Through this run to the top of the American League Central and chase to the baseball playoffs, the Royals have been a team of streaks. Three victories here, eight there, three more here. A charge was reengaged immediately after a loss.
Remarkably, they’ve avoided the skid. No longer.
The Yankees made the most of their pit stop in Kansas City with an 8-1 triumph on Monday.
The game marked the end of a four-game series from early June, with the finale washed away. And the loss meant the Royals have dropped consecutive games for the first time since July 27 and 29. They had played 24 games (19-5) without losing two straight.
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“We don’t think about that,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “We worry about what’s on our plate for tomorrow.”
After nearly a month of calm waters, the Royals have hit some chop, and their successive setbacks were similarly constructed.
A solo home run provided the Royals’ offense each day. Monday, it belonged to Moustakas. A day earlier, in a loss at Texas, Billy Butler went deep.
It wasn’t enough on either occasion but produced little concern for Royals manager Ned Yost. Asked if he was worried about the lack of offense the last two games, he sarcastically replied, “Oh, yeah.”
With the second-place Tigers idle, the Royals dropped a half-game in the AL Central standing, taking a 1 1/2-game lead into a three-game series with the Twins that begins tonight.
The Yankees head to Detroit for three games, with both clubs part of the playoff chase.
Monday’s game also marked the final Kauffman Stadium appearance of Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who will have a happy final memory of the place — and not just the standing ovation he received or the wave he delivered to the fans after grounding out in his final plate appearance.
Unless the teams meet in the postseason — not an inconceivable prospect given the Yankees’ five-game winning streak — Jeter’s final line in Kansas City will include two RBIs and a base hit that deflected off Royals starter James Shields, keeping alive a four-run seventh that broke open the game.
The Yankees also worked in a little long ball. Stephen Drew’s solo homer provided a 2-1 lead in the fourth. Martin Prado’s blast opened the seventh.
Those came against Shields. Jacoby Ellsbury swatted a two-run shot in the ninth and completed the onslaught.
“We’re not really too worried about it,” Shields said. “Still got quite a ways to go, a long season left. We’re playing really good baseball over the last month or so. We’re not going to let one game take care of us.”
The beginning wasn’t much better for Royals. Jarrod Dyson opened with an infield single and was promptly picked off first by Michael Pineda.
Moustakas’ home run in the third, a 401-foot blast to right-center that moved him into a team-high tie with Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez with 15, was one of the few good Royals swings against Pineda.
“Guy’s got good stuff,” Moustakas said.
“He throws the ball 94, 95, mixes pitches well, has that split-change, and the slider was phenomenal for him tonight.”
The Royals didn’t put more than one runner on in an inning until the seventh, when Perez doubled to center and Lorenzo Cain poked an infield single. The uprising ended when Moustakas flied deep to center.
Jeter drove in the Yankees’ first run, and he got an assist from manager Joe Girardi.
Ichiro Suzuki started the inning with a line shot that deflected off Shields’ glove. The ball trickled behind him, and Shields had enough time to set and make a solid throw. Instead, he wheeled and threw wide of Butler, allowing Ichiro to take second.
Ellsbury reached on a fielder’s choice, sending Ichiro to third — and here’s where Girardi helped. He started Ellsbury, and when Jeter grounded to Alcides Escobar, moving toward the bag, Ellsbury had enough of a start to beat the shortstop. Ichiro scored, and Jeter had his 33rd RBI of the season and No. 1,294 of his career
He’d add another to those lists before the Royals’ long night was over.