This wasn’t drama to rival the Mendy Lopez/Carlos Beltran miracle comeback in 2004, but, hey, it still wasn’t bad Monday when the Royals opened their home schedule by rallying for a 3-1 victory over Minnesota.
“I’ll keep saying this,” designated hitter Billy Butler said, “with the starting pitching that we’ve had, that we’ve shown through the start of this season, it’s going to be fun.
“With our pitching, our offense still has a chance to get started late. We’re not trying to wait that long, but it gives you a bunch of confidence that you’re going to have a lot of chances to win the ballgame.”
Ervin Santana provided that opportunity by rallying from a shaky start and limiting the Twins to one run in eight innings. And then, finally, the Royals stirred to life in the eighth inning against Minnesota righty Kevin Correia.
“The hitters really didn’t do their job early on,” left fielder Alex Gordon said, “but Erv did. He was great for our team. That’s what we’re hoping our rotation is going to do, to keep us in ballgames.
“Thankfully, he stayed in there for eight innings, and we got him the win.”
Blanked by Correia for seven innings, the Royals struck for three runs in the eighth after Lorenzo Cain led off with a double into the right-center gap.
“Correia did a good job of keeping us on top of the ball,” manager Ned Yost said. “We just kept driving it into the ground. He rolled us into three double plays. We just couldn’t get a ball up.”
Cain’s double turned the sellout crowd of 40,073 at Kauffman Stadium into a blue tornado. Cain moved to third on a sacrifice by Chris Getz before Gordon drove a RBI single through a shortened infield.
“I thought it was just like the All-Star Game,” Butler said. “When Lorenzo got that hit in the eighth inning, that place erupted. Then Getzie got him over, and Gordo got him in. That crowd gave us all kinds of confidence.”
That also set up the game’s turning point when Yost called for a hit-and-run play with Alcides Escobar at the plate.
“Ned kept saying, `We need to get something going,’ ” Gordon said. “He kept telling us that if someone gets on, we’re going to hit-and-run. But no one was getting on.
“Then finally, I got on first, and he wanted to get something going with Esky, who handles the bat pretty well.”
Escobar sliced a pitch into the right-field corner.
“I was trying to put the ball in play to the right side,” he said. “Just a ground ball to second base. But I swung and boom. That was a good double, man.”
Gordon scored easily.
That finished Correia, who was a ground-ball machine for much of the day. He gave up three runs and eight hits in 7 1/3 innings.
Jared Burton came in to face Butler and threw a wild pitch on an 0-2 count that moved Escobar to third. Again, the Twins shortened their infield; again it didn’t work.
Butler blooped a single into short right for a 3-1 lead.
Jarrod Dyson replaced Butler and, of course, tried to steal second. Twins shortstop Pedro Florimon, inadvertently or not, blocked the base with his leg and got spiked. And umpire Brian O’Nora called Dyson out, which drew squawks from Dyson and Yost. Replays suggested they might have had a point.
Turned out it didn’t matter because, for the first time in three days, the Royals’ bullpen didn’t brew up a batch of ninth-inning anxiety. (Nothing like the two previous days in Philadelphia, anyway.)
Aaron Crow drew the ninth inning because the Royals used both Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland in those two games against the Phillies. Crow worked around a one-out walk in closing out Santana’s victory.
“It was awesome,” Crow said, “and especially since it was opening day. I grew up watching the Royals, and I always dreamed of being out there on that mound. I was fortunate enough to go out and get the job done today.”
Yep, not bad.
A lot better than last year, when the Cleveland Indians mauled Luke Hochevar for seven runs in the first inning of the Royals’ home opener. That turned into an 8-3 loss that was No. 2 in the infamous April dozen.
“Yeah, just a little bit,” right fielder Jeff Francoeur agreed. “This was a lot of fun. Santana was awesome, and we’ve got a deep lineup. With this combination, I like our chances.”
Santana, 1-1, went into lockdown mode after a shaky first inning. He gave up eight hits while striking out seven and walking one in a 104-pitch performance.
“I was a little excited (at the start),” he acknowledged. “I had good life on my fastball, but in the first inning, I was just a little bit up.”
Santana might have escaped unharmed if not for an Escobar miscue.
The Twins had runners at first and second after one-out singles by Joe Mauer and Josh Willingham when Justin Morneau hit a grounder to first.
Eric Hosmer threw to second for the force, but Escobar couldn’t get the ball out of his glove for the return throw to get the slow-running Morneau.
“I just bobbled it,” Escobar said. “I had plenty of time. If I throw it right away, it’s a double play.”
Minnesota cashed the opportunity when Ryan Doumit served a single into left. Trevor Plouffe followed with another single to left, but the Twins ran themselves out of the inning.
Morneau held at third, but Doumit rounded wide at second. Catcher Salvy Perez took the throw from Gordon, threw to second and got Doumit before he could scramble back.
Even so, that one run kept looking bigger as the innings unfolded as prelude to the eighth-inning comeback.
“If we win,” Perez said, “I don’t care about anything else. If we win, everything is perfect.”
This day was pretty close.