The impulse struck Mike Moustakas mid-sprint. He could not deduce its origins.
“I don’t have any kind of explanation,” Moustakas said. “It just kind of happened.”
What happened was this: He dove into first base to beat out a double-play ball in the ninth inning of a 4-3 Royals victory, waited for a challenge from his dugout to overturn the call and pocketed his fourth RBI on the night. The run proved critical when closer Greg Holland surrendered a run in the bottom of the inning to the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Boosted by Moustakas’ late effort, the Royals (59-53) set themselves up for a sweep on Thursday. Moustakas walloped a two-run homer in the second, added an RBI single in the fourth and delivered his first four-RBI game since July 30, 2013.
The rest of the lineup failed to ignite a fireworks display similar to Tuesday’s 12-run flurry, but still captured their 11th victory in 14 games and their five consecutive series.
“If you can win series from here on out, we’re going to be there the whole way,” manager Ned Yost said. “And I’m not just talking about the second wild card.”
A loss by Detroit slimmed their advantage in the American League Central. The Royals climbed to 31/2 back and remained a half-game behind the Toronto Blue Jays in the wild-card hunt. They did so on a shaky evening from their starting pitcher.
Yordano Ventura (9-8, 3.47 ERA) tallied six innings of two-run baseball despite nonexistent command of his secondary offerings. He offset eight hits allowed with eight strikeouts.
In the final three innings, Kansas City unleashed its unrelenting bullpen. Kelvin Herrera threw 100-mph gas in the seventh. Wade Davis worked around a pair of singles for a scoreless eighth. The final inning belonged to Greg Holland, who added to his American League lead with 32 saves, but gave up a pair of singles followed by a sacrifice fly for Mark Trumbo.
“At the end of the game, that run turns out to be huge,” Moustakas said. “That one was probably the most important run for us.”
The Diamondbacks cracked 12 hits in all, and they were on Ventura from the outset. He allowed a leadoff double in the second. Miguel Montero scalded a fastball off the wall in left center. Ventura recovered to bully the bottom of Arizona’s order, striking out outfielder Roger Kieschnick and causing Arizona starter Josh Collmenter to fly out.
The third inning was less pleasing. Ventura leaned on his fastball heavily, and the Arizona knotted the game in result. A rookie named Ender Inciarte slashed a triple at the inning’s opening. Aaron Hill ripped an RBI single up the middle, and Mark Trumbo followed with another.
Both his changeup and his curveball failed him. Of his 105 pitches, he threw six curves and two changeups for strikes.
“He kept trying to throw it, to get in a rhythm with it,” said Christian Colon, who translated for Ventura. “But it was just one of those days. You’re not going to have it every single day. He just felt like today was one of those days when he didn’t really have a feel for it.”
So Ventura kept pumping heat. He fed David Peralta, another rookie outfielder, four fastballs in a row. Peralta lined the last up middle to tie the game.
The sequence erased the production brought forth earlier by Moustakas. It was up to him to put the Royals back ahead. “He had a big night,” Yost said.
The night before, Kansas City mashed a trio of homers. They did not wait long to launch their fourth here in the desert. With two outs in the second, Lorenzo Cain muscled a cutter from Collmenter into shallow center field. It was his team’s first hit.
Up to the plate came Moustakas. Collmenter relies on deception rather than dynamism. He tested Moustakas with a 3-1 cutter down the middle. A line drive exploded off the bat and screamed past the right-field fence. Moustakas reclaimed the team lead in homers with 14.
The long ball gave him 29 extra-base hits to go along with 28 singles. In his next at-bat, he recorded his 29th single. The hit occurred after Collmenter’s command vanished. Alex Gordon accepted a two-out walk. Cain did the same. Collmenter fed Moustakas another cutter, this one near his waist. Moustakas dunked an RBI single at Peralta’s feet in right.
After taking the lead, the Royals offense shut down. They managed two hits after the fourth inning. The second was a double by Billy Butler to start the ninth. Three batters later, there were runners at the corners for Moustakas. He stung a ball on the ground, only to see a diving stop by Aaron Hill. Hill flipped the ball to second, and Moustakas hit the deck as shortstop Didi Gregorious made the turn.
Tony Randazzo, the umpire at first, pumped his fist. The Royals dugout exploded. The subsequent review lasted 48 seconds. The run helped the team hold on.
“That’s the biggest thing right now, keep winning series, keep winning ballgames,” Moustakas said. “No matter how they come, how ugly or how pretty, we’ve got to go out and find a way to win.”