Indians’ homers trump Royals’ defense in 4-3 win

Two-run homers from Jason Kipnis and Michael Brantley were enough to power the Indians past the Royals in the series opener.

Mark Duncan/AP

The first game of a tough seven-game road trip had most of the elements of a Royals’ victory — fantastic defense, superb job by the bullpen, and even a couple of key hits.

But it wasn’t enough to offset Cleveland’s long ball. The Indians belted two two-run homers in a 4-3 win over the powerless Royals, who remain last in all of baseball with just six team home runs.

The Royals obviously could have used someone to muscle up on Monday as they dropped their second straight and fell back to .500 at 9-9.

And yes, the streak remains intact — the Royals are 9-0 when they score four runs or more (basically the league average) and 0-9 when they don’t.

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All-world defense. You can’t say enough about the brilliant defensive plays from the Royals that kept starter Jeremey Guthrie in the game. The Royals nailed a runner at the plate in the third inning on two perfect relay throws from center fielder Jarrod Dyson and then shortstop Alcides Escobar, who fired a strike to catcher Sal Perez, who put the tag on a stunned David Murphy.

Escobar then may have made the play of the season with Jason Giambi at the plate in the sixth. Escobar was positioned to the right of second base in a shift against Giambi, who popped up toward the third-base coaching box. Escobar turned on the burners and raced over 100 feet for a sensational sliding catch to get the out.

Corner outfielders Alex Gordon (twice) and Norichika Aoki also made brilliant sliding catches off line drives.

Esky is doing it all. Escobar continues to look like a changed man at the plate, too. After Mike Moustakas doubled in the fifth to lead off, Escobar used a great two-strike approach by punching the ball toward right-center, knowing he would at least get Moose to third. The sinking liner was dropped by Michael Bourn and Esky was rewarded with a double and an RBI for a very selfless at bat. Esky had another selfless at bat leading off the seventh as he patiently worked a walk off Tribe starter Zach McAllister.

Is Kelvin Herrera back? Herrera, so brilliant in 2012 and at the start of 2013, may be showing signs (fingers crossed) of returning to his old form. He came on for Guthrie with one out and runners at the corners in the seventh. Herrera got out of the jam with a groundout and a pop fly. Now, this is where I wish skipper Ned Yost would "manager the player" a little better. We all know Herrera’s psyche is a bit fragile after his shaky 2013 season. This would have been a good opportunity for Yost to pull Herrera — let Herrera’s head hit the pillow at night knowing he did his job. That is generally how you build a player’s confidence back up — in small increments. Instead, Yost put Herrera back out for the eighth, though Wade Davis had been warming up. Luckily — and really it was all luck — Herrera dodged a bad eighth inning when he gave up a double but got rescued when Gordon snared two sinking line drives in the alley.


Not doing your job, Justin. Justin Maxwell came on to pinch-hit for Dyson against a left-hander in the seventh inning after Esky’s leadoff walk. Maxwell got into a favorable count (2-0 and then 2-1) but swung at ball three and rolled into a weak fielder’s choice. To make matters worse, Maxwell then got picked off first (it goes down as a caught stealing). Yost made the right move going with Maxwell but wasn’t rewarded.

Sal Perez needs a mental day off. We all know how much better the Royals are with their Gold Glove catcher in the lineup. But Perez looks mentally tired at the plate — he’s hitless in his last four games and is just three for his last 34. Let the big man catch his breath.

The dreaded double play. The Royals now have hit into a whopping 20 double plays this season (only Boston with 22 has hit into more). Not good for a team that can’t hit for power. The Royals’ Big Four of Eric Hosmer, Billy Butler, Gordon and Perez have hit into 16 of them. And no, Billy doesn’t lead the way — Hosmer and Perez each have grounded into five.

You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter @jflanagankc or email