CLEVELAND — Royals pitcher Luis Mendoza was unstoppable in carrying a no-hitter into the fifth inning on Wednesday night.
Once the Indians broke through, however, it didn’t take them long to send him to the showers.
Left fielder Michael Brantley led off the fifth with a home run and added a sacrifice fly in the three-run sixth, leading the Tribe to a 6-3 victory over Kansas City at Progressive Field.
The win was Cleveland’s sixth in its last eight games and pulled it within 3½ games of first-place Detroit in the American League Central Division.
“Mendoza hadn’t allowed a hit going into the fifth, but all the guys in the dugout were like, ‘It’s going to happen. We’re going to be all right.” Indians pitcher Justin Masterson said. “Their confidence never waned and, sure enough, it came together right after that. We went from two runs down to being ahead by a couple against him real quickly.”
Brantley added a solo shot off Royals reliever Luke Hochevar in the eighth, completing his first two-homer game in the big leagues and the Indians’ comeback from a 2-0 deficit.
Shortstop Mike Aviles drove in two runs and center fielder Michael Bourn scored twice for the Tribe, which won the rubber match of the three-game series by unloading against Mendoza (2-4, 4.30 ERA) in the middle innings.
After Brantley’s initial home run pulled Cleveland within 2-1 after five, the Indians put their first five baserunners on in the sixth against Mendoza. All of those players were put on by the veteran right-hander, who exited after walking Carlos Santana with the bases loaded to give the Tribe a 3-2 lead.
Mendoza also was charged with Cleveland’s third run in the frame, which scored on Brantley’s sac fly off Kansas City reliever Tim Collins that made it 4-2.
“The first five innings were about as good as you can get,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “But (Mendoza) just kind of fell apart in the sixth after (Drew) Stubbs led off with the hit.”
The Indians extended their lead to 5-2 in the seventh on an Aviles sacrifice fly off Kelvin Herrera, then pushed it out to 6-2 on Brantley’s second blast into the lower deck in right field. Brantley snapped an 0-for-13 slump and finished the evening 2-for-3 with two runs and three RBIs.
“It was awesome, I’m not going to lie,” Brantley said of his second homer. “I don’t smile too often on the field, but I had a big smile after that.”
Cleveland ace Masterson (9-5, 3.48 ERA) labored through 6⅓ innings, allowing nine hits while striking out eight, but earned his first win since May 29. The right-hander is 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA at home this season, while the Indians are 11-5 in his 16 starts.
Bryan Shaw followed with 1⅔ scoreless frames for the Tribe before Joe Smith pitched the ninth, allowing an RBI double by Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer that closed out the scoring.
“When Justin pitches, we feel pretty good about our chances — and he’s earned that respect from his teammates,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said, breaking into a chuckle. “The tough thing for me is trying not to get too caught up in how fond I am of him when he comes off the mound because I’m always smiling. I like Justin a whole bunch, so that’s not easy.”
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon, who went 0-for-5 at the plate, also hurt his club in the field during the pivotal sixth inning.
Aviles tied the score at 2 with an RBI single that should have been caught by Gordon, but bounced off his glove as he reached the warning track. Three batters later, he had a great opportunity to throw out Aviles at the plate on Brantley’s short sacrifice fly, but threw a multiple-bouncer that was way late.
“It’s a ball that needs to be caught, especially in that situation,” Gordon said of Aviles’ drive. “It was towards to the wall, but it went off my glove and I should have caught it. No question.
“It would have been a big out and could have changed the inning, but instead, they put up three. I needed to make a play right there and didn’t do it.”
There was more good news for the Indians after the game, when Francona announced first baseman Nick Swisher is expected to return to action Saturday.
Swisher, who signed a four-year, $56 million free agent contract in January, has been sidelined for four games with a sore left shoulder. He will hit off a tee today and take batting practice Friday before the Tribe’s weekend series opener against the Minnesota Twins.
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.