CLEVELAND — Carlos Santana hit a three-run homer and saluted someone who hits 3s routinely.
Santana’s homer in the sixth inning pushed the Cleveland Indians to a 5-2 win over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night and closer to winning the AL Central for the first time since 2007.
After rounding the bases, Santana crossed home plate and immediately pointed to one of the dugout suites. Santana then tapped his hand over his heart and smiled toward NBA free agent J.R. Smith, whose outside shooting helped the Cavaliers win an NBA title earlier this summer and end the city’s 52-year drought without a major pro championship.
Cleveland’s got another team nearing a title.
Santana snapped a 2-2 tie with his 34th homer, a shot to right off Dillon Gee (7-9) as the Indians lowered their magic number to four and improved to 9-1 against the Royals this season.
Santana also hit an RBI double and is batting .428 (11 of 24) with seven RBIs in his past six games. It’s been a breakout power season for Santana, who had never hit 30 homers before.
“I’m happy for Carlos because he’s made an effort in so many areas to be better than he was and you don’t see that that often in a veteran player,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s done a really good job.”
A big basketball fan, Francona was thrilled to see Smith, who received a huge ovation when he was shown on the stadium scoreboard.
“That’s my future golf partner,” he said. “I was fired up about that.”
Rookie Mike Clevinger started and went five innings before Francona turned things over to his strong bullpen. Dan Otero (5-1) pitched two scoreless innings, Bryan Shaw worked one and Cody Allen pitched a perfect ninth for his 29th save.
Jason Kipnis homered for the Indians, who can wrap up a postseason berth this weekend against the Chicago White Sox.
Alcides Escobar hit a two-run homer for the Royals.
Kansas City’s chances of making the postseason took another blow. The defending World Series champions began the night behind six teams in the wild-card chase.
“We had a few chances, but we’re not creating a whole lot of run-scoring opportunities for ourselves right now,” manager Ned Yost said after his team scored just six runs in the series.
With Cleveland starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar dealing with injuries and likely out for the playoffs, 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 had objection to coming out after five.
“I understand,” he said. “We have the best shutdown bullpen in the league, so I wasn’t sad or mad about it at all.”
The Indians jumped on Jason 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.
Santana fouled a ball off his left foot and received a visit from Francona and a trainer before ripping a two-out RBI double to center.
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.
Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor is hit hitless in his last 19 at-bats and DH Mike Napoli is 0 for his last 20.
Indians: C Yan Gomes, who is a longshot to play in the postseason after breaking his right hand during a minor league rehab appearance, threw to the bases before batting practice. The workout wasn’t planned, but Gomes was feeling good after making significant progress in the past few days.
“In all fairness to Yan, he shouldn’t really have any chance to play,” Francona said. “I think that to be fair, if there’s a 1 percent chance, my guess is he’ll probably be the one.”
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.
Indians: RHP Trevor Bauer starts the series opener against the Chicago White Sox. He’s 3-2 with a 3.91 ERA in nine career starts against them.