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CLE@KC: Gordon plates a run with a double

KANSAS CITY -- Alex Gordon was the hero of a Royals story that unfolded with unlikely twists and turns and thrills and spills.

There was closer Joakim Soria narrowly escaping late night peril. There was starter Bruce Chen putting together a classic preamble. There was a breakdown in the bullpen phones that delayed a pitching change. There was even unintentional signal blocking by a batboy.

The ending, though, was a happy one for Kansas City fans who watched the Royals hold off the Cleveland Indians, 5-4, on a frigid 45-degree Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.

By winning, the Royals got back to within one game of the leading Indians in the American League Central. So far, they've split two games with two remaining in their tussle over first place.

"After a game like this you try to decide who the star of the game is and, obviously, it's Alex Gordon," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

"Tonight was a phenomenal game. He did everything -- stole bases, got base hits, big base hits, diving plays in the outfield, assists in the outfield, cutting down big runs at the plate. He just did it all."

True enough.

Gordon, asked to name his favorite episode of the evening, picked his defense. Good choice.

Soria took over a 5-3 lead in the ninth which began with the Indians' Austin Kearns safe on third baseman Wilson Betemit's throwing error. After a strikeout, pinch-hitter Grady Sizemore sent a line drive slicing toward the left-field line. Away went Gordon.

"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. I'm too cold right now and I'm going to figure out a way to catch this ball.'"

He did, latest in a series of great catches by the third baseman-turned-left fielder.

The ninth-inning drama continued as Michael Brantley singled, Soria hit Asdrubal Cabrera with a curveball in the dirt to load the bases, then walked Shin-Soo Choo on a 3-2 pitch to force in the Indians' fourth run.

Up came cleanup batter Carlos Santana. Curiously, he didn't take a swing and watched three fastballs cut over the outside of the plate.

"He was throwing backdoor cutters. They were very good pitches," Santana said.

Strike one, strike two, strike three, game over.

"I just tried to go after him and get him out and it worked on three pitches," Soria said. "Sometimes it doesn't work that way. It was three fastballs outside."

Chen breezed through six shutout innings, reaching 20 straight innings in which he'd allowed just one unearned run, before hitting a trouble spot in the seventh. With one out Orlando Cabrera singled and Yost wanted Blake Wood to get warmed up in the bullpen. It didn't happen.

"As soon as Bruce gave up the first hit in the seventh inning, we were going to call down and get Woody up," Yost said. "But the phones went on the blink, so we had no communication to our bullpen and Bruce gives up another hit, and we're trying to get Woody up down there and we can't contact the bullpen because the phones are out."

With bench coach John Gibbons frantically waving to the bullpen, Kearns got the second hit and Lou Marson uncorked a two-run double to right field. Meantime, the Royals prevailed on the officer guarding the dugout to call the cop in the bullpen to tell Wood to get cranking. Pitching coach Bob McClure came out to stall for time and explain the problem to the umpires.

While Wood hurriedly threw in the 'pen, Chen got the second out but gave up a single to Brantley. Enter Gordon for his first defensive contribution of the night. He uncorked a throw to catcher Brayan Pena that beat Marson to the plate.

"It took kind of a weird hop and I fielded it cleanly," Gordon said. "I made sure that he was going and I was pretty close to the infield, so I just needed to make a good one-hop throw and Pena did a great job of blocking the plate. I don't think he touched the plate."

Pena stopped Marson cold for the third out. Wood didn't get to the mound until the eighth inning when he surrendered one run to the Tribe.

Earlier, as the Royals gave Chen a 5-0 lead, it was Gordon who followed Melky Cabrera's double with one of his own to start the two-run fifth inning. Then Gordon scored on Jeff Francoeur's single.

In the first inning, Gordon extended his hitting streak to a career-high 13 games with a single and proceeded to steal two bases -- second and third -- in an effort to get things started. He even led Billy Butler on a double steal. The commotion didn't yield any runs but got the juices flowing on a cold night. Those were his first steals of the season.

"I think I had the yips the first couple of games. I was trying to go, then I'd stop and I was talking to Sis [first-base coach Doug Sisson] and I just had to take off and not stop. [Jeanmar Gomez] had a pretty good leg kick, so I felt like I could take third, too, and get Billy into scoring position, too."

It was that kind of a night when almost everything was working right.

Well, except the bullpen phones, of course, and that botched signal that caused Kila Ka'aihue to bunt in the eighth inning.

"That was a mistake," Yost explained. "What happens is, every once in a while is when the hitters walk up to the plate, the batboy runs between me and [third-base coach] Eddie [Rodriguez]. And Eddie was blocked out and thought I put the bunt sign on and I never did. That was a miscommunication."

Yost just wanted Ka'aihue to swing away but the big guy, obedient to Rodriguez's sign, laid down a fine bunt to advance the runner. No runs resulted.

Strange story but, in the end, pleasant reading for the Royals and their fans.

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