For seven innings Tuesday night, the Royals played to their most infuriating form by threatening to waste a shutdown effort from James Shields by squandering a bushel of scoring opportunities.
That all changed in a five-run eighth inning that produced a 6-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins on a steamy night at Target Field. That makes three straight victories since the Royals ended a seven-game slide.
Alex Gordon’s three-run double capped the uprising, which included a bloop RBI single by Chris Getz, and a bunt single by Jarrod Dyson with the bases loaded.
“There are games like that,” Dyson said, “but you’ve got to fight through it. We fight through everything. We’ve been through ups and downs, and we know how to get over the hump.”
It all rewarded Shields, who climbed above .500 for the first time as a Royal at 9-8 by limiting the Twins to one run and four hits in 71/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked four in a 114-pitch outing.
“I’m happy with (getting over .500),” he admitted, “but I feel I’ve got a ton of quality starts this year (22 in 29 starts). I’ve felt I’ve been pitching well all year.
“The (personal) wins are going to come. I’m really not too worried about it. As long as we win the game, I’m good to go.”
Will Smith stranded runners at second and third after replacing Shields in the eighth by striking out Chris Herrmann and Justin Morneau for his first career hold. Kelvin Herrera closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth.
The victory boosted the Royals to 67-64, but they remained seven games behind Oakland in the race for the American League’s final wild-card postseason berth.
Minnesota starter Kevin Correia worked seven scoreless innings, while throwing 118 pitches, by getting outs when he needed them.
“Correia did a phenomenal job,” Shields said. “He had a bunch of jams and got out of them. When your (opponent is) throwing up zeroes like that, you’ve got to go out there and compete with them.”
The Royals were one for 10 with runners in scoring position against Correia, with the one hit coming on an infield single with runners at first and second. He allowed six hits, struck out seven and walked two.
“We swung the bats really well,” manager Ned Yost argued. “We had opportunities, but we made a lot of hard outs. We just couldn’t find a hole.”
Everything changed in the eighth after Salvy Perez punched a one-out single up the middle against Jared Burton, who replaced Correia to start the inning.
A single by David Lough through the right side moved Perez to third. After Lough stole second, Getz sent a soft looper into right that fell for an RBI single and a 1-0 lead.
“That was close,” Perez said. “I stayed close to the base. If he had caught that ball, I was going to go. But it was a base hit, so it was easy.”
Lough held up to ensure the ball dropped and only reached third. Getz stole second — on a pitchout — when catcher Ryan Doumit chose not to throw through with Lough on third.
The Twins shortened their infield with one out and runners at second and third, but it mattered little when Burton, 2-8, loaded the bases by walking Alcides Escobar.
Minnesota manager Ron Gardenhire summoned lefty Caleb Thielbar to face Dyson, who put down a bunt that turned into a RBI single.
“I said (to myself), ‘My best chance right here is to go with the bunt,’” Dyson said. “Worst-case scenario, we still have bases loaded with two outs. I was bunting on the first heater. I wasn’t going to waste time.”
Doumit fielded the ball up the third-base line, but Lough was already past him. The Royals led 2-0 and still had the bases loaded with one out.
“It wasn’t that close,” Lough said. “It wasn’t a big juke to go around him.”
Gordon then pulled a 2-0 fastball into the right-field corner that cleared the bases, although the Twins did nail his bid to turn a double into a triple.
Still, it was 5-0.
The Twins didn’t go quietly.
They had only one hit until Trevor Plouffe opened the eighth with an infield single. Clete Thomas followed with a single into center. Plouffe took third when a pitch got away from Perez, who threw out Thomas at second.
That out looked bigger when Shields walked Pedro Florimon — and bigger still when Brian Dozier drove an RBI double to deep left.
In came Smith with one out and runners at second and third. He struck out Herrmann on three pitches, and Morneau on four pitches.
“Will, with that slider,” Perez said, “the lefties have no chance against him.”
The Royals got that run back when Billy Butler led off the ninth with a homer against Ryan Pressly on a 377-foot drive to right.
So it all worked out.
“We cracked it open that (eighth) inning,” Dyson said. “That was big for Shields. I thought he was going to go CG (complete game). He pitched a great game. One hit going into eighth? That’s good enough if we get him some runs.”