TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer
CLEVELAND (AP) — They had chances to score and didn’t. And, they could have climbed in the AL’s wild-card standings and didn’t do that either.
On a sultry September night, the Indians wilted.
Unable to string hits together against Kansas City starter Jeremy Guthrie, Cleveland lost 6-3 on Tuesday night to the Royals, who pulled one game closer to the Indians in the cramped wild-card scramble.
Zach McAllister (7-9), who threw his first pitch in 94-degree heat, didn’t get out of the fifth inning as the Indians lost for the second time in three games, the type of mini-slump a team can’t afford if it wants to play in October.
The Indians stayed within 1 1-2 games of Tampa Bay for a wild-card spot, but allowed both the Royals and New York Yankees to pick up a game on them in the six-team wild-card chase that seems to change on an hourly basis.
Guthrie (14-10) allowed just one run and nine hits, but was helped by three double plays as the Royals, coupled with Tampa Bay’s loss to Boston, pulled within three games of a wild-card spot.
Michael Bourn had two RBIs for the Indians, who put runners on in every inning against Guthrie. But Cleveland hit three double plays and squandered their opportunities.
“We rolled into a couple double plays,” manager Terry Francona said. “We didn’t do damage. We gave ourselves a chance in a lot of innings, but couldn’t get the big hit to get the ball rolling.”
McAllister allowed four runs and six hits in five innings. The right-hander gave up one run — a homer to Alcides Escobar, who hadn’t hit one since April — before running into trouble in the sixth. Kansas City turned a walk, two doubles and a single into three quick runs off McAllister.
“He didn’t have his best changeup,” Francona said. “And he left some balls up in that last inning.”
Mike Moustakas hit a two-run double in the sixth off McAllister and the hanging-tough Royals won for the 12th time in 17 games.
Kansas City had lost seven in a row before this stretch and was on the verge of falling from the race. But the Royals are still in the thick of the wide-open playoff chase, and could still have a say in the AL Central with three games later this week at first-place Detroit.
“I don’t even remember the seven straight,” Moustakas said of the Royals’ slide last month. “That’s the key — just forget it. We go out there every night with the same mindset, to win a ballgame at all costs. We stick with that. ”
Royals reliever Luke Hochevar struck out all five batters he faced, and closer Greg Holland worked a perfect ninth for his 41st save.
Guthrie didn’t overpower the Indians, but didn’t allow a walk and let his defense get him out of trouble. Cleveland hit into double plays in the third, fourth and sixth innings to thwart scoring chances.
“It certainly was a grind,” said Guthrie, who pitched for the Indians from 2003-06. “I had baserunners every inning. I put a lot of pressure on our defense to make big plays.”
While the Royals’ clubhouse was filled with music following the game, the Indians were subdued, knowing they had back at Progressive Field in a few hours for the series finale.
The Royals hit several long flies that were caught for outs through the first four innings before Escobar ended a long homerless drought to tie it 1-all in the fifth.
With one out, Escobar connected on a full-count pitch from McAllister, driving it onto the pedestrian patio in left for his fourth homer and first since April 28, a span of 467 at-bats. Escobar’s previous homer also came against the Indians, a shot off right-hander Justin Masterson.
With left-handed hitters batting .328 this season against Guthrie, Francona loaded his lineup with eight lefties.
Cleveland strung together three two-out hits in the first off Guthrie to take a 1-0 lead.
Kipnis and Santana singled to right before Brantley, who came in batting just .125 (2 for 16) in his career against Kansas City’s starter, grounded an RBI hit to center.
Guthrie got out of the third with a double play and again in the fourth, when he also got a nice play by right fielder David Lough, who raced back and robbed Jason Kubel before crashing into the padded wall for the final out.
“We got some hits but didn’t bunch them together,” Francona said. “It seemed like we were one big hit from doing some damage.”
NOTES: Bourn’s double in the seventh snapped his 0-for-15 slump. … The Indians will open the 2014 season in Oakland on March 31 and play their home opener April 4 against Minnesota. Cleveland will play the NL West in interleague play and continue their rivalry with Cincinnati. … Indians RHP Carlos Carrasco is not with the team because of a family matter. He’s expected to rejoin the club on the road in Chicago. … Indians SS Asdrubal Cabrera is 3 for 26 on the homestand with two of those hits homers.
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