KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Series by series. That’s the way Royals skipper Ned Yost said he believes the Royals will crawl back over .500 and closer to the division-leading Detroit Tigers.
And the Royals employed that theory against the rival St. Louis Cardinals, taking three of four in a home-and-home series that was capped by a pulsating 3-2 win on Thursday.
"A split would have been OK," Yost said, "but you don’t gain any ground that way. So this was nice, this was a big game for us."
The players absolutely agreed.
"Anytime we can take three of four from those guys, it’s a good thing," said closer Greg Holland, who finished the Cards off by striking out the side in the ninth, the last two coming with the tying run on second.
"I don’t have a lot of good memories against these guys, like Yadi (Molina) almost taking my face off (with a line drive) once and (Matt) Holliday going deep. So yeah, this feels good."
First baseman Eric Hosmer, who delivered a game-tying single in the sixth, understands this rivalry.
"In this state, you’re either a Royals fan or a Cards fan, one or the other," Hosmer said. "So we get it. This was a big win. We haven’t had that feeling in a while here."
In fact, the Royals had dropped eight straight to the Cardinals at Kauffman Stadium before Thursday.
But the Royals got a strong start from Yordano Ventura, making his first start since leaving a game early 10 days ago because of elbow discomfort. Ventura went six innings and gave up just two runs.
"I thought he pitched well," Yost said. "His velocity was back up."
Ventura said afterward that he felt no discomfort in his elbow.
— The slump brothers come through. Hosmer and Sal Perez have been scuffling lately, especially Hosmer, who was in a 7-for-45 slump coming in. But Hoz delivered a big RBI single in the three-run sixth. With the infield in and a runner on third, Hoz drilled a hard grounder between first and second and the game was tied 2-2.
"It feels good," he said. "It felt good to contribute in a situation like that where we had a good inning going."
Three batters later, Perez came up with runners on first and second and two out. Perez didn’t hit it hard, but he grounded a ball over the pitcher’s mound that trickled into center field for an RBI single and the Royals led 3-2.
— Bueno more than just ‘bueno.’ Left-hander Francisley Bueno had missed 50 games because of injury before appearing in Thursday’s game for the Royals. Bueno did an excellent job, retiring the Cardinals in order with ease on two harmless groundouts and a strikeout. The Royals’ bullpen was pretty depleted from overuse lately and Yost needed some help from the seldom-used Bueno.
"That was no small thing," Yost said. "He did a fantastic job when we really had to have it."
— Esky keeps on playing lights out. Alcides Escobar seems to contribute something offensively or defensively every night. "Either it’s a hit or stealing a bag or something in the field," Yost said. "He’s just playing at a very high level."
An All-Star level. "I don’t want to jinx it," Yost said. "But I’ve said all along he can be an All-Star."
Esky started the three-run sixth by smashing a line drive into the left-field corner for a double. He also had a sacrifice bunt.
— Couldn’t handle the 8-9 guys. Ventura did a solid job most of the night. But what he couldn’t do was handle the Cards’ 8-9 hitters, Jon Jay and Peter Bourjos. Those two batting-order dwellers went 4 for 5 against Ventura with two runs scored, a triple and an RBI. Ventura pretty much contained everyone else.
"It just seemed that for a while there he would get the first two guys out and then trouble would start," Yost said. "But he handled himself well, keeping us in it and giving us six innings."
— LoCain’s tough night. Lorenzo Cain, who had a big RBI single in the ninth Wednesday, had a chance to do some real damage not once but twice Thursday. Cain came up with runners on second and third and one out in the fifth with the Royals trailing 2-0. The infield played back up the middle, conceding the run. But Cain hit a weak pop-up to second. In the next inning, Cain came up with runners on first and second and two out and the Royals leading, 3-2. This was a chance to really bust the game open. But Cain grounded out to third.
— No breaks for Moose. Third baseman Mike Moustakas really had a pretty solid game, but had nothing to show for it because of some bad breaks. In his first at-bat with a runner on first, Moose smoked a liner that was caught by first baseman Allen Craig, who turned it into a double play.
"Poor Moose," Yost said. "He really hit the ball hard tonight. I didn’t even see the ball, he hit that one so hard."
Then in his next at-bat, Moose drove a ball to deep left-center field that was caught. He walked in his next at-bat and went to second on a sacrifice bunt. And when Nori Aoki blooped one into short right field, Moose judged that it would fall — a pretty good call — and took off full steam toward home. But Cards right fielder Oscar Taveras made a diving catch to rob Aoki and then flipped to second for a double play.