Ned Yost strutted past a clubhouse table soaked in water, the residue of yet another Royals celebration. The team’s tell-tale strobe light pulsed, the players reveled in a 2-1 besting of the Tigers and outfielder Jarrod Dyson brushed gobs of foam from his hair.
“Shaving cream,” fellow outfielder Lorenzo Cain said from a seat nearby Dyson. “That’s what happens when you win 10 straight.”
The team’s first double-digit winning streak since 1994 also inspired other perks. Yost turned to shortstop Alcides Escobar, and asked when the second bus for Thursday’s game should depart the team hotel. Escobar suggested 10:30, a relatively late arrival. Yost beamed wide, and assented.
“Thank you, skip!” Escobar said, and his teammates echoed him, their laughter pealing off the walls off the visitors’ clubhouse at Comerica Park. This stadium was the setting Wednesday for a revival of the Royals’ initial winning formula. The result guaranteed that, no matter the outcome of Thursday’s series finale, the Royals, 39-32, will leave Detroit at the top of the American League Central.
During this spectacular streak, the offense has received the bulk of the credit. But their run prevention remains their calling card. After bludgeoning the Tigers for the first two games here, the Royals relied on finesse on Wednesday afternoon. Jeremy Guthrie fanned nine across 6 2/3 innings, and earned raves from his teammates.
“This could be the best game he’s thrown all year,” Yost said. “He was fabulous. Just fabulous.”
As usual, the defense was superb. Alex Gordon saved a run with a diving catch in the fourth. To pace the offense, Gordon drove in a run with a single that took a fortuitous bounce, and Omar Infante launched a solo homer.
The lead nearly crumbled in the seventh. Guthrie served up a solo homer to J.D. Martinez and a double to Nick Castellanos that collided with the top of the left-field wall. Yost called upon Kelvin Herrera to defuse the situation. Herrera caused outfielder Don Kelly to pop up, and Yost turned to Wade Davis and Greg Holland for the last two innings.
“Aside from a couple big balls there in the seventh inning, I thought we were in control for the most part,” Guthrie said.
Fortune smiled on the Royals in the first. Eric Hosmer sliced a single and later lumbered to second for his second stolen base of the season. With two outs, Gordon rolled a grounder up the middle. Rookie shortstop Eugenio Suarez squared himself to field it and then watched as the ball ricocheted off the bag. Hosmer scored, and Gordon received credit for a single.
“You make your own luck,” Gordon said. “I could have went up there and struck out. But luckily I put the ball in play.”
Gordon displayed his defensive prowess three innings later. Ian Kinsler led off with a single, and when Guthrie committed an error on a pickoff attempt, he became the first Tiger to reach second base. He would advance no further. Guthrie pumped a 93-mph fastball past Miguel Cabrera and then bested Victor Martinez with a 94-mph fastball down the middle.
Yet he still required some help from the American League’s pre-eminent left fielder, a winner of three consecutive Gold Gloves. When J.D. Martinez looped a fastball into the left-center gap, Gordon misjudged the ball and stepped backward. Then he rushed forward and sprawled on his stomach. He made the difficult appear academic. He rose to his feet with a grin.
“I’m not that fast,” Gordon said. “But I can turn it on when I want to.”
In Smyly, the Royals faced the youngest member of Detroit’s starting rotation. He fits into the back end of a group headlined by stars such as Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer.
Yet unlike Verlander and Scherzer, victims of the Royals’ blitz the first two nights here, Smyly pacified baseball’s hottest team. The Royals couldn’t get an extra-base hit until the fifth inning. The blow was a crucial one, though: Infante pulled a slider over the left-field fence.
Yost entrusted the lead to Guthrie and the bullpen. On May 11, Guthrie served up three home runs and seven runs total to Seattle. He felt the Mariners were too comfortable at the plate and vowed to challenge opponents inside more often. The results are hard to argue: In the seven starts since, he allowed only three long balls with a 2.85 ERA.
After Herrera bailed him out of the jam, Davis and Holland flourished. Pitching for the first time since Sunday, Davis struck out the side. Holland yielded a leadoff single to Cabrera and then mowed down the next three batters for his 21st save of the season.
Royals winning (and losing) streaks
Only three other Royals teams have won at least 10 consecutive games in a season. By contrast, the Royals have had eight 10-plus game losing streaks since the franchise began play in 1969, including a club-record 19-game skid in 2005.
Aug. 31-Sept. 15
July 23-Aug. 5