Take a look at those standings, friends. That’s right, that’s the Royals sitting atop the American League Central Division.
And before anyone chirps that it’s just April — as if, with this rain, we don’t know what month it is — merely remember last April and that sour-time losing streak (12 games!) that effectively killed the season.
This is better.
The Royals rode a five-run first inning to a 7-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins at Kauffman Stadium on a Tuesday night that ended with the forecasted rain arriving as scheduled over the last few innings.
So, yes, it turned torrential by the end, which coincided with closer Greg Holland brewing up another tension-filled ninth inning. But it all worked out and ... first place. How about that?
“We’re not thinking about that,” third baseman Mike Moustakas insisted. “What’s awesome about this team is the new feeling we’ve got in this clubhouse.
“We know that every time one of these pitchers takes the bump, we’re going to have a chance to win. And when we put up five for (Jeremy) Guthrie”
Even a less-than-sharp Guthrie, who served up three homers among six hits over his 62/3 innings. But all three came with the bases empty, and he handed a three-run lead to Tim Collins with a runner at first.
“I needed to get ahead in the count and make better pitches,” Guthrie said. “I wasn’t able to do that consistently tonight. So I gave them every opportunity to take good swings, and they did.
“They didn’t miss many pitches. Sometimes, you’ve got to battle through without your best stuff, and tonight was one of those cases.”
Collins retired Joe Mauer on a grounder to third and pitched around a leadoff single in a scoreless eighth — and then it was time for another high-anxiety act by Holland.
The Twins loaded the bases before, with the rain pelting down, Holland closed the victory by striking out Mauer for his second save in three chances.
“We had our best hitter up there at the end of the game with the bases loaded and two outs,” Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We’ll take that chance.”
Holland took the narrow escape came after two rough outings last weekend in Philadelphia, including a blown save Saturday when he walked the bases loaded before serving up a three-run double in a 4-3 loss.
“The last couple of outings with the leads,” he said, “I’ve been so worried about getting ahead that I haven’t really pitched the way I’m normally accustomed to pitching.
“I just need to go out there and mix it up and pitch like it’s a one-run game with a man on second. That’s where I feel like I’m at my best, when the game is on the line.”
Like striking out Mauer with the bases loaded.
“I thought he did fine,” manager Ned Yost said. “Let’s be fair. It was pouring down rain. Mud clogged all over his shoes. It was difficult circumstances, and he got through it.”
Before that hectic ninth, there wasn’t much for the Royals not to like. They’ve now won five of six since opening the season with two losses and — look it up — now hold a one-half-game lead over second-place Chicago.
Alex Gordon’s leadoff single keyed a six-hit attack in the first inning against Minnesota starter Mike Pelfrey, a former star at Wichita State who lasted just two innings in his first career appearance at The K.
“We knew he was going to throw two-seamers and sinkers,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “He was actually throwing some good pitches. We just put some good swings on them and found some holes.”
Butler, Moustakas, Salvy Perez, Eric Hosmer and Lorenzo Cain delivered RBIs in that five-run first, which marked the Royals’ biggest single-inning output in the young season.
Guthrie, 2-0, extended his non-losing streak to 13 starts (seven victories and six no-decisions). That’s the Royals’ longest since Kevin Appier also went 13 starts in 1994-95.
Pelfrey, 1-1, worked 51/3 scoreless innings against Detroit in his previous start but lasted just two innings against the Royals before exiting after allowing six runs and eight hits.
“They kicked my butt,” he said. “When I made a mistake, they hit it. I had a couple of people here (from Wichita). I’m sure that’s not what they wanted to see, and that’s not how I wanted to pitch.”
Guthrie gave up single runs in four of the first five innings, including homers by Mauer in the first, Josh Willingham in the third and Eduardo Escobar in the fifth.
“What (the five-run first) did was allow me to cover some mistakes,” Guthrie said. “Had it been another tough pitchers battle, and I had given up the three home runs, it would have been a different story.”
It helped, too, that the Royals tacked on runs in the second and third. Alcides Escobar paced a 13-hit attack with three singles, while Gordon , Butler and Cain each had two hits.
“We can put runs up with this lineup,” Moustakas said, “when we’ve got Billy and Gordo swinging the bats. Gordo started us off and, as I’ve said, when he gets us going, it’s tough to stop this train.”