By STEVE GOLDMAN
For the Star Beacon
The Indians' offense couldn't do anything in the first four innings. But in the last four, it couldn't be stopped.
The Tribe scored all its runs in frames five through eight, with at least one in each inning, as it overcame an early two-run deficit to take a 6-3 decision from visiting Kansas City on Wednesday.
Michael Brantley starred with two homers and a sacrifice fly to lead the Tribe to victory in the rubber match of the three-game series. It was the first time in his career that he has gone deep twice in a single contest.
The win moved Cleveland (36-35) within 31⁄2 games of AL Central Division leader Detroit, and widened its lead over third-place KC (34-36) to 11⁄2 games.
The Indians couldn't get a hit off Luis Mendoza (2-4, 4.30 ERA) in the first four innings, but were then able to suddenly turn the tables on the right-hander.
Brantley got things going by leading off the fifth with a line drive into the right-field seats to cut a 2-0 deficit in half.
Cleveland waited until the sixth to do more damage, but was able to string some successful plate appearances together.
Drew Stubbs got it going by grounding a leadoff single through the left side. Michael Bourn then walked on four pitches. Mike Aviles followed with a line drive to the left-field wall, where it went off Alex Gordon's glove. Aviles and Bourn had to hold at first and second, although Stubbs was able to come home to tie the game.
On the next pitch, Jason Kipnis laid down a perfect bunt for a hit down the third-base line to load the bases. A four-pitch walk to Carlos Santana gave the Tribe the lead and ended Mendoza's night.
With Tim Collins on the mound, Brantley hit a sacrifice fly. Mark Reynolds lashed a hit off the glove of shortstop Yunil Escobar to reload the bases, but Collins evaded further damage.
"The first two or three innings, it was really hard to see, because of the sun, as we're creeping into summer," manager Terry Francona said. "And (Mendoza) had a real good slider. He had enough of a fastball, and he could use it in fastball counts. And then the slider was giving us fits. And then I thought he went to it a lot. And we started laying off, and he got some pitches up, and he got himself in a little bit of trouble."
The Indians stretched it to 5-2 in the seventh when Bourn hit a one-out double, stole third and rode home on a sacrifice fly by Aviles. Brantley's second solo shot led off the eighth against Luke Hochevar.
Entering the contest, Brantley had homered in about one percent of his at-bats. During the 2013 season, he had two in 247 at-bats. His career rate was higher, at 18 in 1,659 at-bats.
Asked if Brantley might develop into more of a power hitter, Francona could see more than one possibility.
"I think it's going to be fun to see where it takes him," he said. "The last thing we ever do with anybody is talk about trying to pull the ball or hit the ball out of the ballpark. But I think it'll be fun to watch, and see if he's either a .300 hitter, if he grows into more power, or both. The good thing is he's a very professional hitter, and you can hit him anywhere in the lineup; he does it willingly, and he balances out our lineup so well wherever we hit him."
"I work very hard," Brantley said. "I practice a lot; obviously everyone in this locker room does. And I just really try to put up a good at-bat each and every time."
Justin Masterson (9-5, 3.38) got the win by giving up two runs in 61⁄3 innings. It wasn't his best performance, as the Royals were able to collect nine hits against him, but he was able to limit the scoring to single tallies in the fourth and fifth.
Masterson walked two and fanned eight.
"Early on, I thought (Masterson) gave up some hits, but there were a lot of ground-ball hits" Francona said of the sinker-ball specialist. "So that shows that he's on his game. And as the game progressed, I thought he started commanding better."
"This is a team that I think (had) put up seven runs the last couple times they faced me," Masterson said. "That's kind of nice to get out there, get in some trouble and be able to work out of it (with the help of) some great defensive plays."
"With a day he pitches, we feel pretty good," Francona said. "He's earned that, for us to feel that way. His consistency with his stuff this year has been tremendous. And we always know about his willingness to compete, and things like that."
Bryan Shaw followed with 12⁄3 innings of scoreless relief. Joe Smith worked the ninth, yielding a run.
Kansas City got a run in the fourth inning on an RBI safety by Elliot Johnson. Johnson proceeded to steal second, putting men on second and third with one out, but Masterson struck out Yunil Escobar, and then Reynolds made a diving catch of Gordon's liner to first base.
Kansas City tacked on another run on a hit by David Lough (3 hits) in the fifth.
Hosmer's third hit, a double to center, brought home the Royals' final run in the ninth. The game ended on the next pitch, when third baseman John McDonald fielded Salvador Perez's grounder and threw to first for the out, and Reynolds' relay to shortstop Aviles nailed Hosmer who, for some reason, was trying to take third.
Atypically, it was an outstanding night in the field for Reynolds, who also made a diving grab of a Johnson grounder in the second and turned it into a forceout.
"Mark Reynolds made some great plays," Masterson said. "So he helped out in some key situations, and saved some runs."
Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.