KANSAS CITY -- One inning can provide a drastic swing of emotions, as well as a couple drastic changes in a ballgame.
The Indians experienced that in the fifth inning of Saturday night's bout with the Royals, the key frame in a 5-3 Cleveland loss at Kauffman Stadium.
The Indians trailed 2-0 entering the fifth, when a pair of September call-ups rallied to tie things up. Left fielder Thomas Neal singled to lead off the frame against Royals starter Will Smith. Then, on the second pitch of the following at-bat, second baseman Cord Phelps smacked a two-run homer to left field -- his first of the season -- knotting the game, 2-2.
But the new life didn't help Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez. The Cleveland righty had gotten into trouble all night, but he couldn't escape the jam he got into in the bottom of the fifth. He walked two of the inning's first three hitters before a one-out single by Jeff Francoeur loaded the bases. That was the end of Jimenez's evening.
Chris Seddon came on in relief and Eric Hosmer bounced a ground ball to third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall. Chisenhall threw home to try and get the force out, but home plate umpire Lance Barksdale ruled Carlos Santana's foot came off the plate, and Gordon slid in to retake the lead for Kansas City.
Cleveland manager Manny Acta came out to chat with Barksdale, but his argument was to no avail. The manager said the umpire told him Santana was two-to-three inches off the plate.
"The video clearly shows that he blew the call," Acta said. "[Santana] was on the plate, and the momentum after he caught the ball on the plate took him off. But he was on the plate when he caught it. When it rains, it pours."
"That's a tough play. It happens quickly like that. Usually you see guys called out on a force play like that, but he saw it differently," Chisenhall said.
"I was on home plate," Santana said.
The next batter, Brayan Pena, drove in another run with a sacrifice fly to left field, and the Royals' lead was back to two runs. Irving Falu then singled to left to score Francoeur and make it 5-2.
Jimenez lasted just 4 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since Aug. 14 against the Angels, and he took his Major League-leading 17th loss of the season.
It's the most losses by an Indians pitcher since 1987, when Tom Candiotti lost 18 games.
"Walks kill, and they killed him today," Acta said of Jimenez. "Three walks ended up scoring. He had to battle hard with his command, didn't have it today. He had to work himself out of a few jams."
Jimenez got himself into several jams in his brief outing, including several before the decisive fifth inning. A walk, a double and a single produced a pair of runs for the Royals in the first inning. And, in the fourth, the not-so-speedy Royals catcher Brayan Pena led off with a triple into the right-center field gap. But, Jimenez worked out of it, coaxing two groundouts and a strikeout to escape.
"I think I put a lot into that [fourth] inning, but it doesn't mean that I should be walking guys like I did in the fifth inning," Jimenez said. "It was a bad inning, a really bad inning. We lost the game because of that, two walks in that inning and a base hit."
Saturday marked the latest defeat in a rough second half of the season for Jimenez. In 14 starts since the All-Star break, he is 1-10 with a 7.02 ERA.
"It's been a tough year, but what can you do? You have to keep going," the right-hander said.
The Indians' offense was again minimally effective. They gathered eight hits and a pair of walks in seven innings against Smith, but their only two runs against the rookie left-hander came on the home run. He picked up the win, his sixth of the season and his second in as many starts against the Indians.
"I know I beat them for my first victory but they're just like any other team," Smith said. "They're Major League hitters, they're good hitters. You still have to execute your plan, attack them, put up zeroes and give your team a chance to win."
The Indians scored one run in the eighth inning, when a Michael Brantley line drive was misplayed by center fielder Jason Bourgeois and went all the way to the wall. Santana, who led off the inning with a single, scored from first on the error to make it a 5-3 game.
Phelps' home run was the offensive highlight, though. It was his second career home run in his 43rd career game. He's mainly scuffled as a big league hitter, hitting .155 in 80 plate appearances last season and going just 2-for-18 in eight games this season. The switch-hitter got a rare start Saturday, his first since Sept. 16.
"It was good to see because Cord has struggled up here since last year," Acta said. "He's getting a little bit of playing time. The right side is not his strong side as a switch-hitter. It was good because we've been getting just a bunch of singles the last few games, no extra bases. And him tying the game there was huge. Unfortunately, we just couldn't have a shutdown inning there and didn't end up doing much after that."
The loss extended the Tribe's losing streak against the Royals to seven games, the longest such streak since Cleveland dropped nine in a row to Kansas City from June 1-Aug. 15, 1973.
"With the offense we have going right now, we can't be allowing five-plus runs," said Acta. "It's very hard for us to do that the way we're swinging the bats right now."
Vinnie Duber is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.