CLEVELAND — It is the month of May, historically, that so often tormented the Royals more than any other. It regularly created a hole for their better teams to overcome; and, more recently, regularly buried the club beyond all reasonable hope.
Keep that in mind in realizing that, with Wednesday’s 6-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians, the Royals just completed a winning May — their first in a dozen years. They went 15-13 in the month; the last time they won more than that was 1994.
“And we haven’t played well at all,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “Offensively, at least, we haven’t done what I think we’re capable of doing. So to only be six or seven games out, hopefully we can put something together.
“It looks like everyone is starting to swing a little better.”
Wednesday saw the Royals produce a balanced, 13-hit attack. Six different players drove in runs. Eight players had at least one hit. Catcher Brayan Peña went 3 for 5, while Gordon, Johnny Giavotella and Jeff Francoeur each had two hits.
It was sufficient to overcome an early 3-0 hole, weather a shaky start from Bruce Chen and, at 5-4, complete another winning road trip. And by winning two of three from the Tribe, the Royals have either won or split five straight series against division opponents.
“Think about it,” Francoeur said. “A 5-4 road trip despite losing three in a row (after opening with a victory at New York). We played two first-place teams (Baltimore and Cleveland) and the Yankees. All in all, it was a good road trip.”
Chen (4-5) wobbled at times in throwing 100 pitches in just five innings but limited the damage to three runs — all scored in the second inning. He settled in, though, after the Royals took the lead.
“Today was a battle,” he said. “It took a lot for us to get that lead. Once I got that lead, I said, ‘You know what? I can’t let my teammates down.’”
Chen stranded three runners in the third inning and worked around a first-and-third jam in the fifth before the Royals turned to their bullpen. A relay of Tim Collins, Aaron Crow, José Mijares and Jonathan Broxton delivered four scoreless innings.
That capped a trip in which the relief corps allowed eight runs in 33 2/3 innings over a combined 30 appearances. That works out to a 2.14 ERA and includes two victories, seven holds and three saves.
“That bullpen,” Peña said, “I’ll go to war with those guys every single day. They are the real troupers for us. Without those guys, I don’t know where we’d be.”
Broxton made it interesting in the ninth before gaining his 11th save in 13 chances.
The Indians loaded the bases with one out on two walks and a single. But just when the ghosts of Andrew Sisco, Ambiorix Burgos and others seemed to be circling Progressive Field, Broxton got José Lopez to ground into a game-ending double play.
“I wasn’t having a very good day,” Broxton said. “I walked a couple of guys and couldn’t find the strike zone. I was lucky at the end to have him hit it right at somebody. That means we come out of here with two out of three. You look at the positives.”
They didn’t surface right away.
Chen opened the Cleveland second by yielding a sharp single by Shelley Duncan past third. Duncan then lumbered to third on Michael Brantley’s single up the middle — and Brantley took second when Jarrod Dyson threw to third.
Chen retired Johnny Damon on a pop, but Casey Kotchman’s looper into right fell between Francoeur and Giavotella for an RBI single.
The Indians got another run when shortstop Alcides Escobar reached Luke Carlin’s grounder up the middle but couldn’t field the ball cleanly. Still, Escobar got a force at second by flipping the ball with his glove to Giavotella.
Chen then ignored Carlin, which resulted in an embarrassing steal of second. Chen had shown similar disinterest in the first, which resulted in two steals by Jason Kipnis, but he escaped without damage.
But Carlin’s steal turned into a run when Shin-Soo Choo sent a single into center.
Cleveland starter Jeanmar Gomez (3-4) couldn’t hold the lead — largely because he struggled to close out innings. He gave up five runs in his five innings, and all five scored with two outs.
“This was not a good series,” said Indians manager Manny Acta, whose club has fallen from first place after losing five of its last six. “Pitching sets the tone, and we aren’t setting the right one.”
The Royals got two runs back in the third on doubles by Giavotella and Mike Moustakas and an RBI single from Francoeur. They scored two more runs with two outs in the fourth inning after Escobar reached on an infield single and stole second.
Gordon followed with a game-tying double off the left-field wall. He scored when Giavotella’s soft liner into short center just eluded a diving Kipnis for an RBI single.
The Royals struck again with two outs in the fifth after Francoeur doubled off the right-field wall. Gomez walked Eric Hosmer intentionally to get to Peña, who pulled an RBI single through the right side for a 5-3 lead.
“A lot of two-out hits, a lot of two-out rallies,” manager Ned Yost said. “It just shows you our offense right now — we’re down three and just keep getting after it. Even with nobody on and two outs, they’re still staying after it.
“We’re 18-14 since that streak. It’s time to forget about the streak. We’ve played really good baseball from that point, and we’ve got guys coming back who are going to help us get better. We’ve just got to go home and get it turned around there.”