KANSAS CITY -- Corey Kluber approached the mound in the third inning looking poised and confident.
There was reason to be -- he had just disposed of the Royals in the first two innings using just 17 pitches, and the Indians ace dealing did not bode well for Kansas City and its hapless offense.
But after a few dinks and dunks and a massive defensive flub, Kluber and the Indians found themselves in a 4-0 third-inning hole, one they could not dig out of.
Cleveland fell for just the second time in its last 11 games after the Royals started a two-game series at Kauffman Stadium, with a 9-5 victory Tuesday.
Kluber, who brought MLB's fourth-highest strikeout total into the game, allowed a season-high six runs (three earned) in five innings.
"I thought [Kluber] went into the game [with] really good stuff," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "The line's probably not indicative of the stuff he had."
The damage came from two innings, as the Royals tallied four in the third, then two in the fifth. Kluber threw 51 pitches in the two innings he allowed runs. His other three innings required just 27.
"I wasn't at my best, but I think I did a decent enough job of making good pitches when I needed to, unfortunately there were a couple times where some soft hits, things like that, fell in," Kluber said.
Kluber's adversary, Jason Vargas, tamed an Indians offense that broke out for 17 runs Monday against the Rangers. He threw 7 2/3 innings of three-run ball, scattering six hits and walking zero.
Cleveland was unable to make Vargas uncomfortable until his final inning.
For Vargas' first seven innings, the Indians failed to board two runners in the same frame.
In the eighth, Jason Kipnis slugged a two-run double off Vargas, and Carlos Santana added an RBI single with KC's starter removed from the game.
"He just got ahead of us all night, and then spun his breaking ball and for the most part, pitched like you're supposed to with the lead," Francona said. "We hit some balls hard, but we couldn't string anything together, [until] later."
The sharp, economical version of Kluber in the first two innings vanished in the third frame as he walked Mike Moustakas, then Alcides Escobar ripped a single to left with one out to start Kansas City's barrage.
A defensive miscue contributed greatly to the rest of the scoring.
Jarrod Dyson smacked a grounder to second baseman Kipnis, who fielded the ball and fired a throw to Asdrubal Cabrera for the force at second. But the shortstop dropped the ball before he could relay the throw to first.
Second-base umpire Marvin Hudson ruled that the drop came on the transfer, thus forcing Escobar out for the second out. However, Royals manager Ned Yost challenged the call, and replay ruled that Cabrera simply dropped the ball.
Everyone remained safe, and Kluber faced a bases-loaded one-out jam that he could not escape.
Omar Infante looped a single into center that plated Moustakas, Eric Hosmer dribbled an RBI groundout, then Billy Butler rapped a two-run single to make it 4-0 Royals.
"If we don't win that challenge, we lose out on three extra runs. It looked to me from the dugout that Cabrera didn't have control of it… It worked out really good for us," Yost said.
"When you give teams extra chances, or extra opportunities, especially against the middle of the order, sometimes you pay a price for it," Francona said.
Hosmer added to Kluber's mess with a two-run home run in the fifth inning, to push KC's lead to 6-0.
Kluber exited after the inning despite his pitch count standing at 78.
The bullpen crumbled as well. After Cleveland tacked on three runs in the eighth to cut the deficit to 6-3, the relief combination of Nick Hagadone, Scott Atchison and Josh Outman allowed three runs.
Alex Gordon smashed a leadoff home run off Hagadone, then Moustakas hit Kansas City's third home run of the night, a two-run shot, off Outman, with one of the runs being charged to Atchison.
The Indians tacked on a pair of runs in the ninth on a David Murphy double and Cabrera's sacrifice fly, making the final score 9-5.
Lonnie Chisenhall continued his hot hitting with a 2-for-4 night from the plate. Chisenhall erupted for a 5-for-5, three homer, nine-RBI performance in the team's 17-7 win over the Rangers Monday.
Santana, who entered the game batting just .169, also clubbed a pair of hits.
Jackson Alexander is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.