By ANDY MCCULLOUGH
CLEVELAND -- Danny Duffy pumped his fist and turned his back to the plate as he stomped off the mound for the final time on Monday. He disappeared into the Royals dugout, the sight of him blocked by a crowd of teammates clad in sweatshirts. Duffy spent his night operating in short sleeves, warding off both the early-fall chill and the hard-charging Indians in a 2-0 Royals victory.
On the mound for the first time in two weeks, Duffy silenced Cleveland for six innings. These were hard frames, brought on by his own anxiousness and the tenacity of his opponents. The Indians do not capitulate at-bats. They forced Duffy to exert himself and to alter his mechanics. He responded by striking out five and scattering five hits.
After Duffy departed, manager Ned Yost turned to a 21-year-old rookie for the seventh inning. Brandon Finnegan survived a two-out double by Michael Bourn to exit unscathed. Wade Davis and Greg Holland handled in the final two innings to allow the Royals to split this unique doubleheader.
Having already lost, 4-3, in the resumption of Aug. 31's suspended game, Kansas City (85-71) could not afford to lose ground to Cleveland. The Royals also managed to maintain a two-game advantage over Seattle for the second wild card while halving Detroit's lead to one game in the American League Central.
Duffy returned to action after two weeks treating the inflammation in his left rotator cuff. The injury caused him to depart his start on Sept. 6 after only one pitch. The organization held him out of an appearance on Sept. 16 because they worried he might be overly anxious on the mound and fall prone to over-compensation.
A lack of command haunted Duffy throughout the first few years of his big-league career. He curbed that flaw for much of this season. Yet Yost still wanted to "watch his emotions" on the mound, he said in the afternoon.
A few hours before the game, he bumped into bullpen coach Doug Henry in a clubhouse hallway. Henry was pouring a cup of coffee. Duffy nodded his approval. "I just had three Red Bulls," he said.
Duffy often appears on the verge of emotional exhaustion. He transforms himself into a ball of rage on the mound, channeling perceived slights accrued since high school into motivational fuel. His competitive spirit can often backfire, team officials believe, and they have stressed to him the necessity for trusting his arsenal on the mound.
Duffy was imprecise at the start. He issued a leadoff walk to outfielder Michael Bourn and a subsequent single to shortstop Jose Ramirez. When outfielder Michael Brantley rolled a grounder up the middle, the Royals had a chance for a double play. Except Duffy reached out, deflected the ball and left the bases loaded.
Duffy required 15 pitches to escape the jam. The first was the most crucial. It was a 95-mph fastball at the belt of Carlos Santana, a thorn in Kansas City's side all summer. Santana could not torment them here. He lofted a lazy pop-up high above the infield.
Granted a reprieve, Duffy shook free. He worked around a leadoff walk and a two-out single in the second for another scoreless but taxing inning. He had already thrown 44 pitches.
For the third, Duffy made a tactical alteration. He ditched his windup and began working from the stretch, even without runners on base. The results were immediate.
With Duffy finding a rhythm, his teammates poked away at Indians starter Carlos Carrasco. The matchup did not appear favorable for Kansas City. Cleveland shifted Carrasco back to their starting rotation in mid-August, and watched him devastate the American League with a blazing fastball-and-slider combination.
In his last eight starts, Carrasco surrendered only seven runs. The Royals notched one off him in the first. The catalyst was Nori Aoki, who singled and stole second. Eric Hosmer lined an RBI single off the glove of first baseman Chris Gimenez.
Carrasco allowed another score in the fifth. Omar Infante dropped a double into left field. Cleveland again displayed an inability to handle a ball sizzled at them. With the infield playing in, Alcides Escobar smacked a hard groundball at opposing shortstop Jose Ramirez. The ball bounced off Ramirez and into the outfield. Duffy had his second run to protect.