The formula still worked for the Royals, at least on this night.
It was Wade Davis rather than Greg Holland locking down the ninth inning Friday at Yankee Stadium, but the result was the same. And as long as Holland’s triceps issue is as minor as the Royals said it was, they can look back on this 1-0 win over the Yankees as one of the more satisfying of an already satisfying season.
And if Holland’s issue isn’t minor?
The Royals would rather not consider that possibility, but the way Davis handled the final two outs of this one (for his first major-league save), maybe even an injury to the closer wouldn’t derail this team.
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“We’ve got guys who can close games in the ninth,” manager Ned Yost said, excited and also relieved after another game that was tense to the end. “We’ve got four of them. If we can get out of the sixth inning with a lead, we feel pretty good.”
The Royals got out of the third inning with a lead Friday, thanks to Alcides Escobar’s daring baserunning, Nori Aoki’s clutch hitting and James Shields’ brilliant pitching. They got out of the fourth, fifth, sixth and every inning through the ninth with that one-run lead intact and got themselves a big win on the first night of a very big road trip.
They held onto first place in the American League Central, with a two-game lead after Detroit lost 8-2 at home to San Francisco.
The Royals won for the 78th time this year and improved to 56-3 when they lead after six innings (and 69-1 when they lead after eight).
This one was a little different, if only because the Royals didn’t have Holland, the closer with the league-leading 42 saves. Yost said that Holland felt some tightness in his right triceps after his Wednesday night save against the Rangers. It’s not yet clear how long Holland will be out, but what was clear was that the Royals were insisting it wasn’t serious, but also that they wouldn’t push it with Holland.
“This is just precautionary,” Yost said. “[Kelvin] Herrera, Davis and Holland have been instrumental, elite bullpen guys. We’ve got to protect them.”
With no Holland, and with just the slimmest of leads, Yost began pondering in the fifth inning what he’d do if it was still a 1-0 game in the ninth.
He considered having Davis start the ninth, but with Shields having allowed just two hits and with his pitch count at a manageable 93 through eight, Yost opted to leave his starter in the game. He also considered leaving Shields out there to finish the ninth but decided that he wasn’t going to leave him in to possibly lose it.
So when Shields allowed a one-out single to Derek Jeter, Yost popped out of the dugout, and Davis came out of the bullpen, an inning later than usual. The task was tougher than usual, too, with the Yankees third- and fourth-place hitters due up and the tying run already on base.
Soon enough, that tying run was in scoring position, as pinch-runner Antoan Richardson stole second on a ball Davis threw to the backstop.
“I was actually happy he was on second, because then I didn’t have to worry about him stealing,” Davis said. “I was actually more relaxed.”
Soon enough, the Royals could relax, as Davis fired a pair of 98 mph fastballs past Brett Gardner, then got Carlos Beltran looking at another 98 mph fastball for the strike three that ended the game.
The Royals had an important and impressive win, one made possible by Shields and Davis, but also by Escobar and Aoki, who combined to produce the third-inning run. Escobar hustled to get to second base when his one-out ground ball got under the glove of third baseman Chase Headley and then took advantage of Jacoby Ellsbury’s weak arm when Aoki followed with a single up the middle.
“That was huge,” Yost said. “I was sitting on the bench when [Escobar] hit it. He made me stand up.”
The Royals made the one run stand up, thanks in large part to Shields, but also to the fill-in closer.
“To come in when Holly wasn’t available, in a one-run game in Yankee Stadium, our confidence in him has grown, if that was even possible,” pitching coach Dave Eiland said.
The Royals’ confidence grows with every win, and as long as Holland’s triceps issue really is minor, this one may have been worth just a little bit more.