KANSAS CITY -- Carlos Santana stared down Royals pitcher Luis Mendoza, anticipating a fastball with the count full and the bases loaded in the first inning on Tuesday night. As the baseball spun from Mendoza's fingers, the Indians catcher picked up his right foot and prepared to swing.
It was a breaking ball that tailed down to the dirt and Santana -- unfazed -- stopped his momentum, drawing a bases-loaded walk. Sometimes a bat dropped to the dirt can be as effective as one slicing through the strike zone. Santana's first-inning poise set an early tone for Cleveland in a 6-5 victory built around patience.
"Everybody in the ballpark is figuring fastball," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He had enough to lay off of it. That was huge."
The Indians drew eight walks in the opener of this three-game series at Kauffman Stadium, using a passive approach to pave the way for their fifth consecutive win. The offense's subsequent aggressiveness in a handful of key situations overcame a rough fifth inning for starter Corey Kluber and some late drama by Cleveland's bullpen.
In the end, Tribe closer Chris Perez collected his second save in as many chances since returning from the disabled list, restoring some order to Cleveland's embattled bullpen. With the win, the first-place Indians (45-38) have won 11 of their last 14 and 15 of their past 20 games. On the current road trip, the Tribe improved to 7-2 with two games to go.
"The guys are swinging the bats unbelievably right now," said Kluber, who allowed four runs in 5 1/3 innings in a no-decision. "It seems like every time they're put in a hole -- whether we put them in a hole or a team comes back after we've already had a lead -- they're so resilient.
"They're never getting down after we give up runs. They're just going right back out there and trying to get them back, get that lead back."
In their latest victory, Cleveland drew at least eight walks for the seventh time this season. Only the Red Sox and A's -- eight apiece -- had more such games in the American League, entering Tuesday. In June, the Indians led the AL with 107 free passes.
That patience came into play right away in Kansas City.
Michael Brantley opened the game by drawing a free pass before Jason Kipnis (who has reached base in 33 straight games) and Nick Swisher delivered back-to-back singles with one out. On Swisher's base hit to right field, third-base coach Brad Mills held up the runners to set up the bases-loaded situation for Santana.
Cleveland's catcher fell behind, 0-2, before working the count full and spitting on a slider in the dirt to collect his first of three walks on the night.
"My curveball is my strikeout pitch and I couldn't throw it close or make a good pitch," said Mendoza, who left after four innings. "He was making contact with my fastball -- foul, foul -- and when I tried to throw a breaking ball, he just let it go."
Mendoza followed by hitting Mark Reynolds high on the left shoulder to force in another run for the Indians, who gladly accepted the 2-0 lead. In the fourth inning, Asdrubal Cabrera settled into the batter's box against Mendoza with the bases loaded again, taking advantage with a two-run single that pushed the Royals behind, 4-0.
Kluber, who held Kansas City off the board over the first four innings, slipped into his own jam at the outset of the fifth. He surrendered a pair of broken-bat singles and walked Johnny Giavotella to load the bases, and later fell into a 3-0 count against Alex Gordon. The Royals left fielder ripped the next fastball from Kluber over the wall in right for a game-tying grand slam.
"That changed the whole game around," Francona said.
Not for long, though.
Cleveland fought for the lead again in the seventh with another exercise in extreme patience. Kansas City turned to lefty reliever Tim Collins, who issued consecutive walks to Cabrera and Kipnis. The Royals then handed the ball to righty Aaron Crow, who walked Swisher to fill the bases again. Santana delivered a sacrifice fly and Jason Giambi came through with an RBI double to put the Royals behind for good, 6-4.
Kansas City struck for one run off setup man Vinnie Pestano in the eighth inning, but Perez rendered that drama moot by notching his eighth save of the year.
"You're kind of shooting yourself in the foot when you've got eight walks and a hit batter," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "I mean, half their runs came on the benefit of walks or guys on base and hit batters."
One walk -- Santana's in the first inning -- seemed to set Tuesday's trend.
"That was awesome," Swisher said. "He took a bunch of sliders down and in. Mendoza, that's his thing. He's got a good slider, good bite on that. That's the at-bat that really stands out to me, man. That really got us going in the right direction.
"We're just kind of passing the torch, taking our walks when we can and not trying to press and saying to yourself, 'I have to do something this at-bat.' We have enough faith in each other right now."