Throughout the wild ride to the top of the American League Central, the Royals have been front-runners, rarely accessing an extra gear to overcome a deficit.
The pitching has overwhelmed opponents, and they’ve generated enough power and timely hits to take control of games early and cruise home.
It didn’t happen that way Thursday, and in perhaps the strongest indication they have every intention of continuing to play at a high level, the Royals dug their own trench and pulled themselves out.
The Royals beat the A’s 7-3 to remain baseball’s hottest team, winners of 18 of their last 22. They remain atop the American League Central standings by a slim margin, a half-game over the Tigers.
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Thursday’s victory came despite falling behind 3-2 in the sixth when center fielder Jarrod Dyson lost track of a fly ball in the sun.
The play tied the game, and the A’s soon went ahead 3-2. Such a deflating moment might have sunk previous Royals teams, or even the edition from earlier this season.
Not these guys, who took three of four from the team with baseball’s best record.
“There wasn’t any doubt in anybody’s mind that we were going rally back and put some runs on the board,” manager Ned Yost said.
That belief was realized in the seventh, and Dyson was part of a five-run outburst that turned the game around.
The rally had its origin in the bottom of the order, which came through all day for the Royals.
Erik Kratz, getting his second start at catcher since the Royals acquired him from Toronto on July 28, singled with one out.
Christian Colon, quickly becoming a fan favorite as a sparkplug, delivered a double off the base of the wall in left. It was his third hit of the game and the fourth in the two days he’s pulled starting duty. The Royals scored in five innings on Wednesday and Thursday against the A’s. Colon was involved in three of them with a base hit.
“Right now, we’re coming through,” Colon said. “Getting on base is what we can do.”
Up stepped Dyson, who wasn’t charged with an error after losing the ball, but found himself with a redeeming opportunity.
“I had to make up for my mistake,” Dyson said.
He offered at the first four pitches from A’s reliever Ryan Cook, and fouled each off to the left. The fifth pitch was slashed into right field for a game-tying RBI single.
The uprising had begun. Nori Aoki brought in pinch-runner Lorenzo Cain and Dyson with a triple, and two batters later, Billy Butler delivered a two-run single.
The Royals led 7-3, and starting pitcher James Shields was off the hook.
A Dyson sacrifice fly in the third and Mike Moustakas’ two-out RBI single in the fourth staked Shields to a 2-1 lead entering the sixth. But his rising pitch count wasn’t going allow him to throw the team’s fourth complete game in eight days. “It was a grind out there,” he said.
Still, all seemed in order when Stephen Vogt dropped a two-out single. The trouble appeared to end there when Shields got Josh Reddick to hit a towering fly to medium center.
Except Dyson never saw it descend. At the last moment, he stuck out his bare right hand but to no avail.
“I felt bad, really bad about it,” Dyson said.
Nobody felt bad afterward. The Royals open a nine-game, 10-game road trip in Minnesota on Friday. There are 42 games remaining and 32 of those involve teams that entered the day with records of .500 or worse, including every foe on this trip, the Twins, Rockies and Rangers.
Nobody in baseball is playing better that the Royals. Asked about the recent run over some solid teams — the Royals took the season series from the A’s in games played over the past two weeks 5-2 — Yost said there’s confidence to be gained. But something else should be known.
“We feel we’re a pretty good club, too,” Yost said. “We feel pretty good about ourselves.”