On this night, in the wake of an 8-2 demolition of the Indians, the only thing Royals designated hitter Billy Butler could lament was the wind. The blustery elements conspired against his scalded blast in the fifth inning, turning what could have been his first home run of the season into a mere RBI double.
Butler was not complaining. There was no reason. The elements clicked into place for the Royals on Tuesday night at Progressive Field. Mike Moustakas crushed a three-run homer, Eric Hosmer notched four hits and scored thrice, James Shields provided his fourth quality start of the season and Danny Duffy spun two more scoreless relief innings.
“We were the whole package tonight,” Butler said. “It’s what we need to do more of.”
The Royals (10-9) retained their perfect record, 10-0, when they score at least four runs. For manager Ned Yost, the more impressive outcome on Tuesday was the team’s relentlessness. They chased Indians starter Danny Salazar in the fifth, and spent the rest of the night hammering at Cleveland’s bullpen.
The Indians taxed Shields (2-2, 1.91 ERA) during his six innings. He struck out nine, but sounded weary afterward. He sank into his chair in the clubhouse with a heavy sigh. “These guys put together some unbelievable at-bats,” Shields said. “Those (strikeouts) weren’t easy.”
Heading into Tuesday’s game, the Royals had one of the worst offenses in baseball. They entered the day ranked 26th in runs, 26th in on-base plus slugging percentage and last in home runs.
The power outage was the reason behind the team’s 9-9 start, general manager Dayton Moore admitted. But it also sustained his belief in his team’s talent.
“Of course, it’s been a little frustrating,” Moore said. “It’s frustrating for the players. But … we’re not really panicking.”
When a team runs on all cylinders, Moore explained, they excel in all phases of the game. The Royals had yet to experience that type of success. But their record was still reasonable.
“If your team is not producing offensively, or in the starting rotation, if you have a good team, you’re playing about .500,” he said. “If you have a bad team, you’re well below. We are where right now because of how we’ve performed offensively. I’m not disappointed. And I’m not really concerned.”
Yost echoed that sentiment. “We’ll catch on fire,” he said before the game.
The onslaught began with Hosmer and Butler. They notched ground ball singles in the fourth. With two out, Moustakas stepped in against Salazar, who had tormented the Royals with his splitter through three. Facing Moustakas, he hung a belt-high breaking ball. Moustakas vaporized it into the Royals bullpen in right field.
“That swing just loosened everybody up,” Hosmer said. “It was kind of an exhale for the offense. It got us going.”
Alcides Escobar followed that blast by singling, stealing second base and taking third on an error. He scored on a bunt single by Jarrod Dyson. It was the 180-degree inverse of Moustakas’ homer, the sort of manufactured run that this team hopes its bottom of the order can produce.
The Royals expect more pop from the middle of their order. Neither Hosmer nor Butler has swatted a homer yet. Each came close in the fifth. Hosmer smoked a double off the wall in center. Butler topped that, uncorking a drive that appeared close enough to touch the wall in center. Instead, the ball ticked off center fielder Michael Bourn’s glove and Hosmer raced home.
Yost shook his head when asked about his team’s inability to display power for much of this month. He believes in his team’s pedigree. “The offense is just too good,” he said, to not expect the hitters to deliver. Even if the home runs have yet to soar, the Royals flashed their offense potential on Tuesday.
“I think any of us would trade home runs for wins,” Moustakas said. “We’re playing great baseball right now as a team without home runs. When those start coming, hopefully we’ll continue to play the same way.”