KANSAS CITY, Mo. — When Lorenzo Cain was a young ballplayer, grinding his way through the Milwaukee Brewers’ minor-league system, he often tried to pattern his playing style off an All-Star center fielder named Torii Hunter.
Yep, that would be the same Hunter that so often torched the Royals while the Twins owned Kauffman Stadium for the better part of the 2000s. So on Saturday night, when Cain led the Royals to a 7-3 victory over those same Twins with three hits and three RBIs, it was hard to overlook the connection.
This was a performance — and a much-needed victory — that was absolutely Hunter-esque.
“I’ll definitely take a night like this any night,” said Cain, playing in his ninth game after missing most of the season with a groin strain and then hip injury. “I’m feeling pretty good right now.”
The Royals, paying tribute to the 1920 Kansas City Monarchs by wearing the old-school throwbacks, stayed out of last place by notching their second victory in their last seven games. For now, the Royals moved to 40-53 — 1 ½ games better than the Twins in the AL Central.
It helped that Luis Mendoza continued his run of effective starts.
Mendoza, his flowing mane of dark hair in stark contrast to the Prohibition-era jerseys, came through with an outing that would have perhaps drawn a respectful tip of the cap from the late Satchel Paige, the old Monarchs legend.
Mendoza allowed three earned runs and seven hits over 6 1/3 innings, lowering his ERA to 4.31. More promising: Mendoza has now posted a 2.93 ERA and 24 strikeouts over his last four starts.
That, as they say, could play in any era.
“That give me a lot of confidence in the last two starts, three starts,” Mendoza said. “Every start I feel better and better.”
And there was more.
The Royals rapped out 16 hits — Alex Gordon had three more, raising his average to .292 — and the offense nicked Twins starter Scott Diamond for four runs over six innings. The Twins were wearing the old jerseys of the 1909 St. Paul Colored Gophers. And by the end, when the Royals opened it up with three runs in the seventh and eighth, this was whack-a-gopher.
“Just a lot of singles and good at-bats we put together,” Gordon said. “We were able to chip away.”
The Royals jumped ahead 1-0 in the first inning on an RBI single from Cain. It was a sharp liner to center that scored Gordon, and it gave Cain seven RBIs in nine games since returning from the disabled list. He would add more, too, while increasing his average to .419 (13 for 31) since his return.
“That’s one of the reasons we traded Melky (Cabrera),” Gordon said. “We tried to get something out of the trade, and we knew we had Cain coming in with a lot of talent. And he’s a young player, and he’s only going to get better.”
Cain left the game for pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson in the seventh after doubling to left-center and jogging gingerly into second. Cain said he felt something start to grab during the play. But Royals manager Ned Yost had already planned to give Cain the rest of the night off.
Earlier, the Royals had added to the lead when Mike Moustakas came around to score on Yuniesky Betancourt’s one-out, RBI single in the second.
Mendoza, meanwhile, zoomed through three quick innings before running into trouble in the fourth. Right-fielder Ben Revere landed the first blow, a triple that tucked just inside the bag at first base. Joe Mauer scored Revere on a groundout to second, and Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit kept the inning going with back-to-back one-out singles.
Mendoza nearly escaped with no further damage when Chris Parmelee sent a double-play ball to shortstop Alcides Escobar, but Betancourt, after taking the throw at second, double-clutched and pulled Eric Hosmer off the bag at first.
But if you thought the Twins were going to give up last-place without a fight … well, they gifted the Royals a golden opportunity in the fifth.
Gordon, who collected his eighth multi-hit game of July, laced a single into center field to lead off the inning. Moments later, Escobar singled to left, and Cain stayed hot with a scorched single to left, scoring Gordon.
The Twins countered by intentionally walking Salvy Perez, a gambit that nearly paid off when Moustakas hit a hard grounder to Parmelee at first. Instead, Parmelee flubbed the play, Escobar sprinted home, and the Royals led 4-2.
Parmelee, it should be noted, was only in the lineup because regular first baseman Justin Morneau was placed on paternity leave before the game following the birth of a son.
Mendoza finally ran out of gas in the seventh after allowing two singles and then an RBI double to third baseman Jamey Carroll. That forced Royals manager Ned Yost to summon left-hander Jose Mijares from the bullpen with the Royals leading 4-3 and runners on second and third.
Then things got a little confusing. Denard Span hit a hard shot to Hosmer, who immediately fired to Perez to cut down lead runner Alexi Casilla at home. Casilla would have been toast, but he sprinted back to third, blowing past Carroll, who was already standing on third base.
Casilla was out for running out of the baseline, although Yost believed the Royals should have got two outs on the play.
“When Sal ran down the line, he tagged Carroll first,” Yost said. “It’s Casilla’s bag, he has the right to the bag. He tagged Carroll first, Casilla evacuated the bag, and took off before we had a chance to tag him.”
The umpire’s counter argument: Once Casilla abandoned the bag, it became Carroll’s bag. No matter, Mijares danced out of trouble when Revere flied to left.
It was plenty easy from there. Reliever Aaron Crow recorded his second save. Cain could enjoy his impressive night after a few extra minutes in the training room. And the Royals, with a victory today, can win their first series since a sweep of Tampa Bay during June 25-27.
“When you go out there and play well, it definitely makes everything a lot easier,” Cain said. “So I’m just trying to keep it up and make it last as long as possible.
“Hopefully, I can. And hopefully we can get on the right track and start winning some ballgames.”