KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Amazing, isn’t it, how different the Royals look when their rotation doesn’t bury them in the early innings? OK, that’s true for any team; and, yes, a pair of four-run innings can do wonders, too.
Suddenly, the Royals look like a team on a roll after Tuesday’s 8-2 victory over Tampa Bay at Kauffman Stadium. A long-slumbering attack produced eight runs for the third straight game thanks largely to homers from Yuniesky Betancourt and Jeff Francoeur.
Let’s start with the starter, though.
Lefty Bruce Chen (7-6) followed Luke Hochevar’s shutout by limiting the Rays to one earned run in seven innings. That’s just what the Royals needed after the rotation’s disastrous three-game stretch in weekend losses to St. Louis.
“I’m happy with our offense,” Francoeur said, “but I came from Atlanta. I grew up watching it, and I love when pitching does what pitching does. Watching Luke do it (Monday), and watching Bruce do it tonight, it’s just motivates you.”
Chen gave up single runs in the first two innings before rolling through five shutout frames and handing a 4-2 lead to Aaron Crow to start the eighth. Chen permitted five hits while winning for the seventh time in his last nine decisions.
“I’m trying to keep up with Luke,” Chen said. “He has been on fire (with 16 2/3 scoreless innings in his last two starts). Pitching is contagious. Hopefully, we can put a bunch of good starts together.”
Crow worked a one-two-three eighth with two strikeouts before the Royals blew open the game with a four-run eighth inning against reliever Brandon Gomes.
Francoeur delivered the knockout punch with a three-run homer – the first three-run homer by a Royal since Billy Butler on May 8 in a 6-4 victory over Boston. Lefty Francisley Bueno closed out the victory with a scoreless ninth inning.
“We’ve been struggling offensively before the last three games,” said Butler, whose RBI single preceded Francoeur’s blast. “It’s big for us to get going like that. We weren’t going to stay down all year. We just want to stay more consistent.”
It was tight until the eighth because the Royals did little against Tampa Bay rookie Chris Archer (0-2) beyond a four-run second that gained momentum on two errors by shortstop Sean Rodriguez.
Each error led to a run and set up Betancourt’s game-changing swing. It came on a called shot – not by Betancourt, but by reliever José Mijares in the bullpen.
“I turned to Bueno,” Mijares said, “and said, `Next pitch, home run.’”
When Betancourt jumped a hanging curve from Archer, and sent it soaring over the left-field wall, Mijares leaped to his feet and waved his arms in a triumphant dance.
That’s how it is when things are going right.
Betancourt’s homer made it 4-2, and it stayed that way until the eighth.
The victory boosted the Royals to 33-39 and kept them five games behind first-place Chicago in the American League Central Division. The Royals, after today’s series finale, head to the road for 11 games before the All-Star break.
Tampa Bay opened the scoring in the first inning after one-out singles by Carlos Peña and Jeff Keppinger put runners at first and third. Hideki Matsui then sent a drive into short center to Jarrod Dyson, whose throw home easily beat Peña.
But catcher Brayan Peña bobbled the ball in shifting it from his glove to his bare hand in anticipation of a collision – and the ball rolled free when the collision came. The Rays had a 1-0 lead.
The scoring decision was an error on Brayan Peña.
There was nothing tainted about Tampa Bay’s second run; Brooks Conrad crushed an 87-mph fastball from Chen on a 1-2 pitch for a two-out homer to left in the second inning.
It was all Royals after that.
Dyson started the four-run third with a single to left, and Alcides Escobar followed with a drive off the top of the center-field wall. A late stop sign by third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez initially stopped Dyson – until Rodriguez made a wild throw to the plate.
That permitted Dyson to score and Escobar to reach third.
“When I hit that ball,” Escobar said, “I thought, `That’s in the gap. A double.’ But, oh, a couple of more inches. But that’s OK, man.”
It was about to get better.
Alex Gordon’s sharp grounder to short ate up Rodriguez for another error, although Gordon was credited with an RBI since Escobar was running on the play. Betancourt then drove a 2-2 hanger into the Royals’ bullpen beyond the left-field wall.
“They got us in that inning,” Rays manager Joe Maddon said. “0-2 basehit by Dyson, and then Escobar off the wall. Gordon, bullet at the shortstop, and then a hanging breaking-ball homer.”
The Royals struck for four more runs after Gordon opened the eighth with a double against Gomes. Betancourt popped out before Gomes issued an intentional walk to Mike Moustakas.
Butler foiled the strategy by driving an RBI single into center. Francoeur followed with a booming three-run homer.
“I’ve been saying this offense is going to hit at some point,” Francoeur said. “We did all year last year, and we’ve got too many good hitters in here not to hit. This is a good time for us to get going. We want to show ownership that we think we can win.”