And the roll continues. In fact, the Royals are looking better and better after winning Friday for the ninth time in 10 games with a 7-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field.
Sure, the Royals displayed the best parts of their recent formula — a strong outing by a starting pitcher (Luis Mendoza) and airtight bullpen work. But now, for the second game in a row, they featured some long-awaited pop.
“The (pitchers) have been feeding off each other,” designated hitter Billy Butler said, “and we’re starting to get in the mix offensively. It’s been a fun stretch here.”
Butler paced an efficient 10-hit attack with two singles and three RBIs. Salvy Perez added two hits and two RBIs. The Royals were five for 11 with runners in scoring position after going six for 12 in Thursday’s 10-1 victory.
“Since we moved Salvy into the three (hole in the lineup),” manager Ned Yost said, “he and Billy have been a real nice tandem. And Hos (Eric Hosmer) has picked it up.”
All of that, plus Elliot Johnson continued to bedevil his former teammates by getting two more hits, including a game-tying triple in a four-run fifth inning.
“Realistically, this offense we have here,” Johnson said, “we should be scoring five, six, seven (runs) every night. We really should. These guys are really talented.”
Butler’s three RBIs boosted his career total to 517 and moved him past Carlos Beltran into eighth place on the franchise’s all-time list.
“That’s pretty good company,” Butler said. “Beltran is a great player, and he’s still doing it today. I remember watching him play in a Royals uniform. He did a lot of great things. Got a lot of big hits.”
The Royals erased a 2-1 deficit with a four-run fifth inning against Rays left-hander Matt Moore. And when Mendoza found trouble in the seventh, they turned to their impregnable relief corps for three scoreless innings.
The result was a 13th straight game of holding an opponent to three runs or fewer, which extended a club record and ranks as the best streak among American League teams since Toronto on 1991.
Mendoza, 2-3, weathered that shaky two-run first inning by carrying a 5-2 lead into the seventh, which Desmond Jennings started with a double past third. An infield single by pinch-hitter Luke Scott brought Aaron Crow into the game with no outs and runners at first and third.
“With our bullpen,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur said, “it’s game over. They might slip up once in a while, but I’ll take my chances.”
It’s not hard to see why. That bullpen has now yielded exactly one earned run over its last 282/3 innings after choking off Tampa Bay’s comeback bid.
Crow struck out José Lobaton and Yunel Escobar, although Scott took second when Escobar’s swinging third strike got past Perez for a wild pitch.
The Royals opted for Tim Collins to get a lefty-on-lefty matchup against Matt Joyce, who had a homer and a double against Mendoza.
Collins retired Joyce on a fly to left, which closed Mendoza’s line at two runs and seven hits in six-plus innings. Collins worked a scoreless eighth with two strikeouts.
The Royals struck for two runs in the ninth, on an RBI double by Perez and an RBI single by Butler, before Kelvin Herrera wobbled through the ninth in a non-save situation.
Herrera issued two one-out walks before closing out the victory. Mendoza ended a five-start winless streak, and the Royals pulled within one game of .500 at 32-33.
“Confidence builds,” Yost said. “Everybody feels good. Everybody feels like they’re back offensively. Everybody is relaxed. Everybody is slowing the game down.
“They’re taking advantage of run-scoring situations, and our pitching has been phenomenal.”
The Royals trailed 2-1 when Francoeur opened the fifth inning with a single to left. Johnson followed by tomahawking a drive to left that caromed off the wall and away from Sam Fuld for an RBI triple.
“I just missed dropping it into the 162 Landing area,” Johnson said, referring to the angled area near the foul pole where Evan Longoria’s walk-off blast in the final game of the 2011 season lifted the Rays into the postseason.
Johnson’s triple tied the game and served as the centerpiece to a four-run inning. He is eight for 15 with three extra-base hits and five RBIs in four games against the Rays — and batting only .202 against everyone else.
The Royals took a 3-2 lead when Alcides Escobar’s sharp, short-hop grounder eluded second baseman Ben Zobrist for an RBI single.
Moore, 8-3, retired Alex Gordon on a fly to right, but Hosmer pulled a double into the right-field corner — a most welcome sign in his ongoing bid to recapture his pull-power swing.
Escobar stopped at third on Hosmer’s double but scored when Perez served an 0-2 slider into left for an RBI single. Butler’s sacrifice fly to center made it 5-2.
The Royals are 22-5 when they score at least four runs.
“The one thing we’ve done in this winning streak,” Francoeur said, “is get guys on early in the inning. You do that, you put so much pressure on the other team.
“Whether you score one run in the inning or four, like we did when we busted out, you just put a lot of pressure on their pitchers.”