Who knows what it will mean come September — or maybe even a few days from now — but, at this moment, the Royals are riding a blue wave that beckons with all sorts of marvelous possibilities.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
A remarkable 16-hour period concluded Thursday afternoon in a 10-7 comeback victory over the Cleveland Indians. That followed a wild 6-5 thriller that ended shortly after 1 a.m. earlier in the day.
“It’s just battling, man,” said Eric Hosmer, who had a game-tying homer as an immediate follow-up to a game-winning homer. “That’s the character of our team. It’s like I’ve been saying, we have confidence in our offense.”
The result was an Independence Day full of fireworks. The Royals hit three homers while overcoming deficits of 5-0 and 7-5, but the game-winning blow was a well-placed hard ground ball.
Salvy Perez pulled a three-run pinch double past third base in the eighth inning against a shortened infield that broke a 7-7 and provided the Royals with their first lead of the game.
“We had a meeting before the game,” he said, “to (make sure we) play hard every day, no matter what happened yesterday. We ended up where we got today.”
The Royals scored in bunches. And aided by eight walks, they needed just six hits to score 10 runs. It was only the 17th time since 1921 that a club pulled off that 10-or-more with six-or-fewer combo.
“We feel like we’re over the hump offensively,” manager Ned Yost said. “Anytime you can score 10 runs on six hits, you’re slugging.”
They needed every bit of it, too, because Cleveland built a 5-0 lead against James Shields. And Indians, after the Royals pulled even in the sixth, struck for two runs in the seventh against J.C. Gutierrez and Aaron Crow.
But Hosmer’s two-run homer got the Royals back level later in the seventh before Perez capped a three-run eighth against three Cleveland pitchers.
When Greg Holland worked a scoreless ninth, just as he did in the early morning hours, the Royals, at 40-42, could carry two momentum-building victories into their holiday evening.
“Winning this series is very important for us,” shortstop Alcides Escobar said, “because they’re in the same division. Down five, that was an unbelievable comeback.”
Luke Hochevar, 2-1, got the victory for pitching a one-two-three eighth inning and, perhaps, positioning himself as a leading candidate to be Holland’s primary set-up reliever. Brian Shaw, 0-2, was the loser.
George Kottaras, who earlier hit a game-tying homer, started the winning rally by working a leadoff walk against Shaw. That brought Elliot Johnson into the game as a pinch-runner.
Johnny Giavotella fouled off two attempts at a sacrifice bunt before getting plunked with a 0-2 fastball. The Indians then called on Rich Hill for left-on-left matchups against Jarrod Dyson and David Lough.
But Hill’s second pitch to Dyson got past catcher Carlos Santana for a passed ball, which put the runners on second and third with no outs. That prompted an intentional walk to set up a force at every base.
“We knew Perez is sitting over there ready to hit,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “so we bring Rich in because it would be hard (for Dyson) to get the bunt down. And then the ball goes to the backstop ... ”
When the Royals inserted Perez as a pinch-hitter for Lough, the Indians countered by summoning Matt Albers and shortening the infield.
Perez spoiled the strategy by scalding a grounder through the short gap between Lonnie Chisenhall and third base.
All three runners scored.
“We’ve been swinging the bats well,” said Lorenzo Cain, whose first career grand slam highlighted a five-run sixth inning. “We’ve just got to continue it. We’re all feeling OK right now, but we’ve got to keep going.”
The Royals had just erased that five-run deficit when Gutierrez began the Cleveland seventh inning by walking Jason Kipnis, who went to second on Michael Brantley’s single to left.
Crow replaced Gutierrez and, on his first pitch, served up a two-run double to Santana into the right-center gap. The Indians had the lead back at 7-5.
The Royals overcame that, too.
Escobar opened their seventh by drawing a walk from submariner Joe Smith, and Hosmer followed with a 418-foot homer to center. That quickly, the Royals were even again.
“It was Esky starting that inning off,” Hosmer said, “and I put another good swing on the ball. It’s 3-2, and he came with a slider the pitch before. I had a pretty good feeling he wouldn’t double up on it.
“I just tried to get my pitch and not miss it.”
That capped a big day for Hosmer, who provided the Royals with their winning margin in their earlier 6-5 victory with a homer in the seventh inning against Cody Allen.
It was all Cleveland in the early innings after Shields turned in a rare clunker by coughing up five runs in 51/3 innings while the Royals rolled over for five innings against Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez.
Drew Stubbs was Shields’ biggest tormentor by driving in a season-high four runs. Stubbs crushed a two-run homer in the second and got two more RBIs on a bases-loaded single into center with one out in the sixth.
That single pushed Cleveland’s lead to 5-0 and finished Shields.
It also seemed to finish the Royals until Jimenez threw them a lifeline by starting the sixth with walks to Hosmer and Billy Butler. An error, by Jimenez, loaded the bases.
Cain then worked the count full before jumping 93-mph fastball.
“I thought, maybe, double off the bat,” he said. “‘Get in the gap!’ But it just kept going and going and going. And I appreciate it.”
The result was a 406-foot drive to center for his first career grand slam.
In came Allen who surrendered Hosmer’s game-winning homer in the previous game. This time, Kottaras promptly turned around a 95-mph fastball for a game-tying homer.
“When Cain hit that ball,” Hosmer said, “there was no doubt in our mind that we’re coming back. Then Georgie ...”
Then Hosmer. Perez. Hochevar. Holland. It made for a happy Fourth.
To reach Bob Dutton, Royals reporter for The Star, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.