It was 99 degrees at first pitch, but it still took a few innings for the Royals’ bats to heat up Sunday in the rubber match of a three-game series with the division-leading Detroit Tigers at Kauffman Stadium.
But once they got going, the Royals backed Bruce Chen with a 10-hit attack, including three from Eric Hosmer, in a 5-2 win that pulled the Royals within 31/2 games of the second American League wild-card spot.
“We know we’re close and we’re going to come out here and keep fighting until the end,” said Hosmer, whose average ticked up to .302 with a three-for-four performance.
It was Hosmer’s majestic three-run home run in the fifth inning — a high-arching, 414-foot blast off Doug Fister — that brought the Royals back from an early two-run deficit.
“Every hack he takes right now, he’s real confident in the box and feels real good about his swing,” manager Ned Yost said. “He’s seeing the ball really, really well. He barreled that one up pretty good.”
Fister, who was handed a 2-0 lead on Jose Iglesias’ two-run home run in the third inning, wriggled out of a fourth-inning jam, giving back only one run.
Fister, 12-8, then retired the first two batters in the fifth before Alex Gordon reached on a sharp infield grounder, which popped out of a diving Victor Martinez’s glove.
Emilio Bonifacio followed by dumping a single into right field before Hosmer jacked a 2-2 fastball from Fister over the wall a few feet right of dead center for his 16th home run.
“He’s got that good life on his two-seam fastball and, with two strikes, he was getting a lot of our guys inside,” Hosmer said. “He’ll start it at you and try to freeze you. It’s one of those situations, with a couple guys on base, I had a feeling he was coming with it. I put a good swing on a change-up earlier, so I took a chance and fortunately enough it worked out.”
Meanwhile, Chen retired five of the Tigers’ first seven batters on fly balls before Alex Avila slapped an opposite-field single into left field ahead of Iglesias’ home run to left.
“He tried to get a pitch on the inside corner and it ran back to the middle for the two-run homer, but that was the only mistake he really made,” Yost said.
Chen, 7-2, turned in seven strong innings, scattering five hits without a walk and striking out four.
“I was pounding the strike zone and mixing all my pitches, throwing at different angles, but I have to give some credit to George Kottaras,” Chen said. “He really knows what we’re trying to do, and he calls a really good game.”
Chen, who was roughed up in a 6-3 loss Aug. 18 in Detroit, caught a break in the sixth.
Austin Jackson led off the inning with a double and was still at second when Miguel Cabrera chopped a one-out comebacker to Chen, who cut down Jackson trying to advance to third thanks to third baseman Mike Moustakas’ awkward across-his-body tag.
“Moose made a very athletic play,” said Chen, who then struck out Prince Fielder to end the sixth.
Setup man Kelvin Herrera worked a perfect eighth before passing the baton to Greg Holland, who worked around a two-out double by Prince Fielder for his 40th save in front of a crowd of 16,774.
“Forty saves puts you in the upper echelon,” Yost said. “Anything past 35 puts you in the upper echelon for me, but he’s one of the top closers in the game. His numbers bear that out.”
The Royals scratched out a run in the fourth when Bonifacio coaxed a one-out walk, moved to second on Hosmer’s single and scored when Billy Butler slashed an RBI single into left field.
An inning later, Hosmer smashed Fister’s 90 mph two-seam fastball over the fence.
The Royals tacked on an insurance run in the seventh when Jarrod Dyson led off with his third triple, a grounder down the right-field line, and scored two batters later as Gordon blooped a single in shallow right over a drawn-in infield.