His left leg aching after absorbing yet another foul tip, Alcides Escobar limped into the Royals clubhouse, a boisterous room that had settled down more than an hour after a 6-1 victory over the Twins. Escobar played a critical role in the triumph: He ripped a two-run double to open the scoring, and repeated the feat to bookend his night.
At the site of this month’s All-Star Game, Escobar offered a reminder why he should be considered for selection. The fans vote belongs to Yankees star Derek Jeter. Escobar’s hopes belong in the hands of his peers, should the players vote him ahead of contenders like Chicago’s Alexei Ramirez or Los Angeles’ Erick Aybar.
The odds are long, but Escobar still yearns for an opportunity to return to this park on July 15.
“I want to go,” Escobar said. “Maybe. I have a chance.”
On Monday night, Escobar matched a career high with four RBIs. He inflated his on-base plus slugging percentage to a career-high .747. After spending last season as the worst everyday hitter in baseball, Escobar looks reborn in the eyes of those around him.
“This is the best year of his career,” manager Ned Yost said. “Because he’s much more focused. He’s much more in tune with the game. He’s just having a great year.”
The exclamation point from Escobar fell in the eighth inning. After a tense few frames, the last innings were a waltz. At the outset of a pivotal, nine-game road trip, the Royals, 43-39, received 3 1/3 scoreless innings from their resourceful relief corps. Kelvin Herrera defused a jam created by lefty Francisley Bueno in the seventh and Aaron Crow protected the line of starter Danny Duffy in the sixth.
Thus the Royals won at Target Field for the first time this season. Duffy did not author a glorious finish, but completed the finest month of his major-league career on Monday. He allowed a lone run in 5 2/3 innings of work, a modest accomplishment during a stretch studded with more impressive outings. He yielded seven earned runs in 37 1/3 innings in June, which translates to a 1.69 ERA.
“I’m starting to feel my feet under me out there,” Duffy said.
Duffy, 5-7 with a 2.60 ERA, sailed through the first four innings, but his jaunt hit a snag in the sixth. He still limited Minnesota to a quartet of hits. Escobar opened the scoring in the second, and Salvador Perez contributed his 10th home run of the season. It was enough to grant Duffy the victory.
He faced Yohan Pino, a 30-year-old Venezuelan with an 89-mph fastball and 10 years of minor-league experience. Pino made the third big-league start of his career on Monday, and the Royals tagged him for two runs in the second inning.
Perez ripped a single to center, and Mike Moustakas accepted a two-out walk on four pitches. Up came Escobar. Pino fed him an 88-mph fastball, over the middle and at the thighs. Escobar banged the pitch off the right-field fence and stood alone on the bases at second.
“I’ve got a lot of patience right now,” Escobar said. “It’s going great.”
The next double occurred two innings later. Alex Gordon laced a harmless change-up past the dive of right fielder Chris Parmelee. Omar Infante plated him two batters later. Infante outlasted Pino during a nine-pitch duel. He ended the encounter with a single to left.
Duffy held them at bay until the fifth. Minnesota enacted a brief flurry. Parmelee hammered a waist-high fastball for a double. Eduard Nunez lined a single into left to bring home a run.
Perez recouped the tally in the sixth. He hammered another one of those 88-mph fastballs, and the baseball landed on the railing just past the fence in left-center field.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Perez said. “I’m seeing some good pitches. I’m trying to help the team, 100 percent. And that works a lot.”
In the bottom of the frame, Duffy stumbled again. Kurt Suzuki ripped a single. Mauer walked on four pitches. Duffy managed to get Josh Willingham on a fly-out and Morales on a ground-out, but his pitch count reached 96. Yost had seen enough. He called upon Crow for the inning’s final out.
With two men in scoring position, Crow completed his task. He tied up Trevor Plouffe with an inside slider at the knees, and Plouffe popped up to center field.
The lead was safe. But Escobar made it easier in the eighth. Perhaps he can experience another moment at this park in a couple weeks.
“I want to come here,” Escobar said.