These Royals are nothing if not resilient. A bad May, followed by a solid early June. Bad stumble prior to the All-Star break, big surge thereafter. Seven-game skid in late August, then another surge.
Now this: One day after a crushing loss in the series opener, the Royals rebounded Tuesday with a 6-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians that once again resuscitated their postseason hopes.
“We’re excited,” said pitcher Jeremy Guthrie, who rode strong defense through six solid innings. “We know there are teams ahead of us. Ultimately, if we win games, we have a chance. If we don’t, we don’t.
“The scoreboard-watching makes it fun, but we know we have to win a lot of games. We have to win every series and, maybe if we can, strive for a sweep in one of the series we have remaining to give ourselves a chance.”
Tuesday offered lots of contributors. Alcides Escobar hit his first homer since April 28 and delivered another key RBI single that blunted a Cleveland comeback. Mike Moustakas broke a zero-for-16 skid with a two-run double.
And Luke Hochevar struck out five straight batters in a magnificent outing that picked up an ineffective Kelvin Herrera before Greg Holland closed out the victory for his 41st save.
Hochevar stranded two runners by striking out two in the seventh, and then struck out the side in the eighth inning while lowering his ERA to 1.70.
“That’s as good as it gets right there,” manager Ned Yost said. “He’s been unbelievably good for us. Going back six or two months … I hate to use the word dominant, but he’s borderline dominant every time he comes out.”
The victory came one night after the Royals squandered a ninth-inning opportunity in a 4-3 loss, and it snapped a six-game losing streak at Progressive Field.
“We’ve definitely had some tough games here,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “We’ve been on the losing side of some tough games. I think Hoch did a great job of coming in and stopping it for those two innings.”
The Royals, 76-69, moved to within three games of Tampa Bay in the battle for the American League’s final wild-card berth. Three other clubs — Baltimore, Cleveland and New York — are between the Royals and Rays.
“Every game we’ve played for the past month or so has been a playoff feel,” Moustakas said. “We go out every night with the mind-set of winning at all costs, no matter what happens.”
Guthrie, 14-10, yielded one run in the first inning but nothing further in a 99-pitch outing before handing a 5-1 lead to Herrera to start the seventh inning.
“We seemed like we were one big hit from doing some damage,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “but we didn’t do damage.”
Guthrie allowed nine hits but benefited from three double plays while striking out two and walking none.
“It certainly was a grind,” he said. “They had base-runners every inning, and I put a lot of pressure on our defense to make big plays.”
The Indians quickly put Herrera in a first-and-third jam with one out on singles by Yan Gomes and Lonnie Chisenhall.
Herrera was checked twice for a small cut on the middle finger of his pitching hand but remained in the game — and then surrendered a two-run double to Michael Bourn that cut the lead to 5-3.
In came Hochevar, who struck out Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis.
The Royals got one run back in the eighth after David Lough pulled a one-out triple past first into the right-field corner. Escobar followed by driving an RBI single through the left side of a shortened infield.
Hochevar then struck out the side in the eighth, which got the game to Holland, who retired three straight batters.
“Hoch getting it to Greg,” Hosmer said, “it’s a deep breath knowing Greg is coming in with three runs (to work with).”
It was Hosmer who started a decisive three-run sixth inning by drawing a leadoff walk against Cleveland starter Zach McAllister. A double by Billy Butler into the left-field corner moved Hosmer to third with no outs.
Moustakas then delivered his first hit since his walk-off homer last Thursday against Seattle by yanking a two-run double into the right-field corner.
When Salvy Perez followed with an RBI single into center, the Royals had a 4-1 lead, and the Indians brought in Nick Hagadone, who retired the next three hitters.
The Royals added another run in the seventh after putting runners at first and third with one out on infield singles by Gordon and Hosmer. Again, the Indians went to the bullpen, this time for C.C. Lee.
Butler extended the lead to 5-1 with a sacrifice fly to right.
McAllister, 7-9, allowed four runs and six hits in five-plus innings.
The Indians nicked Guthrie for a run in the first inning by bunching two-out singles by Kipnis, Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley.
It stayed 1-0 until Escobar crushed a full-count fastball for a one-out homer in the fifth inning — an estimated 417 feet worth of crush and his first homer in 468 at-bats.
“When I went to the plate,” he said, “I just wanted to put the ball in play and get a base-hit. But I hit that ball good, and the ball was gone.”
It also got the Royals turned around and headed in the right direction.
“We’re sniffing it,” Hochevar said. “That’s what makes it fun. That’s when you wake up in the morning and can’t wait to get to the ballpark, and you want to start the game right away.”
Perfect. Wednesday’s series finale starts at 11:05 a.m. Central time.