KANSAS CITY, Mo. — This is exactly the type of team the Royals envisioned in the offseason — one with strong starting pitching, a more than capable bullpen, a run-saving defense and a much improved offense.
Almost all of those elements were on display Tuesday night as the Royals blew out the red-hot Cleveland Indians, 9-5. The Tribe had won nine of 10.
The Royals, meanwhile, marched back to .500 finally, their first stop there since May 24.
"I didn’t even realize that," manager Ned Yost said, "but that feels good."
Added Mike Moustakas, who belted a two-run homer: "It’s great to be at .500 right now, but that’s not our goal. We want to be above that and leading the division."
The Royals slowed the Indians down with great starting pitching from left-hander Jason Vargas, who was unaware the Tribe had scored 17 runs the previous night. Vargas threw seven shutout innings before getting nicked for three runs in the eighth.
"It’s a good thing I didn’t know they scored 17 the night before," Vargas said. "But they have a solid lineup. You really have to concentrate on keeping the ball inside on them."
The Royals banged out three home runs in support of Vargas, one each from Moose, Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer.
"Always nice to see the boys putting runs on the board," Vargas said.
The Royals also benefited from a successful challenge in the third that led to four runs. With runners on first and second, Jarrod Dyson chopped one to second and the throw to short was dropped, though the initial ruling was an out based on the transfer rule. Yost challenged and the Royals won, setting up RBI at-bats from Omar Infante and Hosmer, and capped by Billy Butler’s two-run single.
— Dee-fence! While the Indians were kicking the ball around, the Royals flashed the fancy leather once again. In the third inning, Michael Bourn singled with one out. Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a sinking liner to right, and Lorenzo Cain made a diving attempt. He trapped it, but Bourn got caught in no-man’s land and Cain rifled a strike to second base, where shortstop Alcides Escobar made a sensational scoop on one hop for the force. Then Michael Brantley belted a drive deep to right and Cain made a terrific over-the-head running grab. In the sixth, Vargas picked off a hard one-hopper headed up the middle and started a nifty 1-6-3 double play.
"I think it just happened to hit my glove," Vargas said modestly.
Yost wasn’t buying it. "He’s just a good all-around player who can field his position," Yost said. "And we played great defense all night."
— Billyball comes through. The key hit in the game was Butler’s two-out, two-run single to right in the third. The Royals already were leading 2-0 with runners on second and third, but Butler’s liner gave them a far more comfy 4-0 lead.
"The difference between a two-run lead and a four-run lead is huge for the pitcher," Yost noted. "And it’s much more comfortable for me, too."
— Who is that No. 3 hitter? There has been much talk lately about Yost’s refusal to bump Hosmer, mired in a tremendous slump until Saturday, down in the order and move Gordon up. But Yost looked like a genius Tuesday when Hoz delivered his second home run in three games, a line shot over the right-field fence with Infante on board. A hot Hosmer would be huge for this offense. Hoz also singled sharply in the seventh.
— Slow down everyone. The Royals seemingly were ready to jump on Corey Kluber right away in the first when Dyson, hitting leadoff as Nori Aoki got a day off, singled after working the count to 2-2. But Infante hurriedly went after the very first pitch and rolled into a routine 6-4-3 double play. Too much of that lately. Hosmer then also hacked at the first pitch, rolling out to second.
— Come on, Terry. Indians skipper Terry Francona, with his multitude of pitching and lineup changes, is known to drag most games out well past the three-hour range. So, of course, he needlessly challenged a play at first in the eighth in which Hosmer fielded a slow grounder and dived to first base to clearly get the runner. Francona challenged the play anyway, and the boys in New York took all of 47 seconds to basically laugh off his challenge and confirm the out call on the field.
— The Tim Collins blues. The diminutive left-hander continues to struggle. In his most recent appearance last Wednesday against St. Louis, he came in and allowed both inherited runners to score. On Tuesday, with the Royals leading 6-2 and a runner on second and two out in the top of the eighth, Collins threw one pitch to Carlos Santana, who rammed it back up the middle for an RBI single. That would have forced Greg Holland to pitch the ninth had Gordon and Moose not homered in the bottom of the eighth. Collins came in with a 4.70 ERA.