NEW YORK — Maybe it was a friendly sun. Maybe it was the New York Mets simply turning in a clunker on a sunny Sunday afternoon. Whatever it was, the Royals took full advantage in a 6-2 victory at Citi Field.
On a day when the Royals put All-Star catcher Salvy Perez on the concussion disabled list, saw pitcher Wade Davis depart on family emergency and outfielder David Lough exit because of an injury … it still turned out well.
“That’s the sign of a good team,” third baseman Mike Moustakas said. “When there are mistakes made, you take advantage. That sun out there today in right field was terrible.
“You saw outfielders on both teams struggling with it. Luckily, we didn’t have as many fly balls hit over there against us. It ended up changing the game a little bit.”
More than a little bit.
The sun in a high sky made right field a nightmare whenever the sparse cloud cover dissipated. That seemed to happen most often when the Royals were at the plate — particularly in a decisive three-run fifth inning.
“That sun was tough, even in center,” said Lorenzo Cain, who opened the game in center field before shifting to right after Lough exited in the fifth because of tightness in his right quadriceps muscle.
“I felt bad for (Mets right fielder Marlon) Byrd out there because it was tough. A very tough sun. We were lucky. We didn’t get any fly balls when it was really bad. I’m glad we didn’t.”
The Royals also received another strong performance by right-hander Ervin Santana, who held the Mets to one run and five hits in six innings before the bullpen closed out the Royals’ 11th victory in 12 games.
“For us, it’s important to take the series,” said Santana, who has allowed just four earned runs over 281/3 innings in his last four starts. “That’s our goal. Against any team, your goal is to take the series.”
Santana, 8-6, turned over a five-run lead to Tim Collins, who worked around a leadoff single in the seventh before yielding a double and a walk to start the eighth.
Louis Coleman limited the damage to one run before ending the inning. All-Star closer Greg Holland pitched a briskly efficient ninth in a non-save situation.
Why Holland? The Royals had used their bullpen for 11 2/3 innings over the previous two games.
“He’s more rested than anybody else down there,” manager Ned Yost explained. “In a five-run lead, it’s easier to bring somebody else in and try to get through it.
“In a four-run lead, if two guys get on, I’ve got to bring in Holly anyway. So (if that happens), I’ve defeated the purpose of trying to rest my bullpen.”
The Royals improved to 56-52 as they reached the two-third point in their season. That puts them on pace for 84 victories — their highest total since they won 84 in 1993.
The victory also closed out an 8-1 trip that began with three-game sweeps at Chicago and Minnesota. It is the best record in club history for any trip of nine games or more. The Royals were 8-2 on three previous occasions.
“It all starts with pitching and defense,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “In those areas, we’ve been doing great. And, lately, the timely hitting has been there.”
Mets starter Zack Wheeler, 4-2, gave up four runs and five hits while throwing 105 pitches in just five innings. He wasn’t particularly sharp, but his defense betrayed him — especially in that three-run fifth inning.
Oh, yeah, that fifth inning. Hold on. That’s coming.
First, the Royals opened the scoring when Moustakas turned around a 93-mph Wheeler fastball with two outs in the fourth. Moustakas drove it over the right-field wall for his 10th homer and a 1-0 lead.
“I ended up getting a good pitch,” Moustakas said. “I put a good swing on it, and it ended up leaving the yard. Every day, we’re looking for somebody new to come through. Today, it was kind of a team deal for us.”
Now, about that amazin’ — that’s the word always used to describe the Mets, isn’t it? — fifth inning.
Lough led off with a double on a ball that Byrd lost in the sun. Lough appeared to be moving at less than full speed but still reached third on Miguel Tejada’s sacrifice.
Jarrod Dyson replaced Lough, whom the Royals subsequently said is battling tightness in his right quadriceps muscle.
“I just didn’t like the way he was running on that play,” Yost said. “And at that point, I thought it was a crucial point in the game. They were going to play the infield in. We had a one-run lead, and I wanted to go on contact.”
The switch to Dyson paid an immediate dividend when Wheeler buried his first pitch to Eric Hosmer. The ball got past catcher John Buck and Dyson scored for a 2-0 lead.
Hosmer drew a walk before Gordon sent a drive deep into the right-center gap. Byrd again battled the sun but reached the ball — but couldn’t catch it. The result was a two-base error that moved Hosmer to third.
“It’s tough knowing you’re the reason you lost the game,” Byrd said. “Somewhere, somehow I need to figure out a way to catch those.”
The Royals took full advantage when Cain flicked a single into right that, initially, it appeared Byrd might reach. Hosmer hugged third to possibly tag up, but Gordon saw it was going to drop and raced toward third.
Both runners scored, within an arm’s length of each other, for a 4-0 lead.
“I just got a good read on it and knew it was down the line,” Gordon said. “Hos did the right job of tagging up. I was just going to be behind him the whole way. It worked out.”
The Mets got one run back in their fifth on Eric Young’s two-out RBI single, but the Royals got that run back in a hurry. And a bonus one.
Dyson opened the sixth with a double to right against reliever Gonzalez Germen, who then walked Tejada. Hosmer followed with an RBI single to right for a 5-1 lead. Gordon’s single up the middle added another run.
“Our pitching staff has just been out-of-control good for us,” Moustakas said. “You give Magic (Santana) a couple of runs like that, he does what he does best — that’s getting outs.
“If we’re able to go out there and score for our starters, then we get it to our bullpen — and that’s tough business.”
Like the sun.