CLEVELAND (AP) - The risk was far greater than the reward for Cleveland Indians manager Terry Francona.
He knows time is running out on the season - and his team’s playoff chances - and that every game is vital from here on out. Still, Francona wasn’t going to risk Corey Kluber’s health just to get closer in the wild-card race.
Not now. Not ever.
Francona pulled Kluber after four innings in his first start since Aug. 29 and the Indians couldn’t stop Omar Infante, who drove in seven runs during Kansas City’s 8-4 win Thursday night.
Kluber (8-14) had thrown just 61 pitches, and settled in after giving up Infante’s three-run homer in the second. Francona, though, wasn’t going to push his ace farther than he was comfortable doing.
“I might have been overprotective and if that’s the case, I don’t want to apologize for it,” Francona said. “I just think that after being down for whatever it was, 19 days, I just thought that he’ll be better suited now to start pitching like he can and not have to think about it. He wanted to go back out.
“I just thought it was in his best interest and I think I have an obligation to keep an eye on guys like that.”
Kluber tried to persuade Francona to let him pitch another inning, but didn’t force the issue.
“I tried to talk him into letting me go back out, but I also understand his point of view of not wanting me to push it to where it’s going to make things worse,” said Kluber, who allowed two earned runs and five hits in four innings. “So, I’m not going to question him. I tried to state my case and ultimately he makes the call, so it is what it is.”
Infante, a veteran infielder making his first start in 11 days, hit a three-run homer in the second, added a two-run double in the fifth after the Indians pulled Kluber and a two-run single in the seventh. Infante also had a sacrifice and nearly matched the offensive output of teammate Mike Moustakas, who set a team record with nine RBIs on Saturday against Baltimore.
Needing a triple to hit for the cycle, Infante lined out to center field in the ninth.
“We just made some mistakes to Infante,” Francona said. “He had seven RBIs. When we got it where we needed to we were OK, but when we didn’t, he killed us.”
Yordana Ventura (12-8) went five innings, retiring struggling All-Star Jason Kipnis with the bases loaded to end the fifth as the AL Central-leading Royals split the four-game series.
The Indians lost a chance to gain more ground in the wild-card race, but remain four games behind Houston, which lost 8-2 to Texas.
Cleveland had some chances. Trailing 3-2 and with runners at first and second in the fourth, Michael Brantley swung at a 3-0 pitch and popped it up, ending the threat.
“We have a chance to do some damage there,” Francona said. “That’s the way the game goes. I would rather have the opportunities than not. And I like the fact that he’s confident enough to swing there because that’s the situation we’re looking for.”
As soon as Kluber left, the Royals pounced on left-handed reliever Kyle Crockett, who gave up Eric Hosmer’s RBI double that put Kansas City up 4-2. Jeff Manship came on for Cleveland but walked Alex Rios, and Infante followed with his double to make it 6-2.
Kluber dropped to 1-4 in five starts against the Royals this season.
LITTLE BIT BETTER
Kipnis went 2 for 5 with an RBI, his first multihit game since Aug. 25. He came in batting .192 since returning from the disabled list on Aug. 17.
Royals: RHP Johnny Cueto has dropped five straight starts for the first time in his career. He’ll start the series opener in Detroit. The first inning has been an issue for Cueto, who has been touched for a combined seven runs and 10 hits in the first over his past three outings.
Indians: RHP Cody Anderson opens a three-game series against the White Sox. He’s won back-to-back starts for the first time after defeating Detroit in his previous outing.
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