Wet, cold, miserable and still beautiful.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
The Royals continued their early-season roll Wednesday night by completing a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins with a 3-0 victory in brutal conditions at Kauffman Stadium.
Wade Davis, Bruce Chen and Kelvin Herrera combined on a seven-hit shutout while Billy Butler and Jeff Francoeur hit home runs in support.
“Oh, man, those conditions,” shortstop Alcides Escobar said. “It’s so hard to play in weather like that. On Tuesday, it was wet, but it was almost 75 (degrees). Today, it was down to 40, windy, wet, cold … everything.
“But we’re playing great. Everybody is together right now — pitching … defense … hitting. Everything. It’s a much better April than last year. Oh, man, last year was a horrible April.”
Make no mistake: The Royals haven’t forgotten last April, when a 12-game losing streak included an 0-10 homestand and effectively torpedoed their season before it really got starter.
The Royals are 6-3 after extending their winning streak to four games. They also lead the American League Central Division by 1 1/2 games. So while, sure, it’s April, this is a club that knows what April can mean.
“Every aspect of the game is clicking,” Butler said. “We’re playing well in all aspects. We just want to continue that. It makes for a good off-day (on Thursday).”
Butler’s homer was a 417-foot drive through the mist in the first inning against Minnesota starter Liam Hendriks. That was the only scoring until Francoeur opened the seventh with a homer against reliever Josh Roenicke.
The Royals added another run that inning on successive one-out singles by Chris Getz, Alex Gordon and Escobar.
“It was 1-0 forever,” Escobar said. “Then we got two more runs, and that made everything easier for everybody.”
Davis, 1-0, worked the first five innings and scrambled around a lot of early trouble that inflated his pitch count. Chen followed with three terrific innings before Herrera pitched the ninth for his second save.
“I have to trick people,” Chen said, “so I try to change speeds with all of my pitches. And once in a while, when I run it up there at 85, 86, 87 (mph), it surprises a lot of people.”
Herrera got the call in the ninth largely because closer Greg Holland threw 27 pitches Tuesday in a stress-filled inning. Herrera gave up a two-out double to Joe Mauer but otherwise struck out the side.
“I wanted to give (Holland) the day off,” manager Ned Yost said. “With a day off (Thursday), he’ll be ready to close (Friday if needed) against Toronto.”
Minnesota had chances throughout the evening but were zero for 11 with runners in scoring position and stranded 12 runners.
Davis stranded six runners in the first two innings, but the effort forced his exit after the fifth. He gave up four hits, all singles, while walking three and striking out six before handing a 1-0 lead to Chen.
“I got in trouble early and didn’t make it too easy on myself,” Davis said. “But the biggest goal was just to keep it where it was because we had the lead. Bruce did a great job coming in behind me.”
Hendriks, 0-1, surrendered a two-out homer in the first inning to Butler but nothing more in his five innings. He pitched out of a bases-loaded jam with one out in the second inning.
The Royals carried that 1-0 lead into the seventh inning, which began with center fielder Lorenzo Cain muffing Aaron Hicks’ routine leadoff fly for a two-base error.
Chen pitched around the miscue by retiring their next three batters — Mauer, Josh Willingham and Justin Morneau on routine fly balls.
“We’ve faced Chen plenty of times, believe me, as a starter,” Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. “He knows how to pitch and change speeds. He’s got a little breaking ball and a nice little chnageup.
“We seen that many times.”
Francoeur then opened the bottom of the inning by golfing a 1-2 curve from Roenicke into the Royals’ bullpen beyond the left-field wall for a 2-0 lead.
“My golf game’s not bad,” Francoeur said. “That’s why I play golf, man.”
Brian Duensing replaced Roenicke with one out for left-on-left matchups but surrendered successive singles to Getz and Gordon. That brought Casey Fien into the game to face Escobar.
That didn’t work either.
Escobar lined a single into left for a 3-0 lead.
Those extra runs loomed larger when Chen surrendered a one-out triple in the eighth to Trevor Plouffe on a drive to deep center that Cain reached but couldn’t hold after slamming into the wall.
But Chen pitched around that, too, by striking our Chris Parmelee and Brian Dozier on six pitches.
“It was fun — like a chess match,” Chen said. “We were trying to match the right pitches with the right situations. It was fun tonight.”
Rain, wind, cold and all.