Closer Brad Hand allowed five runs in the ninth inning Tuesday night as Kansas City came from behind to beat the Indians, 8-6, at Progressive Field.
Hand had converted 22 straight saves before failing to record an out against the Royals in the ninth inning. He entered the game tied with New York’s Aroldis Chapman as the American League saves leader.
The loss ended the Tribe’s win streak at four games. It was just their sixth loss in the last 20 games.
Hand entered the ninth with a 6-3 lead. Martin Maldonado greeted him with a leadoff double. Singles by Whit Merrifield and Nicky Lopez made it 6-4. Another single by Alex Gordon loaded the bases before Hunter Dozier hit a first-pitch grand slam into the left field bleachers to end Hand’s night.
Nick Goody relieved and struck out the side in order.
Ian Kennedy gave up a two-out single to Oscar Mercado to bring Carlos Santana to the plate with two out in the ninth. He struck out Santana for his 10th save.
Hand (4-3) had allowed just four runs in 35 appearances entering Tuesday night’s game. He allowed five runs on five hits in 13 pitches against the Royals.
He was also making his fifth appearance in the last six days. When asked if Hand could have been tired, manager Terry Francona said, “He was throwing 94 mph. He’ll definitely have Wednesday off. Then we have a day off. But we check pretty closely with those guys.”
Hand said he felt fine.
“I felt physically good,” he said. "I would have let them know if I felt tired. I just didn’t make the pitches.
“I got ahead, tried to bury a few sliders and left them up. Sometimes you throw too many strikes and it comes back to hurt you. I got ahead of some of those hitters and just made some mistakes.”
Hand was ahead in the count to Merrifield and Lopez. Maldonado and Dozier hit the first pitch.
The Indians built a 6-3 lead on the strength of four homers. Two of them barely reached the right field seats, but they all counted.
Roberto Perez started the fifth with a 360-foot homer that barely cleared the right field wall to tie the score at 2-2. In the sixth, Tyler Naquin reached out and pulled a Glenn Sparkman curveball 352 feet to right field for a two-run homer. It hit on top of the wall before bouncing over it for a 5-3 lead.
Those two homers had no relation to the 420-foot monster that Santana hit over the center field wall in the seventh. It was Santana’s 18th homer of the season as he celebrated being invited to the July 8 Home Run Derby as part of the All-Star Game festivities at Progressive Field.
Mike Freeman landed somewhere in between Santana’s long-distance drive and the wall-scrapers by Perez and Naquin. Freeman, subbing for injured Jake Bauers (left ankle), followed Perez with a 389-foot homer to right to give the Indians a short-lived 3-2 lead.
Shane Bieber started for the Tribe. He came out for the sixth with his first lead since the first inning thanks to Perez’s and Freeman’s consecutive homers in the fifth. Bieber, however, couldn’t make it through the inning.
He retired Jorge Soler on a hard grounder to short, but when Cheslor Cuthbert singled, Bieber’s night was over. Tyler Olson came on to face Lucas Duda, but the left-on-left matchup did not favor the Tribe. Duda doubled off the wall in center to score Cuthbert and tie the score, 3-3.
Bieber allowed three runs, two earned, in 5 1/3 innings. He walked two and struck out six.
Perez’s and Freeman’s homers in the fifth marked the fifth time the Indians have hit consecutive homers this season. Perez, who started the season with 22 career homers, has hit 14 this year.
Every ball the Indians hit in the fifth was hard. Francisco Lindor grounded out to first, and Oscar Mercado and Santana flied out to the track in right and center field, respectively.
The Royals took a 2-1 lead in the fifth on a two-run double by Merrifield. The Royals center fielder entered the game hitting .421 (8-for-19) against the Indians this season.
Humberto Arteaga opened the inning with a hard grounder to first. Santana made a nice diving stop, but his throw from his knees sailed on Bieber at first and he couldn’t hold it. Santana was charged with an error.
Maldonado, with the defense shifted to the right, bounced a single through the unoccupied hole at shortstop as Arteaga sprinted to third. Merrifield doubled them home with a drive to center. Merrifield had two hits Monday night to become the first player to reach 100 hits this season after leading the big leagues with 192 hits last year.
“I didn’t have as good of command as usual,” Bieber said. “Even then I an opportunity to get a lot deeper into the game. I feel like the turning point may have been when I botched that ball at first. I didn’t hold on to it for whatever reason. That changed, potentially, the rest of the game.”
The Indians took a 1-0 lead in the first on Mercado’s single to right. Lindor opened the game with a double. Mercado followed with a 20-hopper between first and second as Lindor scored easily.
Sparkman allowed five runs on seven hits in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out three and walked two.
The Indians, for the second straight night, leaned heavily on the bullpen. Six relievers followed Bieber to the mound.
The Indians and Royals end this three-game series on Wednesday at 1:10 p.m. RHP Trevor Bauer (5-6, 3.69) will start for the Indians, while RHP Jakob Junis (4-6, 5.18) starts for the Royals.
Bauer lasted just four innings, allowing five runs on 10 hits in a no-decision against the Tigers in his last start. He’s 3-4 with a 3.01 ERA in his career against the Royals.
Junis is coming off a no decision against the Twins in which he allowed two earned runs in six innings. He struck out eight and walked two. He’s 2-2 with a 5.87 ERA in his career against the Tribe.