Finally. No more emphasis. Finally!!!
The Royals reversed a season-long trend Friday night by providing James Shields with some support — nine runs worth — and Shields ended a 10-start winless drought in a 9-3 victory over the Minnesota Twins.
The 11-hit attack included a season-high four homers. And here’s the key stat: Shields had not pitched with a lead of more than one run during his winless streak.
“We gave him that run support early,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer, who hit two homers. “We let him go out, pound strikes and let the defense work.
“We usually don’t score by the long ball, but tonight we used it in our favor. And it came at the right time — with guys on base.”
This wasn’t Shields at his absolute best, although he still delivered a quality start by holding the Twins to three runs in 6 1/3 innings. It was his 14th quality start in 17 outings.
It was plenty good enough.
“There’s definitely weight taken off,” Shields admitted. “There’s no doubt about it. I think my two-month anniversary was coming up of not getting a win, but this team has been grinding all season long.
“We’ve won the last six of my games, and I have no doubt in my mind that we’re going to keep going up from here.”
The Royals jumped to an early 3-0 lead on Billy Butler’s three-run homer in the first inning against Minnesota starter P.J. Walters. Mike Moustakas added a two-run shot in the third that extended the lead to 6-0.
And Hosmer contributed his second career multi-homer game, which helped keep the Twins at arm’s length. He had a solo shot in the fifth and a two-run bomb in the seventh.
“The hitters did a phenomenal job of getting runs early in the game,” Shields said, “but I’m a little more impressed with our defense. You could, pretty much, run a web-gem highlight reel from today’s game.”
Shortstop Alcides Escobar made two spectacular plays, including a diving catch on a line drive when Minnesota threatened a comeback in the eighth inning against reliever Bruce Chen.
Moustakas also made a diving play on a sharp grounder by Brian Dozier for the first out in the seventh inning. But the turning point was a diving two-out catch by right fielder David Lough in the fourth.
Lough snatched extra bases away from Pedro Florimon with two outs, runners at second and third and two runs already across.
“Our defense has been spectacular,” manager Ned Yost said. “It really has. Borderline spectacular every night.”
Tim Collins replaced Shields after Florimon’s one-out single in the seventh turned over the lineup. Collins completed the inning with no damage.
Of course, it wasn’t an easy ride to the finish.
Chen found immediate trouble in the eighth when the Twins loaded the bases with no outs on a walk and two singles. Chen retired Trevor Plouffe on a foul pop to first before the Royals summoned Aaron Crow.
That’s when Escobar made his diving catch on Dozier’s line drive for the second out. Crow then retired Florimon on a grounder to first.
J.C. Gutierrez worked a one-two-three ninth as the Royals, 37-40, evened the four-game weekend series at one victory apiece. The Twins won 3-1 in Thursday’s opener.
Hosmer and Butler each had three of the 11 hits. The four homers were the most by the Royals since they hit four on Aug. 11, 2012 in a 7-3 victory at Baltimore.
“Billy in the first inning with that big swing,” Hosmer said, “that’s what defines the leader of an offense. That’s taking the matter into his own hands right there to put us on the board and give Shieldsy that early run support.”
Butler’s blast came after intermittent rain delayed the start by 26 minutes.
“That was just the start of it,” he said. “I think it made everybody relax. But I’m not swinging the bats for other guys. They were making a lot of solid contact. There were a lot of good things to build on.”
Butler’s homer ended a personal drought of 136 at-bats without one — dating to May 14. It was also the 109th homer of his career. , which matched Bo Jackson for 10th place on the Royals’ all-time list.
And it provided Shields with a multiple-run lead for the first time since an 8-2 victory over Tampa Bay on April 30, i.e., his last victory. Shields then started his night by working a one-two-three inning with two strikeouts. He had allowed 14 runs in the first inning of his 16 previous starts.
The Royals extended their lead to 4-0 after Lorenzo Cain opened the second with a double to left. Walters retired the next three hitters, but Alex Gordon lined an RBI single up the middle.
Four is the Royals’ well-established magic threshold; they are now 26-5 when they score at least four runs.
That fourth run was also notable because the Royals had not scored in the first and second inning of a game since April 9. That was also against the Twins in a 7-4 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
The lead climbed to 6-0 when Moustakas mashed a two-run homer with two outs in the third inning. It traveled 420 feet and into the upper deck in right field.
It was Moustakas’ first homer in 125 at-bats dating to May 10. (The Royals also scored in the first three innings of that April 9 game.)
All of that damage came against Twins starter P.J. Walters, who departed after the third inning. He dropped to 2-4.
The Twins broke through in the fourth after Josh Willingham rammed a one-out single through the right side. Justin Morneau followed by pulling an RBI double past first.
Plouffe’s two-out single moved Morneau to third before Dozier pulled an RBI double past third that closed the gap to 6-2. Lough ended the inning, and saved two runs, by making a diving catch on Florimon’s twisting liner.
The Royals got one run back when Hosmer crushed a one-out homer in the fifth against reliever Anthony Swarzak. It marked the Royals’ first three-homer game since a 6-2 victory on May 9 at Baltimore.
Minnesota answered immediately when Clete Thomas crushed Shields’ first pitch in the bottom of the inning -- a 410-foot bomb to right. The lead was down to 7-3.
Hosmer’s second homer, also against Swarzak, extended the lead to 9-3 in the seventh inning. So where’s this offense been this season on nearly every other night?
“There’s no rhyme or reason why it’s been few and far between,” Butler said. “But it’s good to do it because you know it’s in the tank. It’s great to have a night like that for Shieldsy.”