These were the Royals of the preseason promise.
Stellar pitching, outstanding defense and hitting that was timely and powerful added up to a 5-0 Royals victory over the Twins that worked on every level.
Start with pitcher Jason Vargas, who delivered yet another solid outing. He hadn’t surrendered more than two runs in any of his previous three starts and was better on Friday, scattering seven hits in seven innings to improve to 2-0.
Vargas labored a bit early, running his pitch count to close to 50 after the first two innings. But he settled down.
“I was behind early a lot, that added to the pitch count,” Vargas said. “I just tried to get the ball back down in the zone.”
Vargas also credited defense, especially left-fielder Alex Gordon who turned in two highlight plays, gunning down a runner at second from the left-center field fence, and crashing into the wall in foul territory to snare a fly.
But perhaps the most positive development occurred in the sixth inning when Royals made solid contact in successive at-bats.
First, Billy Butler, mired in a horrid slump, drilled a sharp single to right. That’s one hit in each of the two nights after Butler was dropped two spots to the No. 6 hole, and perhaps a sign that he’s about to crawl out of the sub-.200 mire he’s been in most of the season.
Mike Moustakas, who had been struggling more than Butler, followed with a laser-beam home run over the right field wall. Moustakas drove a Ricky Nolasco change-up, a pitch similar to the one he power out in the 11th inning in Houston on Wednesday.
“I’m feeling good,” Moustakas said. “I’ve been hitting balls hard. Sometimes they don’t fall. That’s the name of the game. Keep battling through it, keep working and they’ll start falling eventually.”
The Royals ran their winning streak to four, climbed over .500 for the first time this season and had the satisfaction of a series-opening victory over a Twins team that swept them in Minnesota last weekend.
The Royals were carved up in one of those games by Nolasco, who got nicked by some small ball early.
An Alcides Escobar double got things started for the Royals in the third. Nori Aoki’s two-strike chopper drove third baseman Trevor Plouffe far enough behind the bag to allow Escobar to take the base.
Omar Infante followed with a ball that went about half as far. Nolasco pounced off the mound to field the slow roller. Escobar never hesitated and beat the throw home. He seemed to come up with a slight limp and his left knee was wrapped in an ace bandage afterward, but Escobar said he was fine.
He collected three hits in as many at bats, raising his average to .294.
“I want it to be like 2012,” said Escobar, who had a career offensive season with a .292 average and 30 doubles.
Escobar started the fifth by singling through shortstop, and coming around on Infante’s RBI single to right. After that, the game belonged to Vargas, Moustakas and Gordon, and the Gold Glove left fielder brought the crowd of 21,192 to its feet twice.
He chased down Josmil Pinto’s gapper at the wall, spun and fired a strike to Infante to get Pinto by a step.
“On any ball, my first thought is to get to it as quickly as I can and try to throw someone out,” Gordon said. “It’s a double in the gap, you have to go every time. I just made a good throw.”
The assist was Gordon’s 57th since moving to the outfield in 2011, the most in baseball in that span.
Then he made a great catch, smashing into the wall in foul territory on Joe Mauer’s slicer in the sixth.
“I had a little time to adjust to the wall,” Gordon said. “That one was easy.”
At least Gordon made it look that way.