KANSAS CITY -- This has been a road trip that has tested the resiliency of the Indians. Over the past 11 days, Cleveland has barely been able to take a deep breath, due to the constant in-game intensity that has forced comeback after comeback.
On Thursday, the Indians could not mount the final push that was required to take down the Royals in a 10-7 loss at Kauffman Stadium. Starter Ubaldo Jimenez imploded in the sixth inning, and Cleveland's bullpen continued its recent struggles, sending the Tribe to its first series loss since being swept in Detroit from June 7-9.
"We didn't get the job done," Indians reliever Joe Smith Said. "It leaves a bad taste after, if you look at our record, a good road trip. But it should've been a really good one, especially going in to play Detroit."
The latest back-and-forth for the Indians, who open a critical four-game set with the Tigers on Friday at Progressive Field, wrapped up the club's 11-day gauntlet through Baltimore, Chicago and Kansas City. Cleveland pulled out of Kauffman with a 7-4 record -- including five comeback victories -- on a trying trip that could have crippled the club as the All-Star break nears.
That is how the Indians (45-40) will look back on this trek, because focusing only on what happened on Thursday would be ill-advised.
"The guys have been playing really hard," Jimenez said. "They've been putting a lot of runs on the scoreboard. It's a tough loss, but we have to take positive things out of it. We played hard. It was a long road trip, and the guys came out and showed up every day and played hard."
The Indians ran out to a 5-0 lead against right-hander James Shields, mostly thanks to Drew Stubbs. Cleveland's right fielder clubbed a two-run home run off Shields in the second inning and later came through with a two-run single with one out and the bases loaded in the sixth, sending Shields to the showers.
Michael Brantley chipped in an RBI single for the Indians in the first inning.
Kansas City took its time, but eventually found the moment to break through against Jimenez, who issued back-to-back walks to open the sixth inning. Cleveland's starter then fumbled a relay throw from first baseman Mark Reynolds on a would-be groundout off the bat of Mike Moustakas, loading the bases with no outs.
"I just lost the strike zone," Jimenez said. "And then after that, a tough play at first base."
Lorenzo Cain took full advantage of Jimenez's missteps, drilling a 3-2 offering to straightaway center field for a grand slam that caused the Kauffman crowd to roar. After Jimenez walked off the field with his head down, Indians reliever Cody Allen took over and promtly allowed a game-tying home run to George Kottaras.
"Up to that point, boy, [Jimenez] was pretty good," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "And then he ran the count full to Cain. He saw eight pitches and he whacks one. That kind of got the ball rolling. Now, we're into the bullpen pretty early."
Jimenez was charged with four runs (three earned) on three hits in his five-plus innings, which included five walks, three strikeouts and only 59 strikes out of 104 pitches.
"Jiminez was right on top of his game for the first five innings," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We couldn't get anything going off of him and then, in the sixth inning, we just started chipping away until Lorenzo Cain's big blow."
The Indians have come back from worse on this trip, and rallied once again this time around.
In the top of the seventh, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis -- he of the 15-game hitting streak and 35-game on-base streak -- drew a leadoff walk against reliever J.C. Gutierrez. Following a single from Brantley, Carlos Santana delivered a two-run double off reliever Aaron Crow to push the Indians to a 7-5 lead.
"There were a lot of good things that happened offensively," Francona said. "We just didn't get them out."
The Royals were hardly through with the Tribe.
Facing Smith in the home half of the seventh, Alcides Escobar drew a leadoff walk to bring Eric Hosmer to the plate. On Wednesday, Hosmer came through with a game-deciding home run off Allen. One day later, the Royals first baseman crushed a 3-2 pitch from Smith to center field for a two-run blast that pulled the contest into a 7-7 deadlock.
"You can't walk the leadoff hitter -- not in a two-run game," Smith said. "[Hosmer] has been swinging the bat really well. Then you get behind him, and you don't want to walk two guys, and the next thing you know the ball goes over the fence and it's a tie ballgame.
"That's not the way you want to start an inning, especially when we battled back. We had a big two-run lead."
Kansas City's winning push came in the eighth, when the club loaded the bases behind a pair of walks and a hit batsmen -- damage that was split between relievers Bryan Shaw and Rich Hill. Righty Matt Albers, who escaped a bases-loaded jam with no outs on Wednesday, was handed the ball, but yielded a three-run double to pinch-hitter Salvador Perez.
There was no coming back from that for the Tribe.
"I think we're all thrilled we're going back home," Francona said.