Alex Rios maintains a quizzical expression when he stands at the plate, as if the opposing pitcher is a puzzle to be solved. In the fourth inning of a 6-4 Royals victory on Saturday he squinted toward the mound, where one of baseball’s great conundrums loomed. Rios tapped his left foot as he peered at Los Angeles Angels starter Jered Weaver.
Weaver hurls his 6-7 frame off the mound with each offering. His crossfire delivery deceives hitters. No longer can be he generate notable fastball velocity, but he continues to confound. In his first at-bat of the night, Rios grounded into a double play. He was the first Royal to actually put a ball in play against Weaver.
Their second encounter, manager Ned Yost would say later, was “the difference in the game.” With the game tied, Weaver fired an 83-mph fastball. Rios did what he has done often in his brief career as a Royal. He smoked a two-run single to left field, a critical, inning-extending hit that allowed the Royals to overrun Weaver and the Angels to extend their unbeaten streak to five games.
“Every night, we go all out,” Rios said. “We’re doing what we have to do to win, and playing smart baseball. If we continue doing that, we’re going to have success. So far, it’s been impressive.”
The Royals (5-0) erupted after spending three innings in offensive doldrums. Mike Moustakas opened the deluge with a solo home run, his team’s first hit of the game. Salvador Perez closed the barrage when he blasted a two-run shot. The Royals have now hit eight home runs this season, a year after managing only 95 homers in 162 games.
Weaver would not last long. He entered the fourth inning with a budding bid for a no-hitter. He exited with one out in the fifth and two runners on base. Kendrys Morales brought one of those men home with an RBI double and further sullied Weaver’s line. Kansas City dented him for six runs in all.
The lead allowed Jeremy Guthrie to attack the strike zone without fear. The Angels did not go quietly. Guthrie absorbed a three-run salvo in the fifth, comprised of a two-run double by Kole Calhoun and an RBI single by Mike Trout. Guthrie regrouped to ground out Albert Pujols, who represented the tying run, to escape.
“The pitch I got him out with wasn’t a great pitch,” Guthrie said. “It was a slider that hung in the middle of the plate. But he just topped it over to Moose.”
Yost stuck with Guthrie (1-0, 5.14 ERA) through the next two innings. Guthrie did not allow a runner to reach base in the sixth or the seventh. Wade Davis and Greg Holland handled the final two frames. The Kansas City bullpen has yet to allow a run in 13 innings this season.
“Any time you start the season 5-0, you’re very happy about it,” Yost said. “We’re playing very good baseball right now. We’re pitching well. Our bullpen’s been dynamite. Our defense’s been spectacular – it was again tonight. Clutch hitting, power hitting. We’re doing it all.”
The opening was not auspicious. For his second pitch of the season, Guthrie chose a 91-mph fastball. Salvador Perez positioned his glove down and away. The pitch rose up toward Calhoun’s belt and drifted over the heart of the plate. Calhoun parked a solo homer just out of Lorenzo Cain’s reach at the center-field wall.
Guthrie found a rhythm soon after. He did not allow another Angel to reach third base until the fifth.
Trailing by a run, the Royals broke Weaver’s spell with brute force. Moustakas hammered a fastball about 10 rows deep in the seats high above right-center field. Eric Hosmer followed with a walk and Morales doubled. The stage was set for Rios.
His hit landed in left field, where Matt Joyce attempted to throw home. Morales executed an awkward, but effective, slide. Rios took second base.
Perez was the next batter. Weaver tried to defuse him with three consecutive changeups. Perez swung through the first two. He did not miss the third. The lead was safe.
“We’re going to play hard, everywhere we go play,” Perez said. “No matter who’s pitching, no matter what team, we’re going to play hard. And we’re going to do what it takes to win the game.”