The Cleveland Indians are in a much different race than they'd hoped, and pride is giving them enough motivation.
It may also be a factor in trying to avoid their longest slide against the Kansas City Royals in 34 years.
The Indians hope to end Friday night out of the AL Central cellar and snap a five-game skid to the Royals in the opener of this three-game series at Kauffman Stadium.
Cleveland (62-88) emerged from the All-Star break to beat Toronto on July 13, sitting three games back of division-leading Chicago.
The Indians have been in a tailspin ever since, going 17-47 while dropping 27 of 34 on the road.
Instead of competing for the top spot in the Central, Cleveland is tied with Minnesota at the bottom of the division and is trying to avoid its first last-place finish since 1991 in the AL East.
"No one wants to finish last," manager Manny Acta said. "It's a pride thing. ... It just doesn't sound good."
The Indians moved out of sole possession of last place Thursday, beating the Twins 4-3 on Casey Kotchman 's bases-loaded single in the 10th inning.
"It's nice to get on this flight with a win," said Kotchman, who went 3 for 5 with two RBIs. "Winning makes everything a little bit better."
Cleveland hasn't done any of that in the last five meetings with the Royals (68-81), losing each while compiling a 6.45 ERA - 11.03 from its starters.
The Indians last dropped six straight to Kansas City in 1978.
Justin Masterson (11-14, 4.93 ERA) was hit hard in his last matchup against the Royals, an 8-2 defeat on May 29. He surrendered seven runs in the first two innings and gave up another before exiting after the sixth.
The right-hander is 3-2 with a 4.09 ERA in eight games - seven starts - against Kansas City.
Masterson enters this meeting looking to avoid a third straight losing start and match his career high in wins from last year.
He was reached for four runs - two earned - and six hits over 4 2-3 innings of a 5-3 loss to Detroit on Saturday.
The Royals are batting .310 with 11 stolen bases during their winning streak over the Indians, and enter this series with momentum after Eric Hosmer 's walkoff single beat Chicago 4-3 Thursday.
Alex Gordon is 5 for 11 in his last three games overall and is batting .457 (16 for 35) with two homers and eight RBIs in the past eight meetings with the Indians. He's 11 for 27 (.407) with a homer and three doubles off Masterson.
Luis Mendoza (7-9, 4.50) is scheduled to return to the rotation for the Royals after missing his last start with strep throat.
The right-hander last took the mound Sept. 13 in a 4-3, 10-inning loss at Minnesota, where he allowed one run with six strikeouts in six innings.
He's 0-1 with a 5.61 ERA in his last six starts, but 3-0 with a 4.40 ERA in his last five at home with all of them ending in Royals victories. That stretch includes a 5-2 win over Cleveland on Aug. 1, when he yielded two runs and four hits in 7 1-3 innings.
|September 19, 2012||Asdrubal Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right wrist|
|September 15, 2012||Jason Donald||Day-to-Day||Right forearm contusion|
|September 13, 2012||Michael Brantley||Day-to-Day||Sore left pectoral muscle|
|September 09, 2012||Asdrubal Cabrera||Day-to-Day||Left game - sore right wrist|
|August 27, 2012||Roberto Hernandez||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained right ankle|
|August 13, 2012||Josh Tomlin||60-Day DL||Right elbow inflammation|
|Kansas City Royals|
|September 18, 2012||Luis Mendoza||Day-to-Day||Strep throat|
|September 14, 2012||Lorenzo Cain||Day-to-Day||Left game - Strained right hamstring|
|August 18, 2012||Chris Getz||15-Day DL||Broken left thumb|
|August 17, 2012||Chris Getz||Day-to-Day||Left game - fractured left thumb|
|July 28, 2012||Mike Moustakas||Day-to-Day||Left game - sprained right knee|
|July 05, 2012||Luke Hochevar||Day-to-Day||Sprained right ankle|
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Luis Mendoza felt terrible for much of the week, then quickly got into trouble when he returned to the mound Friday night.
Once he wiggled out of that first-inning jam, it was mostly smooth sailing from there.
Mendoza pitched into the seventh in his first start since a bout with strep throat, leading the Kansas City Royals to a 6-3 victory over the struggling Cleveland Indians .
Mike Moustakas and Brayan Pena each drove in two runs for the Royals, who have won three straight and four of six. Mendoza (8-9) allowed two runs and eight hits in six-plus innings.
The Indians have lost 40 of 52 games since July 26 when they were 50-49 and trailed AL Central-leading White Sox by 3 1/2 games. They have lost six straight against Kansas City and eight of nine overall in the season series.
Mendoza (8-9), who was scratched from a Wednesday start with the illness, got off to shaky start. Shin-Soo Choo and Jason Kipnis singled with no outs in the first and moved up on Asdrubal Cabrera 's sacrifice.
Mendoza then struck out Carlos Santana and issued an intentional walk to Michael Brantley before Travis Hafner grounded out to end the inning.
"He did a great job of getting out of it," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Striking out Santana was a huge out and he ended up getting out of it."
Mendoza was sick for much of the week.
"On Monday, I felt terrible, all my body hurt," he said. "I just came to the field and tried to get something to feel better. Tuesday I came in early, I started feeling better. Tonight, I felt good, felt 100 percent."
Kansas City pushed across two runs in the second on RBI singles by Pena and Irving Falu . Moustakas tacked on a sacrifice fly in the third and a run-scoring groundout in the fifth.
Mendoza departed after Ezequiel Carrera led off the seventh with a bunt single. Tim Collins hit Choo with a pitch and yielded a two-out, two-run single to Santana.
Kansas City responded with two runs in the eighth to make it 6-3. Eric Hosmer , who had the winning RBI single in Thursday's victory over Chicago, hit a sacrifice fly and Pena doubled in Jeff Francoeur .
Greg Holland worked the ninth for his 15th save in 18 opportunities.
"The eighth inning was big after it got back to a one-run lead, to get two more runs and get Holland some breathing room," Yost said. "He came in for the third night in a row and was fantastic."
Mendoza earned his first victory since Aug. 11. He was 0-1 with four no-decisions since his previous win.
"Offensively, we continue to struggle, especially with situational hitting," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "The first inning we had a situation where we could just take the lead, and who knows what would happen after that. But, we failed to drive in a run with a runner on third and the infield back."
Justin Masterson (11-15) lost his third straight start. He was charged with four runs and seven hits in six innings.
Brantley singled home Cabrera in the third inning for Cleveland's first run.
NOTES: Royals C Salvador Perez and LF Alex Gordon were held out of the lineup with bruised hands. Manager Ned Yost said Perez has been battling sore hands for a week and likely would not play in the weekend series against the Indians. Gordon bruised his hand while sliding into home in the sixth inning Thursday. Gordon did come in as a defensive replacement in the eighth. Yost said Gordon probably would start Saturday. .. Indians RHP Ubaldo Jimenez , who has lost five straight decisions, will start Saturday. The Royals will counter with rookie LHP Will Smith . ... George Toma, who was the Royals' groundskeeper from their inaugural season until 1995, was inducted into the club's Hall of Fame before the game. Toma becomes the 25th member of the Royals' hall.