KANSAS CITY -- Carlos Santana lives for the type of situation that came up in the ninth inning on Tuesday night. Bases loaded. Two out. The Indians trailing by one run with Royals closer Joakim Soria on the mound.
The Tribe trusts Santana in such scenarios, too.
Manny Acta is quick to describe Santana as a natural born hitter, and the Indians manager has supported that stance by thrusting the young player into the heart of the order, handing him the cleanup role in his first full season.
"He's a very good hitter," Acta said.
So it was surprising to see Santana, Cleveland's promising young slugger, one of baseball's budding stars, stare at three called strikes, a trio of cutters that snapped over the outside corner, to seal a 5-4 loss to the Royals. Cleveland rallied furiously over the final three frames, but it all went for naught.
Following the loss, one that ended a four-game winning streak for the American League-leading Indians, Santana sat in front of his locker. His head was in his hands and he wore that familiar look of defeat. Shin-Soo Choo walked over, said a few words in Santana's ear and gave him a supportive slap on the back.
All was not lost. Only one game.
"If I have another opportunity," Santana said, "I'll get it. All the way."
That the Indians (12-5) nearly pulled this one off was an impressive feat in its own right. Baffled by lefty Bruce Chen for the first six innings, Cleveland's offense took too long to find its rhythm. Four runs over the final three innings were not enough to overcome the five yielded by starter Jeanmar Gomez in his season debut.
Gomez, who was promoted from Triple-A Columbus before the game to fill the rotation spot vacated by an injured Mitch Talbot, did not make it out of the fifth inning. Gomez hit the showers after 4 1/3 frames, ending a run of 11 games in a row in which a Tribe starter logged at least six.
"I had a little trouble," said Gomez, who cited his slider as the primary culprit against Kansas City's pesky lineup. "I just have to learn about my mistakes so it doesn't happen in the next start."
Gomez's mistakes helped the rival Royals (11-6) run out to a 5-0 lead after five innings. Reliever Chad Durbin then held Kansas City's bats at bay through the seventh, providing some time for the Indians' hitters to devise some sort of plan for solving Chen, who left after seven strong.
"It took us too long to get to Bruce Chen," Acta said. "He did a very good job."
As Chen's pitch count rose near the century mark in the seventh, the Tribe made its move. Orlando Cabrera, Austin Kearns and Lou Marson connected for consecutive hits, trimming KC's advantage to 5-2. Michael Brantley followed with a two-out single to left, and Marson tried to score from second base.
That is when Alex Gordon made his first of two rally-killing plays.
Gordon gloved the ball that skipped through the outfield grass and came up firing to home plate. The relay rocketed in to catcher Brayan Pena, who absorbed a blow from Marson, but held tight to the ball for the frame's final out.
"I just needed to make a good one-hop throw," Gordon said. " Pena did a great job of blocking the plate."
Gordon was hardly finished tormenting the Tribe.
The Indians plated one run in the eighth inning and then began a subsequent assault against Soria in the ninth. With one out and a runner on first base, Cleveland's Grady Sizemore sliced a pitch from the closer down the left-field line, where Gordon was sprinting hard.
"I was diving the whole way," Gordon said. "I don't know what I was doing, but I was just saying, 'I'm going to catch this. We're not going into extras.'"
Gordon did precisely that. He dove and snared the baseball out of the air before it could continue Cleveland's push.
"We put up a fight at the end," Acta said. "Gordon pretty much saved the game."
It was hard to argue in light of what happened next.
Soria surrendered a single to Brantley, hit Asdrubal Cabrera with a pitch and then issued a six-pitch walk to Choo that forced home a run. Then, with two out, and the Indians' trailing by one run, 5-4, Santana settled into his stance for his first career at-bat against Soria.
Santana watched a 90-mph cut fastball zip by. Strike one.
He did the same with a 92-mph cutter. Strike two.
Soria fired off the same for the dagger. Strike three.
"Backdoor cutters," Santana said. "Very good pitches."
Acta did not pile any blame on Santana.
"Soria made just three good pitches," said the manager. "They were right on the black. I think everybody wants him to swing the bat, but you also have to take your hat off to the pitcher sometimes."
Santana does not plan on doing that too often.
"Tomorrow is a new day," he said.