CLEVELAND (AP) — Carlos Santana’s three-run homer pushed the Cleveland Indians to a 5-2 win over the Kansas City Royals on Thursday night and nearer to their first AL Central championship since 2007.
Santana’s shot in the sixth inning off Dillon Gee (7-9) snapped a 2-2 tie as the Indians improved to 9-1 against the Royals this season.
Kansas City’s chances of making the postseason took another blow. The defending World Series champions began the night behind six teams in the wild-card chase.
Reliever Dan Otero (5-1) pitched two scoreless innings, Bryan Shaw worked one and Cody Allen pitched a perfect ninth for his 29th save.
Jason Kipnis homered for the Indians, who can wrap up a postseason berth this weekend against the Chicago White Sox.
Alcides Escobar hit a two-run homer for the Royals.
Santana, who hit an RBI double in the first, has been on a tear the past two days.
Gee hit Kipnis to start the sixth and Francisco Lindor walked. One out later, Santana drove his 34th homer into the right-field seats. After he crossed home plate, Santana pointed at NBA free agent swingman J.R. Smith, who helped the Cavaliers win the NBA title this year and end Cleveland’s 52-year championship drought.
Santana went 7 for 12 with five RBIs in the Indians’ series sweep.
With Cleveland starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar dealing with injuries and likely out for the playoffs, Mike Clevinger could hold a pivotal role for the Indians in October. The rookie showed poise in working out of potential trouble as the Royals put the leadoff man on in three straight innings.
It was a solid postseason audition for Clevinger, who allowed four hits in five innings before giving way to Cleveland’s solid bullpen.
The Indians jumped on Jason Vargas for two runs in the first.
Kipnis made it 1-0 with his 23rd homer. Once he was back in the dugout, the second baseman was carried through a lineup of welcoming teammates by catcher Chris Gimenez and outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall, a celebratory ride that has become a staple this season.
Santana fouled a ball off his left foot and received a visit from manager Terry Francona and a trainer before ripping a two-out RBI double to center.
Escobar’s shot to center tied it 2-2 in the second. It was Escobar’s sixth homer in his last 149 at-bats, quite a power surge for the shortstop who had homered just once in his previous 600 at-bats.
Royals: OF Lorenzo Cain (inflammation in left wrist) hasn’t played since Sept. 9 and could miss the rest of the season.
Indians: C Yan Gomes, who is a longshot to play in the postseason after breaking his right hand during a minor league rehab appearance, threw to the bases before batting practice. The workout wasn’t planned, but Gomes was feeling good after making significant progress in the past few days.
“In all fairness to Yan, he shouldn’t really have any chance to play,” Francona said. “I think that to be fair, if there’s a 1 percent chance, my guess is he’ll probably be the one.”
Royals: LHP Danny Duffy (12-2) will match a career high by making his 25th start this season as Kansas City begins a three-game set in Detroit. With a win, Duffy will have the most wins by a Royals left-hander since Charlie Leibrandt won 13 in 1988.
Indians: RHP Trevor Bauer starts the series opener against the Chicago White Sox. He’s 3-2 with a 3.91 ERA in nine career starts against them.
Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.