It wasn’t just a lucky seventh try Saturday night by Ervin Santana that, finally, produced his 100th career victory. It was, instead, that he received some long overdue run support.
Seven runs of support — now there’s a lucky seven — as the Royals rolled to a 7-2 victory over the Houston Astros at Kauffman Stadium. That makes four straight victories overall and clinched a second straight series win.
“We got out to a lead early,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer, who contributed two hits and two walks to a balanced 10-hit attack.
“That's what we've been trying to do is get those guys some support so they don't have to execute their pitches that much more every time. Just let them go out there and throw their stuff and see if (the opposition) can hit it.”
Santana, 4-5, didn’t waste the support. He limited the Astros to one hit — one runner — over the first five innings while the Royals built a 6-0 lead in front of a crowd of 28,055 on a gorgeous late spring night.
“When you’ve got a lead like that,” he admitted, “you can pitch more comfortably. You don’t have to worry as much about what the situation is.”
How overdue was all this?
The Royals averaged just 2.68 runs through Santana’s first 11 starts while he was on the mound — the lowest run support for any qualifying American League pitcher. (James Shields ranks third on that list, by the way.)
This was Santana’s seventh bid for No. 100; the previous six resulted in four losses and two no-decisions despite a 3.92 ERA in that span. And, yes, getting No. 100 was sweet.
“It means a lot to me,” Santana said. “It’s a dream come true. It’s very exciting for me. It’s a long process. It’s a lot of bad outings, and a lot of good outings. It’s here, and I’m going to enjoy it.”
Santana permitted two runs and five hits in seven innings, which nudged his season’s ERA down to 2.99, before handing a five-run lead to J.C. Gutierrez, who closed out the victory with two scoreless innings.
The Royals roughed up Houston starter Erik Bedard, 1-3, for six runs in 42/3 innings. They scored twice in the first inning, three times in the fourth and once in knocking him out in the fifth.
Santana allowed just one hit prior to Brandon Barnes’ two-out double in the sixth inning. The shutout slipped away when Jose Altuve sent a seeing-eye grounder up the middle for an RBI single.
The Astros clawed closer on Chris Carter’s one-out homer in the seventh, but that was it. And, so, here we are: Santana has No. 100, and the Royals continue to show signs of shaking their extended May malaise.
This makes six victories in nine games following a 4-19 collapse and, coincidence or not, the 6-3 run began when George Brett became the interim hitting coach.
“This is what happens when you continue to play hard,” shortstop Alcides Escobar said. “Four wins in a row. I’m telling you, man, we’ve got a long way to go. A lot more games. You can’t get frustrated. It’s too many games.”
The attack hummed from the start, too.
David Lough, batting leadoff and playing left field in place of Alex Gordon, opened the Royals’ first with a line single to center and took second when Barnes bobbled the ball.
Lough held on Alcides Escobar’s bouncer to the mound but scored easily when Salvy Perez rammed an RBI single into center. After Billy Butler flied to deep right, Hosmer sliced a drive into the left-field corner.
J.D. Martinez never got there. The ball fell for an RBI double, but Hosmer was thrown out when trying to turn it into a triple. Even so, Santana had a 2-0 lead.
Some perspective: When Santana took the mound in the second inning, he pitched with a lead for the first time since the sixth inning on May 18 at Oakland.
“Any time you get a little breathing room,” manager Ned Yost said “even if it’s only two runs, you’ve still got breathing room. You can go out and make a mistake and not have to worry about it.”
Santana set down the first seven Astros before Matt Dominguez grounded a one-out single up the middle in the third. Santana then retired the next 10 batters in order.
The Royals broke open the game with with a three-run fourth. Hosmer led off with a single, and Lorenzo Cain followed with a walk. Miguel Tejada yanked an RBI single through the left side for a 3-0 lead.
Jeff Francoeur’s double into the right-field corner added another run and put runners on second and third with no outs. A walk to Elliot Johnson loaded the bases, but the Royals settled for just one more run.
Lough grounded into a run-scoring double play before Escobar flied out.
Even so, the five-run lead was the Royals’ biggest margin since they led 9-4 in the eighth inning on May 15 at Los Angeles. From there, it was just an outs countdown for Santana to No. 100.
“One-hundred wins, that's unbelievable,” Hosmer said. “This is a tough league, you get 100 wins, you've had a long career in the big leagues, so it's a special day whenever one of your teammates gets something like this.”
To reach Bob Dutton, Royals reporter for The Star, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org . Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.