KANSAS CITY -- The Indians could have folded. Faced with another gaping hole in another game on this woeful road trip, they could have rolled over and gone through the motions, checking off the outs on their way to another loss.
Not this time.
This time, Cleveland was not going down without a fight. And fight it did on Thursday night, rallying to overcome a first-inning nightmare for rookie starter Corey Kluber, but it still was not enough to avoid extending the club's losing streak to six games. The Tribe suffered a 7-6 loss in 11 innings at Kauffman Stadium, absorbing another punch to the gut.
"I was actually very happy with the way this team battled tonight," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "We had every reason in the world just to kind of go back into the hole that we've been in for the last five games."
Plenty of damage has been done -- Cleveland will require some assistance from the baseball gods down the stretch to rejoin the postseason discussion -- and a win remains sorely needed for this reeling club, but Thursday's comeback can at least be described as a step in the right direction
That said, the Indians took another stumble in the wrong direction in the standings. With the loss, Cleveland dropped a season-high 7 1/2 games behind the American League Central-leading White Sox and five games back of the second-place Tigers. The Indians open a three-game series with Detroit on Friday night in the Motor City.
"We still have two months to go," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Yeah, I understand that losing six in a row doesn't help, but we have plenty of time to go. We need to win one ballgame. We can't be thinking about anything else. Right now, we need to win one ballgame."
Prior to Thursday's game, the Indians held a team meeting with all the players, coaches and Acta present. It was an opportunity for anyone to speak up about what has taken place over the past week, and Kipnis said it was good for all parties involved.
"The meeting today was a good meeting," Kipnis said. "Stuff was said that needed to be said, but I'm not going to go too deep into it."
Of course, some of the wind was knocked out of the Tribe shortly thereafter.
The 26-year-old Kluber, who was called up from Triple-A Columbus before the game for his first Major League start, was issued a rude welcome. The first pitch that spun from Kluber's right hand rocketed off the bat of Alex Gordon and was deposited the over the right-field fence for a leadoff homer.
From there, the wheels fell off.
Kluber's first inning included 43 pitches to 10 batters, who collected six hits, three extra-base hits, two home runs (Eric Hosmer launched a three-run shot to center), two stolen bases, one walk, one passed ball and a partridge in a pear tree.
"I just caught too much of the plate with some pitches," said Kluber, who stuck with mainly fastballs and cutters in the first inning. "They're an aggressive team."
When the smoke cleared, Kansas City had a 6-0 lead and Cleveland was on its way to another defeat that was doomed by dismal starting pitching. Over the first six games on this road trip, the Indians' rotation has gone 0-5 with an 11.93 ERA, allowing 38 earned runs in 28 2/3 innings.
The Tribe has been outscored, 12-1, in the first inning in those six games.
"To have a meeting like that," said Kipnis, "to kind of wake guys up to keep fighting, and come out there and have a guy go first-pitch home run, and first inning [give up] six runs, that can be pretty deflating, especially with the previous five games."
One of the reasons for summoning Kluber from the Minor Leagues was his recent reliability. Over his past 10 starts for the Clippers, the right-hander went 7-2 with a 2.90 ERA in 68 1/3 innings. That is the type of pitcher who showed his face once the game moved into the second inning on Thursday.
While mixing in his slider more often, Kluber pitched into the fifth inning, allowing just three more singles before hitting the showers after 4 1/3 frames. His effort bought time for Cleveland's offense to get to work, and the group steadily chipped away at Kansas City's lead.
"The kid had a very rough first inning," Acta said. "But, after that, he gave us a few good innings. I liked what I saw out there. I liked the stuff. I think he can compete up here."
Cleveland struck for one run in the second inning and continued its rally with three more in the third and two in the sixth. The Tribe forced lefty Bruce Chen out of the ballgame before the end of the third and fought to tie it against Kansas City southpaw Everett Teaford.
Michael Brantley and Vinny Rottino each chipped in an RBI, but Carlos Santana led the way. Santana drove in a pair of runs with a bases-loaded single in the third inning and then clubbed a game-tying, two-run homer off Teaford in the fifth.
Cleveland's offense ran out of steam in the game's waning frames, though. And Kansas City made its final push in the 11th inning.
Hosmer led off with a single against Indians righty Esmil Rogers. Hosmer moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and advanced to third on a wild pitch, setting the stage for the decisive blow. Against Tribe closer Chris Perez, Alcides Escobar pulled a pitch into left for the game-winning single.
"They beat our best guy," Acta said.
After a string of rough losses, Cleveland at least put up a fight.
"Even when we were in a big hole, they just continued to push," Acta said. "Other than not winning, I'm happy with the way things went today compared to the prior games."