KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Not even the beasts from the American League East can cool off the Royals, who won their seventh consecutive series with a 4-3 win Sunday against the division-leading Boston Red Sox.
Behind a bounce-back performance from ace James Shields, the Royals pounced on John Lackey early, building a 4-1 lead through three innings.
Shields, 7-8, who won for the first time at Kauffman Stadium since April 30, and the bullpen made sure it stood up as the Royals won three of four from Boston.
“The best team with best record came in here and we beat them three out of four,” manager Ned Yost said. “We’re playing great baseball right now.”
The Royals’ seven consecutive series victories is the longest stretch since a run of nine in a row from July 17 to Aug. 14, 1991 — or when Salvy Perez, who came off the seven-day disabled list Sunday, and Eric Hosmer were still 1-year-olds in diapers.
“Right now, we’re playing our hearts out and we’re letting it all out on the line,” Shields said. “It’s working out. Taking three out of four against these guys is a big series for us. Ever since the All-Star Break, we’ve been making a statement. We’re here to stay and we’re going to compete.”
Shields, who coughed up seven runs in six innings Tuesday against the Twins, wasn’t dominating, but he scattered seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts in seven innings.
“We made a minor adjustment in his mechanics (bringing his hands lower when he came set), which enabled him to get the ball down more consistently,” Yost said.
Still, Shields’ first-inning struggles cropped up again.
Shane Victorino rocked a one-out double off the left-field wall, swiped third then scored two batters later when Salvy Perez’s pickoff attempt ricocheted off the Red Sox right fielder’s back into shallow left.
Of course, the Royals got to Lackey, 7-10, early, too.
David Lough and Eric Hosmer opened the bottom of the first with walks. Hosmer was erased on Billy Butler’s 5-4-3 double play grounder, but Lough tied the game on Alex Gordon’s two-out single to left-center.
The Royals grabbed the lead an inning later on RBI singles by Jarrod Dyson and Lough.
Mike Moustakas blasted a double off the fence in right leading off the second and trotted home two batters later when Dyson slashed a grounder through a drawn-in Red Sox infield.
Dyson swiped second — his 17th steal of the season and one of three by the Royals in the first two innings — and was in the process of stealing third when Lough plopped a looping single into shallow right, giving the Royals a 3-1 lead.
Alex Gordon’s 410-foot bomb to the Pepsi Porch with one out in the third made it 4-1.
It was Gordon’s team-leading 13th home run of the season and his third in the last five games. It also proved to be enough runs for Shields and a trio of relievers.
“The thing about Alex is, when he gets hot, he can carry you for a little while,” Yost said. “Couple that with his defense — that was a great play that he made up against the wall. I don’t know how he made that play.”
The first two runners in the fifth inning had reached against Shields when Gordon made a splendid running as he crashed into the wall in foul territory on a Jacoby Ellsbury flyball.
That helped Shields keep the game at 4-1 until Ryan Lavarnaway’s two-run single down the left-field line in the sixth inning, which pulled Boston within a run.
Shields struck out Will Middlebrooks to end the threat and the Red Sox never drew closer.
“He battled,” Gordon said of Shields. “He’s the best competitor I’ve ever met. He’s going to give you 110 percent every time he goes out there on every pitch.”
Relievers Tim Collins and Aaron Crow nursed the 4-3 lead through the eighth inning before closer Greg Holland mowed through Lavarnaway, Middlebrooks and Ellsbury for his 25th consecutive save and 32nd overall.
“If you want to go to the playoffs, you’ve got to playoff-caliber teams,” Holland said. “That’s a playoff team this year.”