Vahe Gregorian

Clinching .500 record a footnote as Royals chase playoff berth

Updated: 2013-10-09T17:24:21Z


The Kansas City Star

Back in an abominable May, when the Royals were mired in a 4-19 funk, the thought would have been absurd.

Only a few weeks ago, it might have been a proud milestone.

Yet on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals’ 81st victory wasn’t much more than a footnote amid a frantic and compressing-by-the-minute American League wild-card race.

Yes, the victory over the Texas Rangers meant the club had just sealed its second non-losing season since 1994 and first since 2003.

“This is nice. We’ve broken the streak of losing seasons,” manager Ned Yost said. “But we don’t have a winning season.”

And while those measures are fine barometers of progress for a team that had 72 wins a year ago and maybe represent links in a chain to better times ahead, for the moment they are secondary feats.

“That’s the furthest thing from our minds right now,” Yost said.

The Royals, after all, are 2 1/2 games out of the second wild-card spot after grinding out the victory when Alcides Escobar’s bases-loaded walk — his first walk in a month, no less — forced home Lorenzo Cain in the eighth inning.

“These games are all going to be like this,” Yost said. “They’re all going to be nail-biters.”

In real time, with the Royals clinging to their hopes for a first playoff berth since 1985, the emotional peaks and valleys and detours of being in a confounding six-team scramble for two spots kept flashing on the scoreboards on the left field wall.

With the Royals and Rangers basically Velcroed to each other 1-1 into the eighth inning, there was Cleveland, which had started the night a half game behind Tampa Bay and Texas at the top of the heap, using two unearned runs to beat Houston 2-1 in a rain-shortened victory.

That left the Indians in a temporary virtual three-way tie with the Rays and Rangers, as the Yankees were beating the Giants 5-1 to momentarily inch up into an essential tie with the Royals.

Meanwhile, the other two teams in the indecipherable hodgepodge, Tampa and Baltimore, headed into extra innings tied 4-4.

With that outcome still pending late Friday, more than anything else it was all still a mess, a Rubik’s cube that will be sorted out day by day, piece by piece.

And if the Royals don’t exactly control their destiny, they still have plenty to say about it after racking up their 43rd home win of the season, the most since 2000, despite home losing streaks of 11 and seven games this season.

Emblematic of those types of ups and downs, this game had its quirks and seemingly could have tilted either way after the teams exchanged runs in the second inning.

The Royals survived some blunders, including Justin Maxwell’s ill-advised notion to steal third with two on and two out for Alex Gordon in the sixth.

Was Maxwell nudged to go?

“Nope,” Yost said, emphatically but playfully.

But more pivotal to the cause was Ervin Santana’s strong game — perhaps his last home game as a Royal barring a playoff berth — another reminder that there is no time like the present to seize this opportunity.

Santana, who can be a free agent after this season, gave up just four hits before being tagged for another with one out in the eighth, leading to the hook by Yost and a standing ovation.

Pivotal to the cause was Santana emerging unscathed from a quirky fifth inning that began with him retiring his ninth and 10th in a row only to allow a single to David Murphy followed by Leonys Martin’s broken bat — and the ball — coming his way.

Santana ducked, lost his hat, scooped up the ball and then lost his grip on the ball for the would-be toss to first.

Then he went ahead 0-2 on Ian Kinsler but walked him to load the bases, and a run seemed certain to score when his pitch to Elvis Andrus zipped under Salvy Perez.

But the ball ricocheted hard off the wall behind the plate and skipped back to Perez so fast that Murphy was stuck at third … and stayed there when Santana whiffed Andrus.

“We caught a break,” Yost said, “but, you know, we didn’t catch a break when Ervin sawed the bat off and it missed his head … by about 6 inches. He had to hit the dirt. Those things all kind of even out.”

Just like the Royals’ record, at minimum, will this season. Which is nice and all but a mere afterthought now.

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868 or send email to

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