KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Indians manager Terry Francona watched Corey Kluber breeze through the first inning on seven pitches Tuesday night, then need all of 10 pitches to put away Kansas City in the second.
“Oh, boy,” Francona said later, “I thought his stuff was good.”
Until the third inning, at least.
The Royals promptly put up four runs, helped along by an error after a replay review, and then pounded out three homers in a 9-5 victory.
Kluber (6-4), who had dominated the Royals earlier this season, was tagged for six runs — half of them earned — and six hits over five innings. He struck out five and walked two.
“I wasn’t at my best, but I wasn’t terrible,” he said. “I think I did a decent enough job of making some good pitches when we needed to, but unfortunately there were some soft hits that kind of fell in. The home run was still a pretty good pitch, but he went out and got it.”
The home run was Eric Hosmer’s two-run shot in the fifth. Alex Gordon went deep in the eighth against the Cleveland bullpen, and Mike Moustakas added a two-run shot later that inning as the Royals (32-32) moved back to .500 by matching their second-best run total of the season.
That was plenty of support for Jason Vargas (6-2), who gave up six hits and hit three batters with pitches but somehow managed to carry a shutout into the eighth inning against a team that scored 17 runs the previous night in Texas.
Jason Kipnis broke up the shutout with a two-out, two-run double in the eighth, and Carlos Santana drove in another run off Aaron Crow later in the inning. Cleveland got three more runs in the ninth, but they proved to be moot.
“I guess I’m glad I didn’t know they scored 17 runs last night,” Vargas said. “You just have to get ahead and execute and let the defense do what they do.”
Both pitchers were dazzling through the first couple of innings, but things changed in the third.
Moustakas walked to start things off, and Alcides Escobar followed with a single. Jarrod Dyson then hit a grounder that Kipnis fielded and tossed to Asdrubal Cabrera covering second.
But Cabrera dropped the ball. He was still granted an out initially, but replay overturned the umpire’s call and he was given an error.
“Obviously, nobody is perfect,” Kluber said. “Errors are part of the game.”
That one loaded the bases for Omar Infante, in the throes of a 1-for-21 slump, and he dropped a single into center field for a 1-0 lead. Hosmer followed with his RBI groundout, and Billy Butler added a two-run single moments later to make it 4-0.
“If we don’t win that challenge,” Royals manager Ned Yost said, “we lose out on three runs.”
Hosmer homered in the fifth, his third of the season, and Kluber was yanked after the inning. It was a marked contrast to his last outing against Kansas City, when the right-hander tossed his first career complete game in a 5-1 victory on April 24.
Meanwhile, Vargas was mowing down an Indians order that included the scorching Lonnie Chisenhall, who went 5-for-5 with three homers and nine RBIs the previous night in Texas. Chisenhall was 2-4 with a double and a run scored against Vargas, who helped himself, by snaring a liner in the sixth to start an inning-ending double play.
It wasn’t until Vargas left the game that the Indians started to rally, and the hole they had dug themselves proved to be far too deep.
Indians RHP Zach McAllister (strained lower back) allowed two runs in six innings during a rehab start for Triple-A Columbus. He will join the team later this week in Boston, though it’s unclear when he’ll slot back into the rotation.
* Indians OF Nick Swisher (left knee) went 0-for-2 while playing five innings for Double-A Akron. He also plans to join the Indians in Boston.
TODAYWHO: Cleveland vs. Kansas CityTIME: 2:10 p.m.WHERE: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo.PITCHERS: Bauer (1-2, 4.08 ERA) vs. Ventura (3-5, 3.41)TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM