The baseball rattled from the inner webbings of Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre’s glove to the outer lip of the Kauffman Stadium infield to the blades of grass in the outfield. The journey did not take long.
Salvador Perez scorched Tuesday’s game-winning hit, an eighth-inning rocket in a 2-1 victory over Texas, with such force that even one of the game’s premier third baseman could only knock it down. The ball screamed down the line with such velocity that Jarrod Dyson, standing near the bag and about to score the go-ahead run, said he was “scared for my life.”
Seated at his locker, his right shoulder and right knee swaddled in ice packs, Perez shrugged his shoulders.
“I hit it pretty good,” he said.
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The laser was his only hit of the game. It was only the Royals’ second in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position. But it was enough to pull this club across the finish line against one of baseball’s bottom dwellers, as the Royals relied on seven stalwart innings from Jeremy Guthrie on the way to the sixth save of Aaron Crow’s career.
The outcome appeared in doubt until Perez batted with two outs in the eighth. The lineup had come up empty after leadoff doubles in the sixth and the seventh. They appeared on the verge of repeating the futile sequence in the eighth. After Mike Moustakas floated another two-base hit into right, manager Ned Yost inserted a 23-year-old rookie who had just arrived.
Terrance Gore has one task here: He will pinch-run and display the speed that Royals officials say no other player in the majors possesses. Except speed can only do so much: Dyson slapped a grounder to first base, where Adam Rosales threw across the diamond to nab Gore.
Dyson felt awash in frustration for a moment, but he did not shut down. He swiped second. He took third without even prompting a throw from catcher Tomas Telis. When reliever Michael Kirkman plunked Alex Gordon, the stage was set for Perez.
“He doesn’t steal third there, that ball that Salvy just absolutely smoked, Beltre gets a glove on it, Dys doesn’t score,” Yost said. “So it’s a huge play.”
After Perez came through, Yost turned to a reliever who last pitched for Class AA Northwest Arkansas. Aaron Crow earned a brief demotion last week because of a combination of his ineffectiveness this season and his possession of a minor-league option.
Crow carried a career-worst 3.86 ERA to the mound. Yost still trusted his experience in late-game situations. Crow spotted an opportunity to atone for two miserable months in July and August.
“Before I got sent down, I wasn’t pitching well,” Crow said. “This feels good.”
Yost spent the evening without his full complement of relievers. The team had used Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera the previous three nights in a row. None were available Tuesday.
The trio is vital to this franchise’s success. Yost grapples daily with strategies to keep them fresh. He understands his hitters can ease his burden.
“It’s not my challenge, as much as it is our offense’s challenge,” Yost said. “Because the offense dictates how often these guys have got to be used.”
In a save situation, Yost dislikes using anyone other than those three. But a sizable lead would ease his mind. The club faced a pitcher on Tuesday who hadn’t started in the majors all season. Derek Holland tore cartilage in his knee after tripping over his dog in January. He required surgery and missed five months.
On Monday, Yost asked Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux about Holland. Maddux informed him Holland looked crisp in bullpen sessions.
“I imagine he’ll be pretty much what we’ve seen in the past,” Yost said, a southpaw with a fastball in the mid-90s and a wipeout slider.
Holland pitched against Guthrie, the Royals’ dependable but hit-prone fifth starter. When Guthrie faced Texas on Aug. 23, he limited them to one run and five hits. Texas had that many by the fifth inning. As usual, he leaned on his defenders.
Holland could not expect similar protection. Two mistakes by rookie left fielder Ryan Rua gave the Royals a third-inning run. Rua tracked down a deep fly ball from Alcides Escobar into the gap starting the inning but whiffed on the catch. Next he failed sprinting forward: Rua fell short of a bloop off Nori Aoki’s bat, which bounced past him for an RBI double.
Guthrie could trust his defense. He ended the third and fourth inning in nearly the exact same fashion. Both times, he induced a ground ball that rolled near the mound. Neither time did he reach out to deflect the baseball. He let his middle infielders handle the proceedings: Omar Infante turned a double play to end the third, and Escobar did the same to finish the fourth.
Guthrie insisted his deference was not intentional.
“I couldn’t touch either of them,” he said. “I would have if I could have.”
Guthrie was less fortunate in the fifth. He left a fastball up to rookie second baseman Roughned Odor. A line drive slashed into left field, and Odor raced all the way to third base. He tied the game on a ground out in the next at-bat.
The offensive futility only continued for the Royals. Aoki provided a spark in the sixth. He walloped a double over Rua’s head in left. The leadoff knock gave him his first game with multiple extra-base hits this season.
Yost called for Dyson as a pinch runner. The next three at-bats epitomized the club’s struggles. Infante popped a lazy flyout on a hanging curveball. Holland fanned Alex Gordon with a sweeping slider. Salvador Perez contested Holland for nine pitches before flying out to left.
Somehow, in the seventh inning, the Royals repeated the distressing sequence. Eric Hosmer smashed a leadoff triple to right. This time, Billy Butler struck out on a diving slider. So did Lorenzo Cain. Escobar flied out to strand Hosmer.
The Royals waited until the eighth for offensive salvation. It was enough to escape with a victory.
“We’re going to take this, and we’re going to build from it,” Dyson said. “Move on. Come back. Try to put up more runs tomorrow.”