Take this as an alert to the rest of the American League: The Royals just might have what it takes to stay in the postseason hunt through the closing weeks.
Any doubts that surfaced this week from a three-game skid dissipated Friday when the Royals suffocated first-place Detroit by sweeping a day/night doubleheader by scores of 2-1 and 3-0 at Comerica Park.
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“It was a great day’s work by our pitching staff today, boy,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I mean everybody. You play 18 innings against a team like that and give up one run … somebody is doing something pretty special.
“We wanted to come in here and compete against these guys. I thought we did it (Thursday) night even though we didn’t win. And I think we did it to a real good degree (today).”
Start with Danny Duffy, who provided the clearest evidence yet, with a masterful outing in the opener, that he just might evolve into the sort of dominant homegrown starting pitcher the Royals have long desired.
Duffy worked six scoreless innings in his second big-league start since returning from reconstructive elbow surgery and outpitched long-time Royals nemesis Justin Verlander in a 2-1 victory in the afternoon game.
“He’s handed me four of my losses in my career,” Duffy said. “That was in the back of my mind, too. It was definitely nice. That was a huge win for us. Now, I’m excited to see (James) Shields do his thing this next game.”
Shields responded with seven shutout innings as the Royals completed a sweep with a 3-0 victory. It marked the first time since 1984 that the Royals won two games on the same day in Detroit.
“It was a huge day for us,” said first baseman Eric Hosmer, who opened the scoring in both games by hitting home runs. “We needed an outing like that from Duffy. Then Shields basically, matched the outing that Duffy had.
“We’ve been feeding off our starting pitching. If we keep handing it off to the bullpen, when they have a cushion like that, it’s a good feeling going into the late innings.”
Hosmer hit a curveball from Verlander over the left-field wall while leading off the fourth inning of the opener. He then crushed a change-up for a two-run homer in the third inning against Jose Alvarez in the nightcap.
“We had in the scouting report that (Alvarez) will throw it left-on-left,” Hosmer said. “The approach on him was to stay to the middle, stay left-center. That way, if he throws it, you’re going to end up pulling it.”
It was still 2-0 when Alvarez, 1-3, exited with two on and two outs in the sixth. Jeremy Bonderman got the final out in the sixth but yielded a leadoff single in the seventh to Chris Getz.
Bonderman’s two-base error on a pickoff attempt moved Getz to third and turned into a run when Jamey Carroll sent a sacrifice fly to left.
Shields, 8-8, turned over that 3-0 lead to Luke Hochevar to start the eighth inning. Shields gave up three hits and struck out just one while walking four in a 106-pitch outing.
Hochevar pitched a one-two-three eighth before Greg Holland gained his second save of the day, and 34th of the season, with a scoreless ninth.
“Beating these guys two games in a row in a doubleheader is a very tough task,” Shields said. “And hats off to Holland, man, for having a double save there. I think that’s the second one of the year.”
True. Holland also saved both ends of an April 21 sweep at Boston.
The Royals built a 2-0 lead in the opener against Verlander, 12-9, on Hosmer’s homer in and successive doubles in the seventh inning by Justin Maxwell and Emilio Bonifacio.
After that, it was just a matter of whether the bullpen could close out Duffy’s victory. Kelvin Herrera worked a scoreless seventh, but Aaron Crow yielded a leadoff homer in the eighth to pinch-hitter Ramon Santiago.
That homer by Santiago was the only run the Tigers, who began the day leading the majors in runs per game, scored over 18 innings. Detroit also leads the majors in batting but managed only six hits.
“Our pitching!” catcher George Kottaras said. “The whole team made it happen. Duffy started it off by going out there and keeping those guys totally off-balance.”
By sweeping, the Royals pulled to within 6 1/2 games of the Tigers in the AL Central Division and, temporarily, to within 4 1/2 games of Oakland for the final AL wild-card berth.
“You saw a left-hander (Duffy) who is really nasty,” Detroit manager Jim Leyland said. “And then you saw a veteran guy in the second game who teased us a bit but stayed out of the middle of the plate for the most part.
“We’re a good-hitting club, and today we didn’t hit. Credit their pitching, and maybe us going out of the strike zone a little bit too much.”
Duffy, 1-1, didn’t allow a hit until two outs in the sixth inning when Miguel Cabrera smoked a hard grounder to the left side. Bonifacio made a diving attempt from third but merely deflected the ball.
A clean single.
“I thought I had it the whole time,” Bonifacio insisted. “I thought I had a good chance. But when the ball hit in the dirt, it kicked up and went off my glove.”
Duffy retired Prince Fielder for the final out but, having thrown 96 pitches, didn’t return for the seventh. Duffy’s final line showed one hit, no runs, three walks, three strikeouts and a hit batter.
Yost said Duffy would not have returned for the seventh even if he had a no-hitter in place.
“Even if he doesn’t give up a hit in the sixth inning,” Yost said, “he doesn’t doesn’t have enough pitches to go seven, eight and nine. Why send him back out for the seventh? He was at his pitch limit, and that was it.”
Verlander was tough in limiting the Royals to two runs and seven hits while throwing 124 pitches in eight innings. But he suffered a second straight loss to the Royals after winning 15 of his previous 17 decisions.
“Felt like I threw the ball well,” Verlander said. “Just their guys pitched extremely well, which is they’ve done all year.”
And now Duffy heads back to Class AAA Omaha.
“I mean, I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do,” he shrugged. “I’m just going to keep doing what I have to do to help this team however I can. And whatever happens, happens.”
The Royals have little choice because they recalled Duffy, officially, just prior to the first game under the 26th-player provision for doubleheaders. Those players must be sent back the following day.
He’ll be back but, barring an injury to another starter, not until September.
“Right now, the rest of our starters are doing pretty well, too,” Yost said. “We’ve got two weeks until the rosters expand. We’ll let him go down and get another start or two and then come back up and help us in September.”