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CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians are heading to Chicago on a down note.
A 6-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday meant another day Cleveland failed to gain ground in the American League playoff chase. The Indians began the day 1½ games behind Tampa Bay for the second wild-card spot. For the second straight day, Cleveland lost ground to the Royals and now leads Kansas City by just one-half game.
"Every loss is frustrating at this point, but we still think we're playing pretty well," second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "We obviously would have liked to win this series. As long as we keep going out there and give a good effort and win some games, I think we'll like where we are at the end."
The Indians finished their homestand with a 5-4 record, but more was expected after they took two of three from Baltimore and the New York Mets. There are only 17 games left in Cleveland's regular season, but don't expect the Indians to be counting.
"You look at the next one," Kipnis said. "There's no reason to look down the road right now. The next one's the most important one."
The Indians open a seven-game trip in Chicago today. Cleveland plays four games against the White Sox and three in Minnesota before starting its last homestand on Sept. 19.
"Tomorrow's a big day," Indians manager Terry Francona said.
A short outing by Scott Kazmir — and a dominant one by Kansas City's James Shields — led to the latest loss. Kazmir put the Indians in an immediate hole when he gave up a home run to Alex Gordon on the game's first pitch, which sparked a three-run first inning.
"A first-pitch fastball, low and away," Kazmir said. "I felt it was a good pitch but he put a good swing on it. That stuff happens."
The Indians didn't do themselves any favors in the field, either. Two throwing errors by Tribe pitchers (one each from Kazmir and Rich Hill) led to two runs.
Kazmir (8-8) lasted only four innings, giving up four runs (three earned) while striking out four and walking none.
Shields (11-9) bounced back from a bad start Sept. 6 against Detroit — where he surrendered 10 runs — to stifle the Indians' offense. He held the Indians to just two runs on four hits, striking out seven and walking one in eight innings.
"James comes off his arguably worst start of the year and has arguably his best start of the year," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He just literally put us on his back today and carried us."
Shields improved to 2-5 in 13 career starts against Cleveland. Shields had no-decisions in his first three starts against the Indians this season, allowing nine earned runs in 16 1/3 innings.
After the first inning, Shields pitched like the ace the Royals envisioned he would be when they acquired him from the Rays for outfielder Wil Myers, one of baseball's top prospects.
Shields' biggest problem came with his own defense, when he made two errors in the third. He dropped a throw from Hosmer at first base, allowing Kipnis to reach safely. He threw wildly to first trying to pick off Kipnis, but retired Carlos Santana to end the inning. The Indians answered back with both of their runs in the bottom of the first.
Michael Bourn led off with a single and advanced to second after Mike Aviles was hit by a pitch. Kipnis groundout moved both runners up, Carlos Santana popped out to third, and Michael Brantley delivered with a two-out, two-RBI single.
After that, the Indians went 0 for 23 with a walk before Kipnis led off the ninth inning with a single against Shields. Santana followed with a blooping single to left, knocking Shields out of the game.
Greg Holland relieved Shields by striking out the side for his 42nd save of the season.
The Royals padded their lead throughout the game. Hosmer knocked in Emilio Bonifacio in the fifth (set up by Kazmir's throwing error) and Gordon scored in the seventh on Hill's error. In the eighth inning, Lorenzo Cain walked, stole second and then scored on Mike Moustakas' single.
"They are a good offensive team. But we're facing a lot of teams now that are stacked," Kazmir said. "That's no excuse. We still need to get the job done."
NOTES: Indians 1B Nick Swisher wasn't in the lineup against Shields. He is batting .167 (8 for 48) with 15 strikeouts against the right-hander, including three hits in his last 25 at-bats. ... SS Asdrubal Cabrera, in a 3-for-27 slump, was also out of the lineup. He pinch-hit in the ninth and struck out.