All that matters, really, is the Royals opened a four-game series Monday in the South Bronx with a 5-1 victory over the New York Yankees.
That should be enough — considering that victories have been remarkably tough to come by here at Yankee Stadium over the last two decades. But let’s also add this: It wasn’t as easy as that score might indicate.
“We’ll take it,” designated hitter Billy Butler said, “and move on.”
It got a little tense, even after the Royals struck for two runs in the ninth inning. Doing so seemed to provide some breathing space after they squandered a bushel of scoring opportunities, and after they withstood major comeback threats by the Yankees in the seventh and eighth innings.
“That’s what the Royals do,” manager Ned Yost deadpanned. “They play exciting baseball.”
The Royals, with a four-run lead, tried to close out the game with Luke Hochevar. But they went to Greg Holland after Lyle Overbay opened the New York ninth with a walk, and Luis Cruz followed with a single.
Holland yielded a single to Chris Stewart, which loaded the bases with no outs and got the tying run to the plate. Holland responded by going into lockdown mode: He struck out the next three batters.
“You sit at third base and you almost don’t do anything,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “It just shows you how nasty he is. He’s throwing 98 or 99 and then drops a slider on you. It’s lights out every time he comes in the game.”
Holland got his 21st save in 23 opportunities and secured a victory for Jeremy Guthrie, who improved to 8-6 by winning for the first time in five starts.
The Royals, 42-44, finished with a balanced 10-hit attack, which included a homer by Butler that opened the scoring in the second inning against New York starter Phil Hughes. Five different players drove in runs.
Guthrie survived a 59-minute rain delay in the fourth inning and carried a 3-0 lead into the seventh inning. He got two quick outs before Overbay crushed a 2-1 change-up for a pinch-hit homer in the seventh inning.
And that seemed to change everything.
Cruz followed with a single to left, which brought Ichiro Suzuki into the game as a pinch hitter for Alberto Gonzalez. Suzuki punched a single into center that moved Cruz to third.
When the Yankees sent up Eduardo Nunez to bat for Austin Romine, the Royals went to their bullpen for left-hander Tim Collins. Nunez jumped ahead 2-0 in the count before Collins battled back for a strikeout.
That closed Guthrie’s line at one run and six hits over 62/3 innings.
Collins found trouble in the eighth on a one-out single to Zoilo Almonte and a four-pitch walk to Robinson Cano.
Travis Hafner’s grounder to second resulted in a force at second, but Hafner kept the inning alive by beating the throw by Alcides Escobar on a bang-bang play.
That brought Aaron Crow into the game to face Vernon Wells with runners at first and third. Crow preserved the 3-1 lead by retiring Wells on a grounder to second.
David Lough ignited the two-run ninth with a leadoff single against Preston Claiborne. Lough moved to second on a sacrifice by Jarrod Dyson before Alex Gordon drove an RBI double into the left-center gap.
Escobar followed with an RBI triple into roughly the same area. The two-run ninth meant Hochevar got the ball instead of Holland.
“I didn’t want to bring (Holland) in in a non-save situation,” Yost said. “You know (today) with CC Sabathia and James Shields, the odds are it’s going to be another tight game.
“But in a save situation, that changes everything.”
The Royals built an early 2-0 lead in the second inning on a leadoff homer by Butler and doubles by Moustakas and Lough.
Guthrie had that two-run lead with one out in the fourth inning when a steady rain prompted umpire crew chief Dana DeMuth to order that a quick-dry compound be applied to the mound and the dirt area around the plate.
With the grounds crew out on the field, the rain suddenly turned heavier, which prompted a call to cover the field. It took longer than normal because the crew was already on the field.
That delay proved pivotal as the crew worked to unroll the tarp from its position down the left-field line. The rain soon weighed down the tarp, which was also slowed by the now-muddy infield.
As a result, the crew couldn’t generate the necessary traction to pull the tarp over the entire infield. It finally pulled the tarp into left field, dumped the water and then succeeded in pulling the tarp over a drenched infield.
That left the crew with a considerable chore to get the field dressed for play once the rain halted. Even so, play resumed 59 minutes after DeMuth signaled for the tarp.
“The rain popped up out of nowhere,” Yost said. “There was nothing at the start of the game. It got a little cloudy. Then there was a pop-up (storm right over us). We got through it, and then it just blew up. And it blew up fast.
“Then when they couldn’t get the tarp on, it was like, 'Oh, my gosh.’ But even though it was close to an hour rain delay, we had Guthrie throwing every 10 or 15 minutes in the cage to stay loose.”
It was Guthrie, remember, who endured two delays last Wednesday against the Cleveland. He returned after the second one, a 12-minute power delay in the seventh, with an inability to throw strikes and squandered a two-run lead.
“After last game,” Guthrie said, “I was trying to treat it a little bit different and be more focused. Throw and sit down. Treat it like a game."
Guthrie ended the inning by retiring Cano and Hafner on grounders.
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