KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Terry Francona likened the atmosphere at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday to a playoff game in October. The crowd was into it. Every pitch mattered.
The Indians manager is hopeful the outcome will propel his team into the actual playoffs.
Asdrubal Cabrera drove in the go-ahead run in the eighth inning, and Cleveland rallied off the stingy Kansas City Royals bullpen for a 5-3 victory Tuesday night that evened their series.
The win allowed the Indians to remain a half-game back of Texas and Tampa Bay in the AL wild-card race. The Royals are 3½ games adrift after the Rangers beat the Rays earlier in the night.
“That was a fun game to be part of, two teams that really want to win bad were competing a lot,” Francona said. “We did enough to win.”
The Indians were shut out until the sixth by Yordano Ventura, who made an electric major league debut. They tied the game 3-all in the seventh off reliever Kelvin Herrera, and Cabrera’s double off Wade Davis (7-11) in the eighth scored Drew Stubbs and gave Cleveland the lead.
Michael Bourn added a homer in the ninth to provide a cushion.
“It’s not always going to be pretty but we have to find a way to get it done,” said Nick Swisher, whose sacrifice fly in the seventh tied it. “We have a scrappy group in here, and we’re not done. We’re going to keep pushing because we want this. We want it bad.”
Cody Allen (6-1) was among six Indians relievers who kept Kansas City off the scoreboard the final 4⅓ innings. Chris Perez handled a perfect ninth for his 25th save.
“It happens sometimes,” Royals catcher Salvador Perez said of the collapse. “We have to keep going, keep playing hard through the last day of the season.”
Ventura had already been saddled with the nickname “Ace” before Monday night, but in the first inning he looked more like a different film character: Rick “Wild Thing” Vaughn.
He erratically walked Bourn on four pitches to lead off the game, and earned a roar when he finally threw a strike to Nick Swisher. The roar grew when Ventura got him to ground into a double play, and reached a crescendo when he struck out Jason Kipnis to end the inning.
The 22-year-old flame-thrower settled in after that, mixing his curveball and changeup with straight gas that touched 101 mph on the radar gun at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals gave him a lead on Hosmer’s double in the first inning. They added two more in the third, thanks in large part to Emilio Bonifacio getting into the head of starter Corey Kluber.
After a single, Bonifacio swiped second even as Kluber tried to pick him off.
Bonifacio kept dancing around second base, and the Indians right-hander proceeded to walk Hosmer and Billy Butler to load up the bases. Salvador Perez’s sacrifice fly and Mike Moustakas’s double made it 3-0.
The Indians finally started to rally in the sixth. Swisher’s single and a pair of two-out singles by Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley made it 3-1 and drove Ventura from the game — he received a standing ovation. Cabrera walked to load the bases before Ryan Raburn struck out.
It may have been a wasted opportunity, but Cleveland atoned for it the next inning.
Yan Gomes was plunked in the back by Herrera, and then Bourn ripped an RBI triple into the gap. Swisher followed with a sacrifice fly to left field that knotted the game 3-all.
“The hit batsman was crucial at that point with Bourn coming up and hitting a triple right behind it,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Those are things late in the season in games of this magnitude you really want to try to stay away from.”
Those are the things that set the stage for Cabrera to finish off the comeback.