KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Too early to start using the term season-saver?
Maybe, maybe not. But there was no mistaking the joy (and relief) inside the Royals’ clubhouse following their dramatic 3-2, 10-inning win over first-place Detroit on Wednesday at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals playfully splashed their now official rally sauce – Billy Butler’s “Hit it a TON” sauce – all over the head of first baseman Eric Hosmer, who provided the game-winner with an RBI single with two out in the 10th.
“Someone got me pretty good with that sauce,” Hosmer said, grinning. “I’m not sure I liked the taste. But hey, I don’t mind.”
Added center fielder Lorenzo Cain, “I looked at Hoz with all that sauce on his head and I thought he was bleeding.”
It was Cain who saved the day, if not more than that. Cain delivered a stunning two-run homer with two out in the bottom of the ninth – on an 0-2 pitch – that tied the game 2-2 and forced extra innings.
“You talk about battling,” Hosmer said. “For (Cain) to hang in there, down to our last strike, wow. What a great feeling. A great win.”
Neither Cain nor manager Ned Yost were sure Cain got enough of a Jose Valverde splitter to carry past the 387-foot sign in left-center.
“When it left his bat,” Yost said, “I didn’t think it would get out of here. I wasn’t sure. But I knew it was at least a gapper. So my mind started immediately thinking that a run is in, we got a guy on second, let’s go from there.
“But you know, a hot day like this (92 degrees) and the ball can carry. Just a great job by Lorenzo. We’re down to our last strike and he came through.”
Cain knew he hit it hard but…
“I barreled it,” Cain said. “But this is a big park. When it left my bat, I looked up and just started blowing at it to push it out of here. I kept hoping and then it did.”
The drama unfolded long after the game’s starters dueled for seven innings. Detroit’s Justin Verlander, who is 15-2 lifetime against the Royals, stoned them again on three hits and left with a 2-0 lead.
Tough-luck Royals starter James Shields, near the bottom of the league in run support, again did his job by limiting the mighty Tigers’ offense to just two runs through seven – his 14th straight start this season of at least six innings.
“He just pitched his butt off again,” Yost said. “He was tough as usual. And so was Verlander. We couldn’t do anything off him.”
But after the Royals’ bullpen, nicked for the decisive run in Tuesday’s gnawing 3-2 loss, shut down the Tigers in the eighth and ninth innings, Hosmer led off the bottom of the ninth against Valverde with a single.
Two outs later, Cain sent the crowd of 24,564 into near delirium with his blast, just his third of the season and just the team’s 33rd homer all season.
“That’s the thing about us, though,” Yost said. “We keep at it. We don’t give in. You do that and sometimes good things happen.”
And Hosmer’s clutch game-winner off a left-hander, Phil Coke, allowed the Royals to take the series, two games to one, and to finish the homestand at 7-2.
While 10 days ago the Royals season seemed lost, the Royals now have pulled within three games of .500 and to within 5 ½ games of the first-place Tigers.
“That’s just a great win for us against a great team,” Hosmer said. “That’s the team we’re trying to chase. That’s the team we have to beat.”
Cain said the Royals certainly understood the significance of winning the series against the Tigers.
“It’s Detroit and a division rival and we need to beat them,” Cain said. “That’s where we’re trying to go.”
The win also eased the suffering from Tuesday night’s painful 3-2 loss in which several close calls seemed to go against the Royals, including a ninth-inning strike three against Billy Butler that led to his ejection.
“Absolutely this was a huge win after all that frustration from (Tuesday) night,” Yost said. “It really feels like we’re starting to turn some things around now.”
Not a minute too late. You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org