CLEVELAND — Lonnie Chisenhall kept his head up when he was handed a ticket back to the minor leagues in May. The Cleveland Indians are glad he did.
Chisenhall’s first career grand slam was the key hit in Saturday night’s 5-3 win over the Kansas City Royals.
The sixth-inning drive off Jeremy Guthrie broke open a 1-0 game and hit off the facing of the second deck in right field, landing in Kansas City’s bullpen.
“It’s a good feeling, probably the best one of my career so far, especially being my first grand slam,” Chisenhall said. “It was a big game for us.”
Scott Kazmir (5-4) allowed two runs in 6 1-3 innings for his first victory since June 21 as the Indians won for the fifth time in seven games. Cleveland is 50-44 and trails Detroit by 1 1-2 games in the American League Central going into the final game before the All-Star break Sunday.
Miguel Tejada’s RBI single in the seventh broke a streak of 22 consecutive scoreless innings for Kansas City, which has lost four in a row. Alcides Escobar’s infield hit with the bases loaded added two runs in the inning.
Chris Perez, pitching for the sixth time in eight days, worked the ninth for his 12th save.
Chisenhall, the Indians’ No. 1 draft pick in 2008, began the season as Cleveland’s starting third baseman but was sent to Triple-A Columbus on May 15, batting .213. He’s hitting .292 with three homers and 14 RBIs since being recalled on June 18.
“Nobody wants to go down but I knew at some point I was going to start hitting the ball,” Chisenhall said. “It was their decision. I did all I could to work hard in Triple-A so I could help the major league team when I got back.”
Indians manager Terry Francona sees a difference in Chisenhall since his return.
“When he’s getting balls to hit he’s not fouling them,” Francona said. “Sometimes you get one pitch to hit in an at-bat. Now he’s getting it and hitting it.”
Jason Kipnis’ sacrifice fly in the third gave Cleveland the lead. That began a stretch that saw Guthrie (8-7) retire nine straight, which Kipnis ended with a leadoff single in the sixth. Michael Brantley’s one-out double moved Kipnis to third and Carlos Santana was intentionally walked.
Guthrie struck out Jason Giambi on a 3-2 pitch but Chisenhall teed off on his next delivery. The home run was the 22nd allowed by Guthrie, tying him for the American League lead.
“It was a curveball that stayed up, so that’s my fault, but any time a guy hits a first-pitch breaking ball for a home run, he’s done a pretty good job,” Guthrie said.
Kazmir remained unbeaten at Progressive Field this season, going 5-0 in eight starts. The left-hander walked the first two hitters in the seventh. Tejada’s one-out single off Matt Albers scored Salvador Perez before David Lough grounded out. After Alex Gordon was intentionally walked, Escobar beat out a slow groundball to shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera as two runs scored.
Rich Hill struck out Eric Hosmer to end the inning. Vinnie Pestano worked out of a two-on, one-out jam in the eighth, which ended when Santana, playing first base, made a diving grab of Tejada’s line drive.
“It feels good to go out there and throw strikes,” Kazmir said. “I feel like I’ve been a little more consistent.”
Guthrie allowed five runs and eight hits in seven innings. He’s recorded one win since June 10, a stretch of six starts.
Kipnis, who will be making his first All-Star appearance Tuesday in New York, was 3 for 3 with an RBI and stolen base.
Cabrera, who was 1 for 3 with a walk, has been the subject of trade rumors. Media reports have said the Indians and St. Louis are discussing a deal that would send the two-time All-Star to the Cardinals in exchange for pitching help. The Indians entered play Saturday ranked 12th in the American League in ERA.
The rumors involving Cabrera, who can be a free agent following next season, coincide with the Indians promoting shortstop Francisco Lindor, their No. 1 pick in 2011, to Double-A Akron.
The Indians wore 1902 replica road jerseys and caps.