CLEVELAND — For a team with playoff aspirations, losing a handful of games to the last-place Kansas City Royals can be stomached. Drop two series in one season to them and it’s time to fetch the syrup of ipecac.
Avoiding that dubious distinction Sunday, the Indians outlasted the bothersome Royals 5-3 with another strong outing from starting pitcher Fausto Carmona and a pair of home runs from Travis Hafner and Ryan Garko.
The win gave the Indians the series over Kansas City, which took two of three from them at Kauffman Stadium (May 22-24), and has played them tough all season. Of the Royals’ five losses in nine games to Cleveland, three have come by two runs or less.
The victory also allowed the Indians to remain a half-game behind the Detroit Tigers — 11-7 winners over the Seattle Mariners on Sunday — in the AL Central Division.
Carmona ensured there would be no further Royal embarrassment, experiencing just a minor hiccup en route to his 11th win of the season.
He allowed two runs — both in the fifth — on eight hits, striking out four through seven innings to notch his third straight victory, while working at least seven innings for the 10th time in 18 starts.
Carmona cruised through the first four innings — shutting the Royals out on four hits — but after recording the second out in the fifth, he allowed three straight hits and two runs with KC trimming the deficit to a run.
From there, Carmona mixed in his changeup and slider with his devastating sinker to finish the Royals off, retiring the last seven batters he faced.
“I was trying to change speeds and keep the ball down,” Carmona said. “I’m very confident in myself. I feel like I can pitch the same way through the rest of the season.”
“I thought he threw a great ballgame, but he wasn’t as sharp as he’s capable of being,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge. “What was impressive is the way he came back after that inning.”
Carmona’s counterpart, Jorge De La Rosa, worked a strange outing in his third start of the season against Cleveland.
Beginning with the last out of the first inning and ending with the final out of the third, 10 Indians batters either walked or struck out against the right-hander, who left with a bruised left thumb with one out in the fourth.
De La Rosa allowed three runs on two hits, walking six and striking out six, while surrendering both of Cleveland’s homers.
Hafner paid one of his few visits of the season to “Pronkville” — a second-deck section in right field named after him — clouting an estimated 436-foot shot to the destination to get the Indians started.
Hafner, who struggled at the plate through the first half, had three hits on the day, but favored the homer, as did his manager.
“I’ll take the home run,” said Hafner. “I take a lot of pride in being consistent but a home run right there was nice to get us going.
“Trot (Nixon) tells me all the time during batting practice that if I didn’t hit one there soon, they were going to rename it ‘Nixonville.’”
“Three hits is obviously fantastic but just for him to get us going right there was big,” Wedge said. “Hopefully he’s going to keep coming for us.”
Hafner started to pick up steam shortly before the All-Star break and has hit in 12 of his last 13 games, batting .314 (16-for-51) with three homers and nine RBIs over the span.
He said the break was beneficial.
“It was nice to have those four days off,” Hafner said. “Before the break, I felt like my swing was better. I’m swinging the bat pretty well right now.”
So is Garko, who put the Indians up 3-0 with a solo shot to lead off the fourth, going 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs on the day, while making a handful of nice plays at first base after committing an error on the first ball hit to him.
Garko equaled his career-high nine-game hitting streak and is batting a whopping .424 (14-for-33) with two homers and five RBIs during the streak.
The Indians distanced themselves from the Royals with two runs in the sixth off former Cleveland reliever David Riske. Franklin Gutierrez drove in one with a double to right-center and Josh Barfield put the Indians up 5-2 with a sacrifice fly.
Rafael Betancourt allowed a solo homer to Jason Smith in the eighth before Joe Borowski earned his American League-leading 26th save by retiring the side in order in the ninth.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7137 or email@example.com.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Chicago
PITCHERS: Lee (5-5, 5.23 ERA) vs. Danks (5-6, 4.62)
TV/RADIO: STO; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM