CLEVELAND (AP) — One win at a time, the Royals are scrapping their way toward the top in the AL Central.
Pinch-runner Elliot Johnson scored from third base on a wild pitch by reliever Matt Albers in the ninth inning as Kansas City rallied for a 2-1 win over the Cleveland Indians on Monday night.
Johnson, inserted after Billy Butler opened the ninth with a double, sprinted home and slid in safely after Albers’ pitch got under catcher Carlos Santana and went all the way to the backstop.
With their 11th win in 13 games, the Royals, who were last in the division on June 5, moved past Cleveland into second place.
“We’re grinding out wins now, so I’ll take it,” said starter James Shields, who went six innings but got another hard-luck no-decision. “We’re real resilient as a team. Even when things got rough, we never gave up. We believe in ourselves.”
Before going on this surge, the Royals lost 15 of 18 and at 23-32 manager Ned Yost’s future was very much in doubt. But the Royals are rising quickly.
“A win is a win,” Butler said. “We’ve been playing good baseball and we’re enjoying it. We’re more confident now than we were when we started 17-10.”
Royals reliever Aaron Crow (3-2) struck out two after putting the potential go-ahead run at third in the eighth, and Greg Holland stranded the tying run at third in the ninth for his 15th save in 17 tries.
Bryan Shaw (0-1) couldn’t protect a 1-0 lead for Cleveland starter Carlos Carrasco, charged with just one run and four hits in 7 1-3 innings.
Santana homered in the sixth off Shields, who remained winless since April 30 and has pitched much better than his 2-6 record.
“He never gives in,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He can throw any pitch in any count for a strike.”
The Indians were unable to get the big hit all night.
Twice they loaded the bases against Shields, who both times struck out Jason Kipnis to end the threats. In the ninth, Cleveland got the tying run to third when Michael Bourn doubled and advanced on a wild pitch. But Holland struck out Mike Aviles and retired Kipnis on an easy grounder to second.
The Royals scored one run in the eighth and ninth to eke out the win.
“It’s a `W’, man,” Yost said. “It’s important to get to .500, but now, it’s more important to move past that.”
With the score tied 1-all, Butler opened Kansas City’s ninth with a double off Shaw, who walked Lorenzo Cain and was pulled by Francona for left-hander Rich Hill. David Lough dropped a bunt toward third that Hill fielded before losing his balance and falling in the infield grass.
Albers got ahead of pinch-hitter Miguel Tejada before uncorking a pitch that skipped to the padded backstop. It bounced back quickly to Santana, who flipped the ball to Albers covering the plate, but Johnson slid in just ahead of the tag.
“I tried to block it,” Santana said. “I think I was a little late putting the glove down.”
Blanked for nearly eight innings by Carrasco, the Royals tied it in the eighth on Eric Hosmer’s bloop RBI double.
Chris Getz, twice robbed of hits earlier by left fielder Michael Brantley, singled and Alcides Escobar sacrificed. Francona came out and replaced Carrasco, who was making his first start since serving a seven-game suspension and remains in search of his first win since June 29, 2011.
Rather than bring in struggling lefties Hill or Nick Hagadone to face left-handed hitters, Francona went with Shaw, who retired Alex Gordon on a weak popup before Hosmer dropped his hit over shortstop Aviles’ head and in front of Bourn in center to tie it at 1.
It didn’t figure to be a pitchers’ duel with both starters coming in with blemished resumes.
Shields hasn’t won since April 30, and Carrasco has dropped his last seven decisions and was twice suspended since his last victory.
Santana broke up the scoreless matchup by leading off the sixth with his 10th homer, a shot into the stands in right. The homer came on Shields’ first pitch of the inning and 101st of the night.
Although he has given up more than three runs just once in 13 starts, Shields can’t catch a break. The Royals are averaging 2.2 runs in his outings.
Carrasco was pitching for the first time since serving a suspension for throwing at New York’s Kevin Youkilis on April 9. In his previous outing, the right-hander was rocked for six runs and 10 hits in four innings by the Detroit Tigers, who didn’t have to worry about Carrasco throwing inside because he rarely tried.
However, Carrasco challenged the Royals on the inner half of the plate and retired the first 13 in order before Cain singled sharply to right.
“That was what we’re hoping for,” Francona said.
NOTES: Shields has pitched at least six innings in 29 straight starts. … There are 21 fathers of Royals players traveling with the team and they were all in the clubhouse following the game. … The Royals entered the series with the AL’s lowest ERA at 3.39. Kansas City’s bullpen came in with the best ERA (2.67) in the majors. … There were 349 dogs in attendance as the Indians hosted “Puppypalooza.”