Recap: Royals sweep Twins to make it nine in a row

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) James Shields
watched Lorenzo Cain race back to the wall in left-center field, leap in
the air and snatch Trevor Plouffe’s drive away just before it landed in
the bullpen.

The Kansas City right-hander thrust
his arms in the air, Royals relievers erupted in jubilation and Cain
bounded back toward the dugout with no worries about a groin injury that
had kept him on the bench earlier this week.

It’s been a long, long time since the Royals were winning like this, and they’re enjoying every minute of it.

The Royals won their ninth straight
game, stretching their longest winning streak in more than a decade by
beating Minnesota 7-2 Thursday behind Billy Butler’s hitting and Cain’s
highlight reel catch in center field.

The Royals last won nine straight when
they opened the 2003 season at 9-0. The last time Kansas City won more
in a row was a 10-game string in 1994, STATS said. After completing the
three-game sweep of the Twins, they have opened a road trip 6-0 for the
first time since 1980, when they went to the World Series.

“We’ve got great energy, youthful
energy on our club,” Royals manager Ned Yost said, sitting in his office
just a few feet away from a raucous clubhouse celebration. “Our guys,
they love winning. They get into it.”

Butler had two hits and drove in two
runs. Justin Maxwell had a hit and an RBI a day after being acquired in
a trade with Houston.

Shields (6-7) gave up two runs on five
hits and five walks in six innings for the Royals, who swept the
three-game series and are showing potential to be a factor late in the
season.

Scott Diamond (5-10) gave up seven
runs and nine hits in five innings. Justin Morneau homered and doubled,
but the Twins couldn’t take advantage of a sluggish start from Shields.

Shields needed 116 pitches to get
through six innings. But against a Twins offense that doesn’t hit for
power, doesn’t hit with runners in scoring position and doesn’t steal
bases, he was never really in trouble.

Plouffe misplayed a potential
double-play ball at third base to load the bases in the second inning,
and Mike Moustakas and Maxwell drove runs in to get the Royals on the
board. Eric Hosmer added a sacrifice fly in the third inning for a 3-0
lead.

Morneau, who hit .175 with four
homers and five RBIs in all of July, went deep to straightaway center
field to make it 3-2 in the third.

Shields was laboring in the fifth and
the Royals were clinging to a 5-2 lead when Plouffe sent a sky-high fly
ball toward the bullpen in left-center field. After a long run, Cain
leaped at the wall and snatched the ball just before it was about to go
over the fence, taking away what would have been a two-run homer.

“He’s been doing that all season
long,” Shields said. “You’ve got to tip your cap to Lorenzo. He was off
the last couple days. To come back and do that is phenomenal.”

Cain exchanged a high-five with
Miguel Tejada and shouted “Let’s go!” as he ran back to the dugout, and
Butler followed with a two-run single in the top of the sixth for some
breathing room.

“I was pumped up,” Cain said. “I
robbed a home run. That was exciting. It got the team excited and in
that same inning we got the bats going. It was a big momentum boost.”

It’s been that kind of fun for the
Royals of late, but they sure could use some cooperation from the Tigers
and Indians in the AL Central.

Despite running off the longest
active winning streak in the majors, they have made up little ground in
the division. The Tigers had won nine of their last 10 heading into the
day and Cleveland was 8-2 in that span to keep Kansas City at a
comfortable distance.

“We’re playing some really good
baseball and we believe in ourselves right now,” Shields said. “Going
into this last two months, this is the kind of baseball we need to
play.”

NOTES: Cain had a hit, drew three
walks and scored twice. … Twins GM Terry Ryan said OF Josh Willingham
(left knee) will leave for a rehab assignment with Triple-A Rochester
this weekend. Willingham had surgery to repair a torn meniscus July 3
and said he hoped to be back with the Twins as soon as next weekend’s
series against the Chicago White Sox. … The Twins open a series
against Houston at home Friday. RHP Samuel Deduno (7-4, 3.18) will
start the opener for the Twins. … The Royals head to New York for a
three-game series against the Mets. RHP Wade Davis (5-9, 5.50) will
start against New York RHP Dillon Gee (7-8, 4.13).