And the Royals just refuse to go away.
One night after a tough, sloppy loss, the Royals righted themselves with a three-run burst with two outs in the first inning Wednesday night and rolled to a 7-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium.
“We bounced back good,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “That’s what good teams do. They bounce back. We won the series. That’s what good teams do.”
It was the Royals’ fourth run, scored on a double steal, that will, deservedly, make the highlight shows on MLB Network, etc., but Salvy Perez’s two-out, two-run double in the first inning set the tone.
This wasn’t quite as easy as it sounds; it was just 4-2 before the Royals blew open the game with a three-run eighth inning against four Cleveland relievers after right fielder Ryan Raburn dropped a routine fly.
So here are the Royals, sporting an 80-72 record with 10 games remaining and back to within 2 1/2 games of Texas in the chase for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
Not impossible, right?
Veteran lefty Bruce Chen, 8-3, worked into the sixth inning before five relievers combined for four scoreless frames with All-Star closer Greg Holland pitching the ninth in a non-save situation.
“Every single game is a must win,” Chen said. “We’re behind, and we’re trying to catch up. The Indians are a very good team…they came back (Tuesday) night. We didn’t want that to happen again.”
Cleveland helped out in this one with some sloppy defense, including a botched rundown on that double steal when Alcides Escobar went flatsie when trapped between home and third, and eluded Yan Gomes’ tag.
“We put a hit-and-run on with (Emilio Bonifacio),” manager Ned Yost said, “and Boni missed the sign. So we had some scampering around. Some great athletic moves by Escobar and ended up scoring a run on it.”
In effect, that was turnabout; the Royals’ defense had a few hiccups Tuesday in squandering a three-run lead and a fine debut by rookie right-hander Yordano Ventura in a 5-3 loss.
“It’s a good team that now has gained the experience to know how to bounce back...,” Yost said. “There were times last year and early this year, a tough loss would set us back three or four or five days.
“But it’s not even an issue in anybody’s mind anymore.”
It all tracked back to the first inning when the Royals struck for three runs against Cleveland starter Danny Salazar after Hosmer pulled a two-out single past first baseman Nick Swisher.
After Billy Butler walked, Perez rocked an 0-1 change-up into the left-field corner and, when Michael Brantley had trouble handling the ball, third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez gambled and waved home Butler.
It should have been an easy out at the plate, but Gomes couldn’t handle the hop on the throw from shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. The Royals led 2-0.
Perez went to third on the throw, which turned into another run when Salazar, 1-3, bounced a wild pitch past Gomes.
The Indians answered with two runs in the third inning after Gomes led off with a single, and Brantley followed with a double to right-center field. When Dyson mishandled the ball for an error, Gomes scored.
Mike Aviles’ sacrifice moved Brantley to third before Michael Bourn’s sacrifice fly to left cut the Royals’ lead to 3-2. Swisher pulled a two-out single to left, but Jason Kipnis flied out to left.
Skip ahead to the fifth: The Royals put runners at first and third with one out on singles by Escobar and Alex Gordon.
And then it got strange.
Gordon broke for second when Bonifacio took a pitch on what was supposed to be a hit-and-run. Trapped, Gordon halted to try to extend the play in a rundown. The Indians initially played it well.
Key word, initially.
Gomes threw through, and the Indians trapped Gordon between first and second while keeping an eye on Escobar at third. And when Escobar broke too far toward home, Swisher threw to third — and Escobar was trapped.
“When Swisher threw the ball to third base,” Escobar said, “I said, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m in trouble right now. I need to do something.’ I don’t know what. It was my instinct. But I needed to do something.”
That something was to go to the ground and avoid a swipe tag by Gomes, who then raced past him. Escobar scrambled to his feet and scored the run. The result was a double steal, and the Royals led 4-2.
Score it 2-6-3-4-3-5-2...and no play.
“I thought we handled it perfect,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “and then, I think Gomes glanced to see where the trail runner was, and then he went underneath him.”
It was the first steal of home by a Royal since Jeff Francoeur did it on Aug. 11, 2012, at Baltimore.
The Indians immediately put Chen in a jam in the sixth when Bourn led off with a single and stole second before Swisher worked back from an 0-2 hole for a walk.
That finished Chen. In came Francisley Bueno, and Kipnis put down a sacrifice that moved the runners to second and third with one out — and it took a fine play by third baseman Mike Moustakas to get Kipnis at first.
Moustakas made another nice play on Carlos Santana’s slow chopper, which forced the runners to hold. The Royals then summoned Louis Coleman to face Raburn, who flied to right.
Coleman got the first two outs in the seventh before the Royals went to Tim Collins for a left-on-left matchup against Brantley, who punched a single up the middle.
But Collins ended the inning by retiring Aviles on a fielder’s-choice grounder. It stayed 4-2 until the Royals scored three runs in the eighth. Even then, Yost took no chances. He brought in Holland for the ninth.
“A game of this magnitude,” Yost said, “you don’t play around. You go with your best. We’ve got 10 games left. You don’t play around.”