CLEVELAND — And so it continues. The Royals’ attack, in support of James Shields, remains colder than a witch’s dreams. Yet somehow, recently, it all turns out well.
The Royals struck for two late runs Monday night in rallying for a 2-1 victory over the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
It was notable for two reasons.
The Royals pulled back to .500 at 34-34 by winning for the 11th time in 13 games. And they leaped past the Indians into second place in the American League Central Division.
“We’re real resilient as a team,” Shields said. “We never gave up. And that’s the bottom line. We never gave up (after falling nine games under .500). We’re going in the right direction.”
The comeback came too late to reward Shields, who is now winless in nine starts despite compiling a 2.53 ERA in that span. He held the Indians to one run in six innings.
“I feel terrible for him,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “It’s probably in the back of his head that he needs to pitch a shutout when he goes out there. Hopefully, we’ll get him a good lead next time, and he can relax out there.”
If not Monday, then when are the Royals going to break out some run support for their ace and clubhouse heartbeat? Matchups don’t come much more favorable than Shields against Cleveland beanballer Carlos Carrasco.
Still … this makes four straight victories in games started by Shields. And the Royals packed lots of drama and more than a little good fortune into the final two innings.
They pulled even on a two-out bloop double by Eric Hosmer in the eighth inning and took the lead in the ninth on a bases-loaded wild pitch.
After squandering the chance for additional runs in the ninth, the Royals held on for the victory when Greg Holland worked around a one-out double by Michael Bourn.
The key was holding Bourn at second when the ball caromed off the wall and away from center fielder Lorenzo Cain. Bourn rounded hard at second but pulled up when Gordon made a strong throw to the infield.
“I knew we had to keep him at second with one out,” Gordon said. “It kicked right to me. Cain was yelling ‘three’ to me, and I just fired it (to third).”
The saved base proved decisive when Holland uncorked a wild pitch, but he stranded Bourn at third by striking out Mike Aviles (on a 99-mph fastball on a full count) before retiring Jason Kipnis on a grounder to second.
“It’s been a tough climb (back to .500),” designated hitter Billy Butler said. “but I think we’re more confident now than we were on our first good stretch (17-10 opening the season).
“I think that’s what going through some adversity does for you. We came out of it, and we came out of it in a big way.”
It was Butler who started the winning rally by opening the ninth inning with a double to left against Bryan Shaw who, an inning earlier, had blown a save in relief of Carrasco.
Elliot Johnson replaced Butler as a pinch runner. After Cain drew a walk, the Indians replaced Shaw, 0-1, with Rich Hill, who slipped in fielding David Lough’s attempt at a sacrifice bunt.
Lough got a bunt single. The Royals had the bases loaded with no outs, and the Indians, after the Royals sent up Miguel Tejada to pinch-hit for Mike Moustakas, again went to the bullpen — for Matt Albers.
The Indians pulled their infield in, but Albers threw a wild pitch. Johnson scored the go-ahead run when Albers applied a high tag after taking the throw from catcher Carlos Santana.
That’s all the Royals got. The rest of the inning included a botched suicide squeeze, but a one-run lead was enough.
The momentum shifted an inning earlier. The Royals had just pulled even on Hosmer’s two-out RBI double when Mark Reynolds lined a one-out single to left against Aaron Crow.
Reynolds broke for second when Jason Giambi swung through a full-count pitch. The throw from Salvy Perez sailed into center field for an error that permitted Reynolds to reach third.
Crow, 3-2, ended the threat by striking out Ryan Raburn.
The game was scoreless until Santana opened the sixth inning by driving a first-pitch fastball from Shields over the right-field wall for a 1-0 lead.
“Just trying to get ahead,” Shields said, “and I left it a little up.”
That was the only run against Shields in six innings, which lowered his ERA to 2.72 and marked his 13th “quality start” in 15 outings. It could have been worse. He was on the hook for a loss until the eighth inning.
Now … Carrasco.
He entered the game at 0-2 with a 15.26 earned-run average — yes, fifteen point two six — and best known for drawing suspensions by throwing at hitters (Butler among them) in a pique after surrendering homers.
Yet, here were the Royals rolling over inning after inning. Carrasco opened the game by retiring the first 13 hitters and carried a two-hit shutout into the eighth.
“He had as good of stuff as I’ve ever seen from him,” Butler said. “I know for a fact that we were glad to see him get out of there.”
That happened in the eighth after Chris Getz led off with a single and went to second on a sacrifice by Alcides Escobar. Indians manager Terry Francona opted for Shaw, who retired Gordon on a soft liner to third.
Hosmer then sent a blooper into short center.
“It’s all placement,” he said. “I thought it had a chance. I saw Mikey (Aviles) doing a dead-out sprint. I knew Kipnis and Bourn wouldn’t have a chance, but I was worried about Mikey.”
The ball fell for a game-tying double. It’s been that way for the Royals over the last two-plus weeks. Just not for Shields.