Kansas City Royals starting pitcher James Shields delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Cleveland Indians, Wednesday, Sept. 11, 2013, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)
CLEVELAND (AP) - The Kansas City Royals believe they are in the American League playoff chase to stay. They might start convincing others, too.
The Royals gained ground in the wild card race on Wednesday with a 6-2 win over the Cleveland Indians. Kansas City took two of three in the series between clubs that are in contention for the second wild card spot in the AL.
The Royals, who entered Wednesday trailing Tampa Bay by three games, moved a game closer to the Indians. Cleveland came in 1½ games behind the Rays.
"To come in here and win a series against a tough Cleveland team was huge for us," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Especially considering where we are at this point of the season. Losses hurt now. You've got to try to really keep them at a minimum if you can."
Alex Gordon homered on the game's first pitch, and James Shields dominated after a shaky first inning for the Royals, who have won 13 of 18.
"These guys have developed a lot of experience this year," Shields said. "We've gone through so many ups and downs this year that we've been through every situation you can think of almost. These guys know what it takes. They know how to win."
The Royals had a home run, a triple and a single within the game's first seven pitches to take a 2-0 lead. Kansas City added another run in the first inning.
Shields (11-9) gave up two runs, two hits, and hit a batter in the bottom half before he took control.
Michael Brantley had a two-run single in the first, but Shields didn't allow another hit until Jason Kipnis' leadoff single in the ninth. He retired 16 of 17 going into the ninth, but was removed after allowing singles to Kipnis and Carlos Santana.
Shields allowed four hits, struck out seven and walked one. Greg Holland retired the last three hitters for his 42nd save.
Gordon jumped on a 90 mph fastball from Scott Kazmir (8-8) and lined it into the seats in right field for his 13th career leadoff homer.
"It's not my first rodeo, so I've done it before," Gordon said. "Sometimes you've just got to mix it up, especially with Kazmir with his electric stuff."
"He said he was going to do it," Yost said. "He picks his spots."Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain added RBI singles.
The Indians won the first game of the series and finished 5-4 on their homestand, but failed to gain ground in the playoff chase for the second straight day. Cleveland will begin a seven-game trip in Chicago on Thursday. The Indians and Royals meet again in Kansas City next week for a three-game series.
"They're a good team," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "They're right where we are. They're a real good team."
Kansas City went 26-18 in a stretch of 44 games in 44 days.
Emilio Bonifacio followed Gordon's homer with a triple, and Hosmer singled to center to make it 2-0. Kazmir retired the next two hitters, but Justin Maxwell singled, and Cain lined a single to center for the third run.
Shields also struggled in the first. Michael Bourn walked and Mike Aviles was hit by a pitch. The runners moved up on a groundout, and Brantley singled to center with two outs.
Shields got the start following his shortest outing of the season, a start against Detroit on Friday in which he matched career worsts by allowing 10 runs and 14 hits in 3 2-3 innings in a 16-2 loss.
He bounced back Wednesday and improved to 2-5 in 13 career starts against Cleveland. After the first, 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. The right-hander leads the AL with 207 2-3 innings pitched.
"James comes off his arguably worst start of the year and has arguably his best start of the year," Yost said. "He just put us on his back today and carried us."
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 then threw wildly to first trying to pick off Kipnis, but retired Santana to end the inning.
Kazmir allowed four runs and nine hits in four innings. He struck out a season-high 12 over six scoreless innings in an 8-1 victory over the New York Mets in his last outing.
NOTES: The Royals will skip LHP Danny Duffy's next start, which was scheduled to be Friday in Detroit. LHP Bruce Chen will pitch that game instead. Right-handers Ervin Santana and Jeremy Guthrie will pitch Saturday and Sunday, respectively. ... Indians 1B Nick Swisher wasn't in the lineup. He is batting .167 (8 for 48) with 15 strikeouts against Shields, 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. ... Kansas City's off day on Thursday is its first since Aug. 19. ... Indians RHP Corey Kluber (8-5) faces LHP John Danks (4-12) in the series opener against the White Sox.