There might be no team, over the last decade or so, that knows more than the Royals about how bad things can go when things go bad. It’s been a while, though, since they’ve seen how it looks from the other side of the diamond.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Cue up Saturday night when the Royals continued their late-season roll with a 5-3 victory over Cleveland’s flat-lining Indians at Kauffman Stadium. And the Royals did it with the sort of casual disdain that other clubs, including the Indians, once did it to them.
Two quick runs in the first inning. Then a series of wasted opportunities before permitting the Indians, after pulling even, to self-destruct in a three-run fifth inning. The game turned on an errant throw by third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall on a routine play.
That permitted the go-ahead run to score. The Royals then added two more runs they likely wouldn’t have scored without the misplay.
Oh, the Royals have been there.
“The biggest inning in baseball,” Eric Hosmer said, “is when the other team scores on you, if you can come back and answer. They had the momentum. For us to answer with those three runs, that was the key to the game. That was the final blow to them.”
It was Hosmer who hit the chopper to Chisenhall with one out and the bases loaded. Chisenhall’s throw home pulled catcher Carlos Santana away from the plate — that’s how umpire Lance Barksdale saw it.
“The video clearly shows that (Barksdale) blew the call,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “Carlos was on the plate. The momentum after he caught the ball took him off the plate.”
Maybe, but this much is also clear: A better throw by Chisenhall makes it a non-issue and, probably, preserves the tie. Instead, the Royals turned the break into a decisive three-run inning.
Chisenhall’s throw (and, perhaps, Barksdale’s call) made for a fitting snapshot to Cleveland’s 41st loss in its last 53 games. Some perspective: When the Royals lost 19 in a row in 2005 and finished 56-106, they never endured a 12-41 stretch.
The Royals, on this night, squandered numerous opportunities while going four for 16 with runners in scoring position — but still did more than enough. Rookie left-hander Will Smith worked seven strong innings and handed a three-run lead to the bullpen.
Billy Butler picked up his 100th RBI on a single in a two-run first inning against Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez before adding two doubles in his four at-bats. Brayan Peña collected his first career triple.
Five different players scored runs; five different players had RBIs.
The Royals also squelched two Cleveland threats with double plays from their air-tight infield and two more on defensive gems by right fielder Jeff Francoeur in the eighth and ninth innings.
“We’re clicking on all cylinders,” Butler said. “We’re playing good fundamental baseball … We’re pitching well. It’s just fun to go out there and play every night.”
The Royals have won four in a row and, at 70-81, are virtually assured of finishing third in the American League Central Division. With 11 games remaining, they trail second-place Detroit by 10½ games but lead fourth-place Minnesota by eight games.
Smith, 6-8, sailed through his seven innings except for a short hiccup in the fifth, when he surrendered a two-run homer to Cord Phelps that erased the early lead.
“Not bad,” Smith said. “I still want better fastball command, but there’s always something to work on, I guess. For the most part, BP (Peña) and I were on the same page about changing speeds and trying to work in and out.
“It was nice to be able to bounce back (after the fifth) and put up two more zeroes.”
That was after the Royals’ three-run answer. First, they knocked out Jimenez, 9-17, by loading the bases with one out on walks to Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas prior to Francoeur’s single.
In came Chris Seddon for a left-on-left matchup against Hosmer, who sliced a grounder to Chisenhall at third.
“First of all,” Hosmer said, “I was happy to put it in play. I thought (Chisenhall) was going to go to second. If he did, I knew I would beat (the relay) to first. I just wanted to get that run in and found a way to do it.”
Chisenhall’s off-line throw to the plate meant everyone was safe. The Royals led 3-2 and still had the bases loaded with one out. Peña followed with a sacrifice fly to left for another run before Irving Falu flicked an RBI single into left for a 5-2 lead.
All five runs were charged to Jimenez, who threw 94 pitches in 4 1/3 innings. His 17 losses are the most in the majors, and he is 1-10 since the All-Star break.
“Walks pretty much did it for him,” Acta said. “We got back into the game. He ended up walking those two guys and they scored. He’s had a rough season.”
Aaron Crow inherited that 5-2 lead from Smith to start the eighth but surrendered a leadoff single to Carlos Santana. Michael Brantley’s fly to deep center should have been an out, but Jason Bourgeois whiffed on the catch for a two-base error. Santana scored.
Francoeur saved more damage with the first of his two defensive highlights — a shoestring catch on Russ Canzler’s sinking liner. A two-out walk to Chisenhall put the tying run on base, but pinch-hitter Casey Kotchman fouled out to first.
The Royals called on Kelvin Herrera in the ninth after using closer Greg Holland in each of their three previous games. Herrera closed out the victory for his second career save — with an assist from Francoeur.
Shin-Soo Choo tried to stretch a one-out single into a double, but Francoeur made a dynamic throw for his major-league-leading 19th assist. It also matched a career high set in 2007 with Atlanta.
“I was amazed at that,” Herrera said. “I’m standing there saying, ‘Oh, my gosh; oh, my gosh … he’s out! Yes!’ That was great, man. That was the best pitch in the ninth inning.”
Why Choo tried for second when the Indians needed two runs to tie … well, that’s the Indians these days. Acta admitted it was “not a very good idea.”
Francoeur’s assist left him just one shy of Gordon’s club-record 20 set last season.
“I’ve got to get one more to match Gordo,” Francoeur said. “That’s what I told him.”
Gordon responded, “You can write that guys are running on him this year, and they’re not running on me.”
Yes, the Royals are having fun.