The ball sliced down the left-field line, a high lofting fly ball that seemed destined for the first rows of seats in foul territory at Kauffman Stadium. That was left fielder Alex Gordons first thought, anyway.
When the ball came spinning off the bat of Oaklands Josh Reddick, Gordon began to move to his right on instinct. It would probably be a fruitless charge, he thought, but he kept moving.
From the dugout, Royals manager Ned Yost had a view that was more or less straight down the left-field line. He could see that the As had runners on second and third with one out in the fifth inning; that right-handed starter Vin Mazzaro was one base hit away from giving up the Royals one-run lead; that Gordon had no chance of chasing down Reddicks foul ball.
I thought the ball was gonna be in the stands, Yost would say. And I think everybody else did, too.
But a funny thing happened on the way to the Royals 2-0 victory over the Oakland As on Sunday afternoon. The ball kept hanging, Gordon kept running, and the two would eventually meet in one of the Royals most marvelous defensive plays of the season thus far.
Gordon made a smooth basket catch near the wall before firing an on-the-run strike to catcher Brayan Pea that gunned down Oaklands Adam Rosales at home plate.
It was just kind of a reaction play, Gordon said. I thought it was in the stands when he hit it. And it kind of crossed my mind, Should I catch it, or should I let it drop? It was just one of those bang-bang plays, where I caught it, bobbled it and tried to chuck it over (the runners) head a little bit. And I put it right there.
The catch was nice, of course. But the throw and collision Pena flipping backward while he held on made the play worthy of the highlight vault.
That was sick, Mazzaro would say.
And with that, the Royals could forget about that debacle on Saturday afternoon. Its over. Kaput.
First baseman Eric Hosmer went two for three with a homer against Oakland starter Tommy Milone. Mazzaro skated around early danger and notched the victory with six scoreless innings. And closer Jonathan Broxton picked up his 13th save as he combined with right-handed relievers Kelvin Herrera and Greg Holland for three scoreless innings.
Add it all up, and the Royals won their second home series of the season. (The first came against Boston during May 7-9.)
Its really easy when your pitching staff goes out there and throws out two shutouts, Gordon said.
Fair enough. But there were other reasons to be encouraged as well. Hosmer talked about making another mechanical adjustment with hitting coach Kevin Seitzer before Saturdays game: It included a reduced leg kick and shorter stride. And it may be no coincidence that Hosmer extended his hitting streak to six games and hit his first homer off a lefty this season a 413-foot bomb to center on an 87-mph cutter.
Were working real hard in (the cage), trying to figure it out, said Hosmer, who is now batting .214. And were basically now just trying to make it as simple as possible.
Second baseman Johnny Giavotella added an RBI single in the fifth that scored Jarrod Dyson and made a nice diving stop up the middle in the third. Billy Butler finished with three hits.
Meantime, it may be wise to temper reactions to Mazzaros solid outing. The feeble As were shut out for the seventh time in 18 games, and Mazzaro was far from dominant in the opening innings, escaping a bases-loaded situation in the first and working around base runners in the second and third
I had some tough innings where I had to battle a lot, Mazzaro said. And my whole goal was to go out and attack the zone, fill it up and get early outs.
Still, there are a couple developments that suggest Mazzaro will get another start as the Royals search for answers in the starting rotation. On Sunday, against his former team, he improved to 2-0 in two starts and lowered his ERA to 2.25 in 12 innings this season.
"He looked pretty good, said Oakland shortstop Cliff Pennington, who played with Mazzaro in Oakland in 2009 and 2010. His (velocity) was really good. He was throwing changeups to lefties more and sliders to righties. He was keeping the ball down."
In addition, one of Mazzaros possible replacements left-hander Jonathan Sanchez gave up six earned runs on six hits and four walks for Class AAA Omaha on Sunday.
For Yost, those decisions will come later. On Sunday, the Royals could enjoy their third straight series victory. With a three-game series with Minnesota on the horizon, they also pulled within one game of third-place Detroit in the AL Central.
Were playing a little bit better and its good to do it at home, too, Gordon said. I know the fans want us to do it more here. So lets continue it with Minnesota coming in.