Remember those words from general manager Dayton Moore, roughly a week ago, about believing the Royals can mount a push after returning from the All-Star break?
Well, the Royals, with Thursday’s 7-1 victory over the Baltimore Orioles, closed out a 5-2 homestand at Kauffman Stadium against two clubs that, if the season ended today, would be in the postseason.
“It was a good homestand,” said left fielder Alex Gordon, who drove in two runs. “It’s just too bad we finished the All-Star break like we did (with three losses in Cleveland).
“But this definitely helped. We knew we had to do this. Hopefully, we can carry this over to this long road trip.”
The Royals, at 48-51, are now within arm’s reach of .500 as they head out on a nine-game trip to face some of the game’s lesser powers: the White Sox, Twins and Mets.
“Now we have a more favorable stretch, they say,” designated hitter Billy Butler agreed. “But those are big-league teams that we’re playing every night. We just want to play the same way we’re playing right now.
“If we do that, it should be fun.”
This was fun: The Royals put together a balanced 10-hit attack that struck for two runs in the first inning against Baltimore starter Miguel Gonzalez. They added one in the second before taking control with a three-run fifth.
Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie, an Oriole from 2007-11, held his former club to one run and six hits in six innings before handing a 6-1 lead to Aaron Crow, who worked around a two-on, one-out jam in the seventh.
“A lot of people asked me about the Royals over the break,” Guthrie said. “I said we need to win five of seven or we’d be in big trouble. I thought about that (Wednesday) night.
“We need to continue to win series, like we’ve done these first seven games. There’s a whole lot more to go, but coming out the break it was important to do well against them.”
Butler closed the scoring, and extended the lead to 7-1, with a one-out homer later in the inning against new Orioles reliever Francisco Rodriguez.
Kelvin Herrera and Louis Coleman followed Crow and closed out the victory, which enabled the Royals to win for the third time in four games against the Orioles after winning two of three from Detroit.
Gonzalez fell to 8-4 in what, statistically, was his worst start of the season: six runs and eight hits in just 42/3 innings.
“By the look of it, everybody’s probably going to be saying that, but I thought I felt pretty good out there,” he said. “I just left a couple baseballs up and guys took advantage of it.”
The victory meant the Royals went 10-10 in a 20-game stretch against clubs with winning records. They trail first-place Detroit by seven games but still have 11 games left against the Tigers.
“I’d like to see another team go through the stretch we just did and see how they’d pan out,” Butler said.
The Royals jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first inning after Butler chopped a two-out double just inside the first-base line into the right-field corner.
Salvy Perez followed with another chopper, this one up the middle for a single to center. An online throw by Adam Jones probably whould have gotten Butler at the plate, but Jones overthrew catcher Matt Wieters.
Jones went to second on the throw and scored on David Lough’s RBI single to right.
Guthrie began the second by walking Jones, who went to third on Wieters’ one-out single up the middle. Shortstop Alcides Escobar saved a run with a leaping catch on J.J. Hardy’s liner before Henry Urrutia struck out.
The Royals added another run in the second inning after Chris Getz slashed a one-out double past third and moved up on Jarrod Dyson’s bunt single. Alex Gordon’s sacrifice fly to center made it 3-0.
Brian Roberts opened the Baltimore third with a single to right, but Getz turned Manny Machado’s one-out liner into an double play with a leaping catch and quick throw to first.
The Orioles scored their only run after Lough tried for a diving catch on Urrutia’s sinking two-out liner in the fifth. The ball skipped past Lough for a triple, which turned into a run when Roberts doubled to center.
Guthrie escaped further damage when Gordon made a diving catch on Nate McLouth’s sinking liner to left. Replays suggested Gordon had trapped the ball, and Orioles manager Buck Showalter protested, but the call stood.
“Until we get the replay down,” Showalter said, “and they figure out a way to get those right in the future, it’s part of (the game). … That’s far from what the game was about.”
Gordon said: “It hit my glove, and when that happens, you kind of just see the ball. I came up and showed him. So I thought I caught it.”
Ruling it a catch saved at least one run, and it was a key play at the time — but less so after the Royals answered with three runs in their fifth.
Dyson led off with a single to left, and Gordon followed with an RBI triple to right. Eric Hosmer punched a bad-hop RBI single past Hardy, the reigning Gold Glove shortstop.
Lefty Troy Patton replaced Gonzalez with two outs and runner on third — and yielded an RBI single to Lough that made it 6-1.
“We played good baseball,” Butler said. “Definitely the start of the series (a 9-2 loss) wasn’t what we wanted, but the last three was how we scripted it up.”