By Jordan Bastian and Jeffrey Flanagan
CLEVELAND -- For 16 batters on Saturday night, Royals right-hander Jason Hammel was perfect. The Indians wanted no part of that kind of history, and they used a flurry of home runs and a stellar outing from Mike Clevinger (aka "Sunshine" for Players Weekend) to run to a 4-0 win over Kansas City at Progressive Field.
After Bradley Zimmer broke up Hammel's perfecto bid with a single in the sixth, Roberto Perez belted a two-run homer that proved to be the difference. Edwin Encarnacion and Carlos Santana followed suit with solo shots of their own in the seventh, backing six shutout innings from Clevinger.
"I wasn't thinking about [the perfect game]," Hammel said. "It popped into my mind, because you don't have a runner. I'm just trying to execute pitches. Slider up got hit up the middle [by Zimmer]. It was a hanging slider. That's when the perfect game was gone, but other than that, they were able to put some balls over the fence and that's what hurt us."
The win helped the American League Central-leading Indians push the third-place Royals eight games back in the division. The second-place Twins dropped 6 1/2 games behind Cleveland for the Central lead, but remain 1 1/2 games ahead of Kansas City for the AL's second Wild Card spot.
Hammel, who is the only pitcher to have three wins against the Indians this season, lived up to his Players Weekend nickname of "Hammer" for the first five frames. Cleveland's lineup looked baffled by the tall righty once again, but then broke loose in a 6-for-10 outburst between the sixth and seventh innings to chase Hammel from the contest.
"We weren't doing anything," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He was going right through us. And then, fortunately, he got a couple balls up and we didn't miss them."
Hammel was charged with four runs on six his in 6 2/3 innings, in which he struck out four, walked one and yielded the three home runs.
"I thought he was phenomenal the first five innings," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He had good stuff, and he was spot on. He was tremendous."
Clevinger tied a career best with nine strikeouts and continued Kansas City's offensive blackout. With the back-to-back shutout losses to Cleveland, the Royals saw their scoreless drought reach 25 innings, which is the longest outage in the Majors this season, per STATS LLC.
Clevinger had a simple explanation for what was working for him.
"Defense and strikes," Clevinger said. "[Those] would be two big takeaways from the day."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Zimmer's jaw-dropping dive: With two outs and a runner on in the fifth, Lorenzo Cain drilled a pitch from Clevinger deep into the left-center gap, where it appeared destined to fall for extra bases. Zimmer -- using the nickname "Machine" this weekend, due to his freak athleticism -- saw to it that the inning ended in spectacular fashion. Zimmer sprinted into the gap and used an all-out dive to snare the ball from the air before it dropped to the grass. Zimmer rolled and raised his glove to the sky, while the roaring crowd rose to its feet. On the mound, Clevinger smiled wide and clapped hard into his glove.
"I hit it good, thought it was in the gap," Cain said. "He used every bit of his 6-foot-5 frame. Sometimes, you just got to tip your cap."
Francona noted that Zimmer lost his footing for a moment, too.
"He slipped. His second step he kind of missed a step," Francona said. "It's like he kind of willed himself. I know there wasn't a whole lot to spare, but my goodness, considering the timing of the play, the score, that was a great catch." More >
Ramirez runs one down: After holding the Royals to an 0-for-10 showing out of the chute, Clevinger ran into trouble in the fourth. Melky Cabrera and Eric Hosmer singled, and Mike Moustakas drew a two-out walk to load the bases. Alcides Escobar then flared a pitch from Clevinger to shallow center toward no-man's land. Second baseman Jose Ramirez hustled into the grass and chased down the soft liner at the last moment, making an impressive grab to halt Kansas City's rally.
"I almost tackled him," Zimmer said with a laugh. "That was a great play by him. He's made some good plays for us the last couple games, especially on defense, so a big play there by him."
"It was fun. It's always fun to get to make plays like that, but you know, it was a big situation there. So, it saved some runs and then we were finally able to chip away and get to Hammel after that, so that really got us going there." -- Zimmer
"It was 1-0 in my head off the bat. I don't think we're having the same conversation without that catch. It was crucial." -- Clevinger, on Zimmer's diving grab
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Encarnacion's home run gave him at least 30 in each of the past six seasons, dating back to the 2012 campaign. He is the only player in the Major Leagues to have 30-plus homers in each of those years.
WHAT'S NEXT Royals: Rookie left-hander Eric Skoglund (1-1, 5.59 ERA) gets the start in Sunday's series finale against the Indians at 12:10 p.m. CT. Skoglund, who is starting in place of the injured Danny Duffy, hasn't pitched since Aug. 15 with Triple-A Omaha. This will be his fourth big league start.
Indians: Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (12-6, 3.95 ERA) is slated to take the ball for the Tribe in a 1:10 p.m. ET tilt against the Royals on Sunday at Progressive Field. Carrasco has gone 2-2 with a 5.67 ERA in five starts in August, and is 3-4 with a 5.13 ERA at home this season.