5:24 AM UTC
KANSAS CITY — The Guardians worked and worked to get the game to All-Star closer Emmanuel Clase with a ninth-inning lead.
In the end, Clase got that opportunity. But it didn’t work.
Clase simply couldn’t throw strikes with a chance to protect a 1-0 lead and send the Guardians out of Kansas City with a three-game sweep. Instead, Clase walked the first two hitters he faced and wound up surrendering a game-tying single to MJ Melendez and a walk-off sacrifice fly to Salvador Perez as the Royals pulled out a 2-1 victory on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium.
“He just lost the plate early and proved he’s human,” Guardians manager Terry Francona said of Clase. “It’s been a long time since something like that has happened.”
Facing the bottom of the lineup, Clase walked Kyle Isbel and Drew Waters, who started the night with .215 and .220 batting averages, respectively. Clase went 2-0 on Nicky Lopez before Lopez put down a bunt that advanced Isbel to third. A Royals offense that had been dormant all evening finally got the big hit, as Melendez singled home the tying run and sent the winning run to third. Moments later, Perez came through with his sacrifice fly and the Guardians were left with a tough loss to ponder on their late-night flight to Minneapolis.
Ten of Clase’s first 11 pitches were balls, and he wound up throwing 19 pitches with just eight strikes.
“He tried to fight his way back, but 1-0 is a hard way to win,” Francona said.
Consequently, the Guardians rolled out of Kansas City with a two-game lead in the American League Central instead of a three-game lead. The silver lining for Cleveland was the work of right-hander Cody Morris, who saw his second Major League start go much better than his first. Morris worked four scoreless innings before Francona got the Cleveland bullpen heavily involved.
“That was much more what we were looking for,” Francona said of Morris. “He was able to use his changeup. Probably could have gone farther. I just thought that with the way the lineup was set up, it was a good time to get him out.”
Morris got some help from catcher Luke Maile in the first when Maile threw out speedy Bobby Witt Jr. trying to steal second. The Royals followed with consecutive singles, but Morris wiggled out of the inning unscathed. Morris was solid in the second, third and fourth innings before the bullpen took over.
“That first inning I was still battling some nerves,” Morris said. “But I feel like I settled in well. I felt a lot more relaxed after I got out of the first.”
The Guardians took the lead on an RBI bloop single by Owen Miller in the fourth, but they couldn’t tack on any more against Royals starter Zack Greinke.
“We haven’t been scoring in bunches, so we know we have to fight for everything we get,” Francona said. “Greinke does such a good job of controlling the running game and fielding his position. You have to get hits to beat him because he does so many things so fundamentally well.”
With an off-day looming on Thursday, Francona went all in with a bullpen that has been so stellar since the All-Star break. Five relievers held the 1-0 lead, but the sixth guy — Clase — couldn’t seal the deal.
In the ninth, a small but vocal group of Royals fans were chanting for balls, not hits.
“We walked some other guys, too,” Francona said, noting the eight walks surrendered by the Cleveland staff on the night. “It finally ended up biting us.”