Royals

Mike Moustakas hits homer, Edinson Volquez goes long as Royals down Pirates 5-1

Mike Moustakas celebrated as he rounded the bases after hitting a three-run home run in the seventh inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals beat the Pirates 5-1 to win the three-game interleague series two games to one.
Mike Moustakas celebrated as he rounded the bases after hitting a three-run home run in the seventh inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals beat the Pirates 5-1 to win the three-game interleague series two games to one. JSLEEZER@KCSTAR.COM

The situation suggested caution: Three balls and no strikes, two outs, Kansas City striving to increase a one-run lead over Pittsburgh. But the pitch demanded punishment: A waist-high, 92-mph fastball, the sort of medium-temperature heater that floats through the dreams of players like Mike Moustakas.

“His eyes lit up when he saw the go-ahead-and-swing sign,” manager Ned Yost said.

Moustakas could not resist. In a 5-1 victory, the Royals did not complain. Moustakas ripped a three-run shot off Pirates starter Charlie Morton, the definitive stroke in a series-clinching victory. He rounded the bases with his head down as Kauffman Stadium erupted.

The applause was sustained and deserved, a tribute to a team that refuses to bend to the weight of injuries or external competition. The Royals (57-36) upped their record to a season’s best 21 games over .500. They bested a formidable opponent in the Pirates, who entered this series with the third-best record in baseball. The Royals have won five of seven games to start the second half of the season.

“We’ve been playing pretty good baseball and we’ve been finding ways to win,” Moustakas said.

The homer by Moustakas was his 10th of the season, and it provided a cushion for starter Edinson Volquez. Volquez (9-5, 3.15 ERA) combined efficiency with dominance on Wednesday. He struck out eight Pirates across 7 2/3 innings. He gave up just one run.

Kansas City required excellence from Volquez. The offense lay dormant until the seventh. A few moments before Moustakas went deep, the club manufactured the go-ahead run thanks to a rare walk by Salvador Perez, a single by Alex Rios and a well-placed sacrifice by Jarrod Dyson.

“We just kept holding the fort, holding the fort — until we could knock the door down,” Yost said.

Perez was erased by a groundout by Omar Infante. But Rios drove Infante to third as he continued his July surge. It was up to Dyson.

The scenario resembled one from the night before, only it occurred an inning earlier. On Tuesday, Dyson dropped a two-run, broken-bat single into right field. This time, he squeezed a bunt down the first-base line. Charging forward was infielder Travis Ishikawa, but Infante beat the tag.

Dyson called for the bunt on his own. He figured Morton would attack him low in the zone, searching for a ground ball, and not let him try to hit a sacrifice fly. So Dyson countered. “Best chance is to just lay one down,” Dyson said.

The Pirates challenged the call. The review lasted two minutes and 22 seconds, but the outcome did not change. A sellout crowd of 39,105 greeted the news kindly. It was the third consecutive sellout here.

Drama colored the first two nights of this series. Pittsburgh captured a rollicking, 10-7 decisionon Monday. Kansas City lost starter Jason Vargas in Tuesday’s second inning, but still nipped budding phenom Gerrit Cole in a 3-1 victory.

Volquez faced his old team on Wednesday. The Pirates took a chance on Volquez in 2014. He had been cut by San Diego midway through the previous season. He vexed his employers with his inability to throw strikes. He was, in essence, a reclamation project.

The experiment worked. Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage counseled Volquez to hunt for groundouts instead of strikeouts. Volquez streamlined his mechanics and adjusted his delivery to curb a defect that he believed caused him to tip his pitches to hitters. The alterations led to a 3.04 ERA for Pittsburgh and a two-year, $20 million contract with Kansas City in the winter.

Volquez has replicated that production thus far for the Royals, but on occasion he still issues ill-timed walks. In the third inning he gave a leadoff free pass to outfielder Jaff Decker, a rookie with a career .147 batting average playing in his second big-league game in 2015. Decker scored three batters later on a sacrifice fly by second baseman Neil Walker.

Hosmer erased the deficit in the fourth. Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton had kept the Royals scoreless to that point. The lone sizable blemish on his ledger was a first-inning double by Lorenzo Cain. Hosmer delivered Kansas City’s first run.

Morton tested Hosmer inside with fastballs. He missed twice, and gave in with a 2-1 heater. Hosmer obliterated the pitch, driving it an estimated 432 feet into the right-field stands. He went deep for the first time since June 19 and the second time since May 14.

“I feel like I’m in a good place right now,” Hosmer said. “That’s the good thing about this offense. It’s been someone different pretty much every night. Guys are getting hot at the right times.”

