KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Triston McKenzie tossed six innings of three-hit ball to celebrate his 23rd birthday, Tyler Naquin hit a pair of homers for the only runs of the game, and the Cleveland Indians beat the Kansas City Royals 5-0 on Wednesday night.
McKenzie (2-0) needed just 81 pitches thanks to six strikeouts, no walks and some slick defense behind him. His bullpen went the rest of the way, holding the Royals without a hit over the final three innings.
“I mean, the nerves are definitely still there beforehand. I don’t think that’s ever going to go away,” McKenzie said, “but I’m going out there and feeling more comfortable in terms of treating it like a learning experience.”
Naquin’s first homer was a two-run shot off Jakob Junis (0-1) in the second inning. Naquin then provided his relievers with some much-needed breathing room by adding a three-run homer off Scott Barlow in the ninth.
“He was unbelievable. His swing is the best I’ve seen it,” Indians interim manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “He did the work this offseason. He kind of restructured his swing a little bit — he’s been more efficient with his swing. Pretty good.”
The result was the fifth consecutive loss in a series-deciding game for the Royals, and their 10th straight defeat in rubber games involving Cleveland. In fact, Kansas City has won just three of its last 35 games to decide a series.
“A couple balls we did hit hard just seemed to be at people,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “Just couldn’t put the hits together.”
McKenzie had a lot to do with it Wednesday night. The youngster, who missed all of last season with injuries, retired the first 10 batters he faced. And when he ran into the slightest bit of trouble, his defense was there to help.
The first time came when Hunter Dozier hit an infield single to deep shortstop; he was wiped out by an inning-ending double play. The next came when the Royals put runners on second and third with one out in the fifth, and Carlos Santana snared a sharp grounder by Adalberto Mondesi, stepped on first and then doubled Ryan McBroom off third.
And when McKenzie whiffed on a grounder in the sixth, Francisco Lindor was there to field it and throw the runner out.
“I just wanted Frankie to make the play,” McKenzie said with a grin.
Junis was nearly as good with the exception of a couple of base hits and the big mistake to Naquin. The right-hander set down the Indians in order in the first and third, and he was cruising along in the fourth when Josh Naylor’s line drive hit Junis in the right arm between the biceps and triceps — he recovered to throw out Naylor and end the inning.
Junis was removed before the start of the fifth for precautionary reasons.
“He was really on track right there, in my mind,” Matheny said. “He’s getting good, quick outs and was on a nice little roll there. He probably had two more innings of keeping us in the ballgame. Just a bad break there.”
A single by Franmil Reyes in the first inning was his eighth consecutive hit, the longest streak by an Indians player since Julio Franco also had eight hits in a row in June 1988. Reyes’ streak ended with a fly out to right field in the fourth.
Indians RHP Shane Bieber was voted American League pitcher of the month for August after piling up 57 strikeouts with a 1.63 ERA over six starts. He had at least 10 strikeouts in five of those outings, and the 2019 All-Star Game MVP now leads the AL in ERA (1.20), wins (six) and strikeouts (84).
Indians: C Roberto Perez started behind the plate and struck out in the second inning before departing with what the club called shoulder fatigue. Sandy Leon finished the game in his place. “They did all tests with him,” Alomar said. “It feels like his arm is just dead in some area, but he’s day to day.”
Royals: DH Jorge Soler left with tenderness in his right oblique and tightness in his back. Ryan O’Hearn struck out batting for him in the seventh. “It’s something that he’s kind of had before, actually early in the season,” Matheny said. “He kind of knows how to monitor but it was getting to the point we needed the trainers to look at him.”
Royals LHP Danny Duffy (2-2, 4.11 ERA) makes his second straight start against the White Sox on Thursday night when the clubs open a four-game series at Kauffman Stadium. The Indians have a day off before starting a three-game series against Milwaukee on Friday night in Cleveland.
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