This is the Josh Donaldson the Cleveland Indians were hoping for after rolling the dice in an Aug. 31 trade with the Toronto Blue Jays.
Donaldson, a former AL MVP, hit a grand slam and double during a 10-run seventh inning, powering the Indians past the Kansas City Royals 14-6 Friday night.
With the win, the AL Central champion Indians improved to 90-70, marking the third time in team history they’ve won at least 90 games in three straight seasons.
“We should be winning 90 games with the team we’ve got in here and this division the way it is right now,” said Jason Kipnis, an eight-year veteran with the Indians. “It’s been ours to lose the last couple years and we don’t want to waste it.”
Kipnis’ homer in the Cleveland third was the game’s only run in the first six innings.
But the Indians then broke loose for their first 10-run inning since doing it on Sept. 30, 2012, against the Royals in Cleveland led by Donaldson, who struggled the first two months of the season, then missed three months with a left calf strain before the trade.
If he can produced at the plate in the postseason, Donaldson could be a difference-maker for the Indians. Friday’s performance was the best evidence yet he’s close to the player who powered Toronto into the 2015 postseason.
“Kind of stating the obvious, isn’t it?” manager Terry Francona said when asked if was good to see him drive the ball. “We don’t want him to make outs, but it’s nice to see him hitting the ball like that.”
His leadoff double set the stage for a nine-hit inning, but it was his grand slam that ultimately delivered the game-winning runs.
Still, it wasn’t Donaldson booming extra-base hits that keyed the rally, Francona said.
“I thought it all kind of started with Kip laying a bunt down,” Francona said. “Little things turn into big things. You play the game right and you get rewarded for it.”
After Donaldson’s double, Yonder Alonso hit an RBI single and Melky Cabrera followed with a hit that chased Royals starter Ian Kennedy (3-9).
Kipnis, who made his 12th start in center field, greeted reliever Tim Hill by beating out a sacrifice bunt to third baseman Hunter Dozier for an infield single and the rout was on.
“It always does that,” Kipnis said. “Sometimes, that’s exactly what the offense needs, where the little thing — the bunt over —- gets the big inning. We would have been happy with two runs . but you see what getting guys on and causing havoc on the bases and putting the ball in play does for an offense.”
Roberto Perez added an RBI single before Francisco Lindor hit a chopper to first baseman Ryan O’Hearn against a drawn-in infield. A wild throw home let two more runs score.
One out later, reliever Jake Newberry walked Jose Ramirez and gave up an RBI single to Edwin Encarnacion before Donaldson launched his fifth career grand slam and second this season. He also had one in April for the Blue Jays.
Adam Rosales, who pinch-ran for Alonso earlier in the inning, doubled and later scored on a double by Greg Allen, who pinch-ran for Kipnis.
The 10 runs were the most the Royals had allowed in an inning this season.
It was a welcome outburst for the Indians, who had only scored two runs in the first 16 innings of the series and open the AL Division Series on next Friday at the Houston Astros.
Mike Clevinger (13-8) was the beneficiary of the bonanza. He allowed one run on three hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Clevinger finished the season with an even 200 innings for the first time in his career, which was a big personal goal for the 27-year-old right-hander.
“Still, there’s a bigger goal than my 200 innings,” Clevinger said.
His counterpart, Kennedy, went six strong innings before facing three batters in the seventh.
“He threw the ball well,” manager Ned Yost said. “It just got away from us there.”
Brian Goodwin hit a grand slam in the Royals ninth off Adam Plutko as part of a five-run inning. It was the second career grand slam for Goodwin, acquired in a July trade with Washington. He also had one March 31 for the Nationals.
Whit Merrifield extended his hitting streak to 18 games for the Royals. It’s the longest active streak in the majors and one shy of his career best.
Indians: Francona essentially ruled out INF Erik Gonzalez for the remainder of the weekend. He said Gonzalez, who was hit in the head by a pitch Wednesday at the Chicago White Sox, remains in concussion protocol. The team hopes Ramirez will be available for an intrasquad game Tuesday in preparation for the playoffs.
Reigning AL Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber (20-7, 2.83 ERA) will make his final appearance before the ALDS. RHP Jakob Junis (8-12, 4.42) is scheduled to start for the Royals.