Kendrys Morales followed Hosmer with a double. But Salvador Perez and Omar Infante left him on the bases. The Royals did not record another hit until Hosmer doubled in the sixth. He, too, was stranded.

When the day began, Kansas City lacked a long reliever. Joe Blanton had exhausted himself the night before after Vargas left. Volquez was up to the challenge. He wanted to pitch a complete game. When Yost came to get him after two hits in the eighth, Volquez lamented his inability to finish. Yost told him to soak in the standing ovation from the crowd instead.

“That was really great,” Volquez said. “Every day you come to the ballpark, you get to see about 39,000 people in the stands. They give a lot of support to the team. They really love it.”

The Pirates appeared unable to lift Volquez’s heavy sinker into the air. He alternated between strikeouts and groundouts. He fanned former National League MVP Andrew McCutchen with a 96-mph fastball in the fifth. A changeup punched out rookie Jung-Ho Kang in the sixth. Volquez recorded strikeout No. 8 when the combination of his changeup and curveball overmatched shortstop Pedro Florimon.

“I got strikeouts when I needed to,” Volquez said. “Why not? You’ve got to take chances. Sometimes you have to.”

The group packed for a one-day road trip, a makeup game with the Cardinals at Busch Stadium. The matchup pits the two best clubs in baseball. During these three games against Pittsburgh, the Royals believe they showed the full complement of their arsenal.

“We’re a real, solid, fundamental team,” Yost said. “We can find different ways to beat you. One day it may be defense. One day it may be bullpen. One day it may be starting pitching. It could be offense. But that’s the makeup of a good team. They can beat you in numerous ways.”

To reach Andy McCullough, call 816-234-4730 or send email to rmccullough@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter @McCulloughStar. Download True Blue, The Star’s free Royals app, here.


Royals 5, Pirates 1

Pittsburgh

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Polanco rf

4

0

1

0

0

1

.241

Walker 2b

3

0

1

1

0

0

.272

McCutchn dh

4

0

1

0

0

2

.290

Marte cf

4

0

3

0

0

0

.289

Kang 3b

4

0

2

0

0

1

.286

Ishikawa 1b

4

0

0

0

0

3

.179

Stewart c

4

0

0

0

0

0

.291

Decker lf

3

1

0

0

1

1

.167

Florimn ss

3

0

0

0

0

2

.000

Totals

33

1

8

1

1

10

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Escobar ss

4

0

0

0

0

1

.292

Moustakas 3b

4

1

1

3

0

1

.296

Cain cf

4

0

1

0

0

1

.315

Hosmer 1b

3

1

2

1

0

0

.301

Morales dh

4

0

2

0

0

1

.281

Perez c

3

0

1

0

1

0

.254

Infante 2b

4

1

0

0

0

2

.231

Rios rf

4

1

1

0

0

1

.255

Dyson lf

2

1

1

1

0

0

.264

Totals

32

5

9

5

1

7

Pittsburgh

001

000

000

1

8

0

Kansas City

000

100

40x

5

9

0

LOB: Pittsburgh 7, Kansas City 6. 2B: G.Polanco (19), L.Cain (22), Hosmer (19), K.Morales (24), S.Perez (14). HR: Hosmer (9), off Morton; Moustakas (10), off Morton. RBIs: N.Walker (37), Moustakas 3 (39), Hosmer (49), J.Dyson (12). SF: N.Walker.

Runners left in scoring position: Pittsburgh 4 (Stewart, McCutchen, Decker, Kang); Kansas City 5 (K.Morales 2, Infante, Rios 2). RISP: Pittsburgh 0 for 7; Kansas City 2 for 9. GIDP: Stewart, A.Escobar. DP: Pittsburgh 1 (Kang, N.Walker, Ishikawa); Kansas City 1 (Infante, A.Escobar, Hosmer).

Pittsburgh

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

NP

ERA

Morton L, 6-4

6.2

7

5

5

1

4

95

4.59

Bastardo

0.1

0

0

0

0

1

5

4.03

Guerra

1

2

0

0

0

2

19

2.08

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

NP

ERA

Volquez W, 9-5

7.2

8

1

1

1

8

97

3.15

W.Davis

0.1

0

0

0

0

0

4

0.43

Madson

1

0

0

0

0

2

11

1.82

Holds: Davis (15). Inherited runners-scored: W.Davis 2-0. HBP: by Morton (Hosmer, J.Dyson).

Umpires: Home, Tony Randazzo; First, Will Little; Second, Phil Cuzzi; Third, Gerry Davis. Time: 2:39. Att: 39,105.

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