Royals

Royals secure postseason home-field advantage with 6-1 win over Twins to end regular season

Royals left fielder Paulo Orlando (from left), center fielder Jarrod Dyson and right fielder Alex Rios celebrated after Kansas City beat the Minnesota Twins 6-1 in the final regular-season game on Sunday in Minneapolis. The win gave Kansas City the best record in the American League and home-field advantage throughout the postseason.
Royals left fielder Paulo Orlando (from left), center fielder Jarrod Dyson and right fielder Alex Rios celebrated after Kansas City beat the Minnesota Twins 6-1 in the final regular-season game on Sunday in Minneapolis. The win gave Kansas City the best record in the American League and home-field advantage throughout the postseason. The Associated Press

The road to the World Series will run through Kauffman Stadium after the Royals secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs with a 6-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins on Sunday in the final game of the regular season, concluding one of the finest 162-game campaigns in franchise history and setting the stage for the team’s defense of the American League pennant.

Hunted down by the Toronto Blue Jays in September, the Royals, 95-67, reclaimed the best record in the American League by ripping off a five-game winning streak to end the year. The Royals will play Thursday night at Kauffman Stadium in the American League Division Series, facing the winner of the Wild Card Game between the Houston Astros and the New York Yankees.

“We accomplished all of our regular-season goals that we wanted to accomplish,” Royals manager Ned Yost said afterward.

Their opponent will be determined Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. The Royals will not complain about being hosts of the series opener. The Yankees swept Kansas City in the Bronx earlier this season, and the Astros did the same at Minute Maid Park.

The contrast with last season is sizable. Before the Royals raced to the 2014 World Series, they needed to conquer the Oakland Athletics in a one-game playoff. For the players, the tension in these next few days will be greatly reduced.

“That’s definitely a much better feeling than when you’ve got to worry about Jon Lester being on the mound,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said.

Outfielder Alex Gordon said of the Wild Card Game: “We’ll watch it and enjoy it on our couches and get ready for Thursday.”

Facing a lineup of Minnesota reserves Sunday, Gordon roped an RBI double in the second inning and Alex Rios followed with a two-run double of his own. Salvador Perez mashed a two-run homer, his 21st of the season, in the third.

Johnny Cueto provided five innings of one-run baseball in his final outing before a Game 2 start. Cueto gave up six hits and four walks.

“I feel great about where we’re at,” Yost said. “The starting pitching’s been excellent. We’re swinging the bats well. Of course, you know we’ve got great defense.”

Kansas City completed the year with its best record in 35 years. The 95 wins are third-best in franchise history, eclipsed only by 102 in 1977 and 97 in 1980.

The Royals ended weeks of hand-wringing about their playoff seeding. With 27 games left in the regular season, the Royals held a five-game advantage over Toronto. A lead of that size is not insurmountable, but to surrender it is a statistical unlikelihood. Yet Kansas City sputtered to an 11-17 record in September and let the Blue Jays take over first place in the league.

For fans, a flashpoint occurred Sept. 25, the day after the Royals clinched their first division title since 1985. Yost utilized a lineup of backups, Cleveland Indians starter Carlos Carrasco pitched a one-hit shutout and the lead over Toronto fell to one game. Yost defended resting his starters, insisting they had earned the privilege after a long summer of success, even as the Blue Jays vaulted ahead in the standings days later.

A funny thing occurred in this narrative. On Wednesday, in the first game of a doubleheader, Toronto secured the American League East for their first division title since 1993. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons rewarded his regulars with a game off in the nightcap. He did the same in the next day’s game. Toronto lost both, and entered the season’s final weekend tied with Kansas City.

“I think we just got into a little phase there where we clinched and maybe there wasn’t the same motivation or excitement,” Gordon said. “But as the year got closer to the playoffs, I think guys started to turn it on a little bit.”

As he drowsed on Saturday night, Yost received a text message from catching coach Pedro Grifol. “Walkoff,” the message read. Yost got up and checked the score of Toronto’s game with Tampa Bay. The Rays executed a ninth-inning comeback and put the Royals in charge of their own fate, up one game heading into No. 162.

Major League Baseball configured its schedule so every game Sunday began at the same time. A logjam in the American League West created the potential for a Game 163 on Monday. Yost was aware of the possibilities but was disinclined to favor any outcome.

“I don’t root,” Yost said. “I just stay focused on what we do. I take it for what it is. I’m not rooting for this scenario, or that scenario.”

