CLEVELAND – Ryan Yarbrough completed a journey he never expected to take.
Two months after suffering facial fractures when he was struck by a 106 mph line drive, Yarbrough returned to the mound Sunday and helped the struggling Kansas City Royals to a 4-1 win over Cleveland that felt extra special.
“More than I could have dreamed of,” Yarbrough said.
With his wife, daughter and other family members at Progressive Field, Yarbrough (2-4), who didn't know what the future held when he was smashed by the liner from Oakland's Ryan Noda on May 7, pitched six solid innings as the Royals ended a six-game skid.
Yarbrough's statistical line was less important than him returning from a frightening moment that could have ended his career.
“I have an understanding of what happened and coming back from it and what could have been and how lucky and blessed I am,” said the 31-year-old left-hander. “It’s just been great and the amount of support from the guys, especially after the game. It's been great.”
Yarbrough's return was a huge boost for the Royals, who haven't had much to celebrate so far this season.
“Incredible," said center fielder Kyle Isbel, who homered and made a game-saving catch in the ninth for Kansas City. "That’s not just a baseball injury. That’s life. Seeing him walk into the dugout today, the energy he had was really incredible and it really sparked the dugout.”
Yarbrough said the quick response by Kansas City's medical personnel played an important role in his recovery. He feels lucky that he didn't need stitches or surgeries.
Once his facial bones healed, Yarbrough was determined to get back quickly.
"I don’t think anybody knew what the time frame was going to be or how long it was going to be,” he said. “It was just kind of a waiting game. Extremely blessed.”
After his first pitch, Yarbrough let his instincts take over.
“It was great. I felt like I’ve been able to soak it in the last couple days and really just try to think about it as going to back to work as much as possible," he said.
Carlos Hernández pitched two scoreless innings and Scott Barlow finished up for his 11th save, but not without some nervous moments.
Barlow gave up a pair of two-out singles in the ninth before Myles Straw sent a pitch toward the gap in right center. But Isbel got a nice jump and raced to his left before making his diving grab as Kansas City avoided a winless road trip.
“I just put my head down and ran to the spot,” Isbel said. "I stayed aggressive the whole time and I knew I could get to it.”
Michael Massey hit a two-run triple in Kansas City's three-run sixth off Shane Bieber (5-6), who came in 6-0 in 14 career starts against the Royals. The right-hander allowed four runs and nine hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Kansas City staggered into the All-Star break at 26-65 — the second-most losses before the break in franchise history.
Cleveland reached the season's unofficial midpoint in first place in the AL Central and at .500 (45-45) or better for the seventh year in a row.
It's not certain how much longer Bieber will be around.
The Guardians will consider trading the 2020 Cy Young Award winner, who is only under contractual control through next season, before the Aug. 1 deadline. Cleveland could be enticed to move the 28-year-old for the right package to help them this season or in the future.
Isbel led off the fifth with his second homer, a shot over the wall in right-center, to tie it 1-1.
Bieber then hurt himself by hitting Perez — with an 0-2 pitch — and Kansas City's All-Star catcher scored on Fermin's double. After Isbel singled, Massey made it 4-1 by pulling his two-out triple into the right-field corner.
LOPEZ IN LEFT
Kansas City's Nicky Lopez made his MLB debut in the outfield and had one of the game's biggest plays.
Lopez threw out Cleveland's Amed Rosario trying to go from first to third in the sixth inning. Rosario was initially ruled safe, but the Royals won the replay challenge.
“I knew they might be a little aggressive knowing it was my first time in the outfield in professional baseball,” said Lopez, who has played shortstop, second and third.
Lopez, who hadn't played the outfield in a game since high school, has been shagging flies over the past two weeks so he'd be ready to play if needed.
Royals: OF Edward Oliveras (oblique strain) was placed on the 10-day injured list but mostly to insure Kansas City was at full strength for the series finale. Manager Matt Quartaro called Oliveras' injury “extremely mild.” He was scratched from Saturday's lineup with back tightness.
Guardians: 1B Josh Bell (knee soreness) was held out of the starting lineup after fouling a ball off his knee in Saturday's win. He pinch-hit in the seventh and grounded into an inning-ending double play.
Royals: It won't get any easier for Kansas City, which will return from the break to host AL East-leading Tampa Bay. RHP Alec Marsh (0-2, 7.00 ERA) will start the series opener against Rays RHP Tyler Glasnow (2-3, 4.10).
Guardians: Cleveland will open the unofficial second half on the road in Texas for three games against the Rangers (July 14-16) with RHP Aaron Civale (3-2, 2.56) starting the opener.