OF Lorenzo Cain (inflammation in left wrist) hasn’t played since Sept. 9 and could miss the rest of the season.
Royals: LHP Danny Duffy (12-2) will match a career high by making his 25th start this season as Kansas City begins a three-game set in Detroit. With a win, Duffy will have the most wins by a Royals left-hander since Charlie Leibrandt won 13 in 1988.