CLEVELAND — If the Royals are still under the radar in this postseason push … well, it might be time to adjust that radar.
Alex Gordon hit the first pitch of Wednesday afternoon’s game for a home run, which led to a three-run inning and provided James Shields with all the support he needed in a 6-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians.
Not just that, either.
Gordon virtually called his shot. And Shields executed a behind-the-back grab of a grounder between his legs for the final out in the eighth inning. Call it momentum, kismet, destiny … whatever.
Those in the game insist it’s real.
And they cherish it.
“It’s a crazy game,” third baseman Mike Moustakas grinned, “and when good things happen to your team, you get excited.”
It all resulted in a second straight victory over the Indians after losing Monday’s series opener. The Royals (77-69) also moved to within 2 games of Tampa Bay for the final wild-card spot.
Gordon opened the game by rocking a 90-mph fastball from Cleveland starter Scott Kazmir into the right-field seats for his club-leading 19th homer of the season.
“He said he was going to do that,” manager Ned Yost said. “He picks his spots, man. That’s the second time in a row when he’s said he’s going to go up and ambush the first pitch and hit it out.”
Gordon confirmed it.
“Ambushed him,” he said. “A pitcher like that with great stuff, I was looking for a first-pitch heater and trying to do exactly that. Once you get behind that guy, he has that slider — it’s pretty deceiving.
“I figured I’d get a fastball to hit. Why not try to drive it?”
Emilio Bonifacio followed with a sinking liner to right that Drew Stubbs, in the start to a rough personal day, played into a triple. Eric Hosmer drove an RBI single to center for a 2-0 lead.
The Royals added another run when Hosmer came around on two-out singles by Justin Maxwell and Lorenzo Cain.
That staked Shields to a three-run lead, and he immediately gave two back in the Cleveland first after yielding a leadoff single to Michael Bourn and hitting Mike Aviles.
The runners moved to second and third on Jason Kipnis’ slow grounder to second, but Shields had a chance to escape unharmed after Carlos Santana popped to third.
Instead, Michael Brantley drove a two-run single up the middle.
That was it, though. Shields (11-9) didn’t allow another hit until Kipnis and Santana opened the ninth inning with singles. That brought Greg Holland into the game and, three strikeouts later, it was over.
“I wanted to finish (the game) bad,” Shields said. “I wanted to give Holly two days off. This guy has been a beast all season long. He’s been pitching a lot lately. I’m pretty disappointed at not finishing the game.”
Shields’ web gem — look for it on the highlight shows — came on Aviles’ hopper back to the mound with two outs in the eighth. Shields whipped his glove hand behind his back and between his legs. And caught the ball.
“Sometimes, you close your eyes and get a good ball in your glove every once in a while,” he said. “That was a fun little play there.”
Bonifacio had three hits, while Hosmer and Cain, back in center field, each had two in a balanced 11-hit attack.
The Royals were 5 for 10 with runners in scoring position and benefited from two Indians errors on pickoff moves and a catch not made by Stubbs in foul ground.
“They’re a good team,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “They’re right where we are. They’re a real good team.”
The victory also ended a stretch of 44 games in 44 days for the Royals, who went 26-18 in that stretch. They have an open date Thursday in Detroit before opening a three-game weekend series against the Tigers.
“Honestly, it wasn’t that bad,” Gordon said. “Everyone is enjoying coming to the ballpark. We’re having a good time. It hasn’t really been a grind because of the chemistry and situation we’ve got going.”