As the Royals played on Sunday, the Blue Jays removed little doubt about the seeding. The Rays blitzed veteran pitcher Mark Buehrle and scored nine runs in the first inning on their way to a 12-3 win. At Target Field, Kansas City claimed a three-run lead in the second inning.

Yost noted the situation. He began to strategically remove players. He had already sat outfielder Lorenzo Cain to rest a bruised knee. Out came designated hitter Kendrys Morales, who is nursing a tight quadriceps. Then came Perez, the perpetually battered catcher — who surpassed Mike Macfarlane’s record of 20 homers by a catcher, set in 1993. By the end, reserves populated the diamond.

The tone was muted after the victory. The players picked at plates of ribs and macaroni and cheese. Most watched the NFL on various devices. Calm ruled the afternoon.

Now Kansas City enters October occupying the top spot in the playoff bracket. The Royals excelled as underdogs in 2014. Now they get a chance to follow through on their pledge to return to the World Series — this time, as overlords.

“I’m glad we’re done with the first part of our season,” Yost said. “I’m glad we’re done with the marathon, the 162. Now the fun starts.”

Royals 6, Twins 1

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

A.Escobar ss

4

0

1

0

0

0

.257

c-Pena ph-c

1

0

1

0

0

0

.143

Zobrist 2b

4

0

0

1

0

0

.276

Hosmer 1b

3

0

0

0

1

0

.297

Cuthbert 1b-3b

1

0

0

0

0

0

.217

K.Morales dh

1

1

0

0

1

1

.290

a-Gomes ph-dh

3

0

1

0

0

0

.167

Moustakas 3b

2

1

1

0

1

1

.284

b-Colon ph-3b-ss

1

0

1

0

1

0

.290

Perez c

3

2

2

2

0

0

.260

Butera c-1b

1

0

0

0

1

0

.196

Gordon lf

3

1

1

1

1

1

.271

Orlando lf

1

0

0

0

0

0

.249

Rios rf

5

0

1

2

0

2

.255

Dyson cf

3

1

1

0

1

0

.250

Totals

36

6

10

6

7

5

Minnesota

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Buxton cf

4

0

0

0

1

2

.209

Robinson lf

5

0

1

0

0

1

.250

Kepler rf

5

0

1

0

0

1

.143

Sano dh

4

0

1

0

1

1

.269

Vargas 1b

4

0

0

0

0

1

.240

Nunez 3b

3

1

1

0

1

0

.282

Edu.Escobar 2b

3

0

1

0

1

0

.262

Fryer c

2

0

1

0

2

0

.227

Santana ss

4

0

1

1

0

1

.215

Totals

34

1

7

1

6

7

Kansas City

032

000

010

6

10

1

Minnesota

000

100

000

1

7

0

b-singled for Moustakas in the 7th. c-singled for A.Escobar in the 8th.

E: Zobrist (7). LOB: Kansas City 11, Minnesota 12. 2B: A.Gordon (18), Rios (22). HR: S.Perez (21), off Nolasco. RBIs: Zobrist (56), S.Perez 2 (70), A.Gordon (48), Rios 2 (32), Da.Santana (21). SB: A.Escobar (17). SF: Zobrist.

Runners left in scoring position: Kansas City 6 (Zobrist 3, Rios 2, J.Gomes); Minnesota 6 (K.Vargas 2, Kepler 2, S.Robinson, Sano). RISP: Kansas City 2 for 11; Minnesota 1 for 11. Runners moved up: Cuthbert, Kepler. GIDP: Edu.Escobar. DP: Kansas City 1 (Zobrist, A.Escobar, Hosmer).

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

NP

ERA

Cueto W, 4-7

5

6

1

1

4

4

100

4.76

Volquez

2

0

0

0

2

3

37

3.55

F.Morales

1

1

0

0

0

0

16

3.18

Hochevar

1

0

0

0

0

0

21

3.73

Minnesota

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

NP

ERA

Nolasco L, 5-2

2.2

4

5

5

3

2

53

6.75

Duensing

2.1

2

0

0

0

0

34

4.25

Graham

1.1

3

0

0

2

1

45

4.95

O’Rourke

1.2

1

1

1

1

2

26

6.14

Achter

1

0

0

0

1

0

8

6.75

Inherited runners-scored: O’Rourke 3-0. WP: Graham.

Umpires: Home, Brian Knight; First, Vic Carapazza; Second, Ron Kulpa; Third, Larry Vanover. Time: 3:11. Att: 24,108.

Andy McCullough: 816-234-4730, @McCulloughStar. Download True Blue, The Star’s free Royals app, here.

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