The chant arose in the ninth inning, as Greg Holland finished carving up the White Sox lineup in the final moments of a 7-5 victory.
“Let’s go Royals,” shouted those remaining from the 40,103 assembled at Kauffman Stadium, those who stuck through three hours and 37 minutes of meandering baseball for this club’s first win in 2014.
The temperature was frigid. A hard wind howled across the diamond for most of the afternoon. Spectators bundled up in overcoats and fleece. But for nine innings on Friday, after two dispiriting, walk-off defeats in Detroit, the Royals delivered a glimpse at why this could be the team’s most exciting summer in two decades.
Freed from the torment of facing Tigers aces Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer, the offense bludgeoned rookie Chicago right-hander Erik Johnson. The defense buoyed a somewhat shaky performance by starter Jeremy Guthrie. The back end of the bullpen, Holland and setup man Wade Davis, dissected the White Sox.
“Very satisfying,” Holland said. “Opening Day at The K is always fun. An energetic crowd. You always want to win for your home crowd.”
In the early afternoon, general manager Dayton Moore leaned on the dugout rail and watched his club take batting practice. Team officials refer to this group as their most talented in seven seasons at the helm. A playoff berth appears a possibility, not just a pipe dream.
On Friday, the team showed why. Alex Gordon broke the ice in the first frame, new additions Nori Aoki and Omar Infante each collected three hits, and Lorenzo Cain contributed to a fifth-inning breakthrough. The deluge compensated for Guthrie. He logged 5 2/3 innings of four-run baseball. He allowed 12 men on base, thanks to seven hits, four walks and a hit batsman.
Guthrie gave up a leadoff single and a subsequent double in the first — and yielded only a single run. He escaped a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fifth by giving up another single run. He fell off the tightrope in the sixth. Guthrie departed with the bases loaded, and Kelvin Herrera promptly allowed a two-run single to center fielder Adam Eaton.
“I probably left him in one hitter too long,” manager Ned Yost said.
The Royals’ advantage was still safe, though. In 18 innings in Detroit, they had amassed just four runs. They matched that number in two innings on Friday. Facing Johnson, they loaded the bases to begin the first.
With one out, Gordon settled in at the plate. Johnson slopped a 2-1 slider into the zone. Gordon crushed a three-run double to left.
“I think that just got us rolling,” said Cain, who went two for four with two RBIs and stole a base.
In the second, Gordon helped save a run with his arm. Chicao catcher Tyler Flowers hooked a two-out double to left. Shortstop Alexi Ramirez sprinted homeward from first. Gordon flung the baseball to Alcides Escobar, who cut down Ramirez at the plate to bail out Guthrie.
“That’s what we do,” Yost said. “We play good defense.”
Kasnsas City tacked on a second-inning run when Infante splashed an RBI single into center to score Cain. Johnson then held the Royals off until the fifth, when he melted down.
The Royals merely had to practice patience and notch two timely hits. Billy Butler opened the inning with a walk, Salvador Perez singled and Mike Moustakas took another walk. Johnson lost control of a slider on a run-scoring wild pitch. Cain drove in both remaining runners by ripping a single through a deflection by White Sox second baseman Marcus Semien.
The ending was closer than Yost had hoped. But Holland and Davis, who contributed to this season’s first loss, did not experience a similar hiccup. The team flashed the signs of its potential on Friday, a glimpse into what may lie ahead.
“It’s always good to get a win,” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “It’s always good to get a win at home.”