CLEVELAND | Sure, it’s only a week, just one week, but the way things have gone for the Royals, let’s not knock one good week.
This 9-3 victory over the Cleveland Indians on a sun-kissed Thursday afternoon left everyone in especially good spirits.
And why not?
Luke Hochevar turned in an effective and efficient performance. Alberto Callaspo and José Guillen hit game-changing homers that fueled a balanced 12-hit attack. And, hey, look at the standings.
That’s right. Somebody else (Cleveland, actually) is sitting at the bottom of the American League Central Division.
“The clubhouse is different,” right fielder David DeJesus said. “I don’t know if it’s the manager or just one of those things. Whatever it is, we’re going out there now expecting to win. It just feels like we trust each other more.”
The Royals completed a two-game sweep of the Indians and a 3-1 road trip that started with a two-game split in Baltimore. They are 5-2 since Ned Yost replaced Trey Hillman as manager and have won six of their last eight overall.
“I came in after the game,” Guillen said, “and told everybody, `This is a great road trip. Now, let’s get rid of this losing atmosphere.’ I see a different energy to the team right now. I sense this team is going in the right direction.”
Thursday’s romp followed Wednesday’s pulsating ninth-inning comeback when the Royals erased a one-run deficit by scoring five times against Indians closer Kerry Wood for an 8-4 victory.
Good times. Good as they’ve been this year, anyway.
“The first job,” DeJesus said, “is to get back to .500 and then go from there.”
The Royals are still eight games shy of .500 at 17-25, but last place, for now, is in the rear-view mirror. Third-place Chicago, 16-23, was one-half game away going into its game late Thursday at Los Angeles.
“That stuff all takes care of itself,” Yost said. “Our goal is to play good, hard, fundamental baseball. Pitch well. Have good at-bats. And let everything else take care of itself.”
Hochevar, 4-2, pitched his third career complete game while striking out seven, walking two and allowing just four hits.
“What you set out to do every time you take the mound,” he said, “is throw a complete-game shutout. They scored some runs, but everything built around pitching is to get you deep into ballgames. To get a complete game is awesome.”
Callaspo’s three-run homer capped a four-run third inning that gave the Royals a 6-1 lead. Guillen’s two-run shot came in a three-run seventh that answered Hochevar’s only hiccup – a two-run homer by Jhonny Peralta in the sixth.
Yost loved the pop but not as much as seeing his club reach double figures in hits for the fifth straight game. Eight different players had at least one hit, and all nine starters reached base.
“I would much rather have an offense that can manufacture runs in that fashion,” Yost said, “than have to sit back and wait for the quick strike.
“The quick strike is nice, but an offense that is capable of putting together good at-bats, taking walks in crucial situations, not getting yourself out – I love that type of offense.”
The Indians actually opened the scoring on Travis Hafner’s RBI single in the first inning, but the Royals answered with a two-run second against Cleveland starter Mitch Talbot.
A four-run third inning blew the game open. DeJesus flicked a one-out single into left center and went to third on Billy Butler’s double past center fielder Trevor Crowe.
Guillen broke a zero-for-17 skid this season against Cleveland with an RBI single before Callaspo crushed a three-run homer to right field.
Talbot, 5-3, settled down thereafter and pitched through the sixth inning without further damage. Even so, his ERA jumped by more than one-half of a run from 3.23 to 3.88.
Hochevar gave up two singles in the first inning but didn’t allow another hit until Shin-Soo Choo’s one-out double in the sixth. Peralta’s two-out homer closed the gap to 6-3.
The Royals, again, responded immediately.
Scott Podsednik opened the seventh with a single against reliever Rafael Perez. Mike Aviles followed with a single to right – and the ball got through Choo for an error. Podsednik scored, and Aviles went to third.
The Royals appeared poised to miss the chance for a bigger inning when Perez struck out DeJesus, and Hector Ambriz retired Butler on a fly to short right.
Guillen then pumped a two-run drive over the left-field wall. It was his club-leading ninth homer and ended a season-worst drought of 54 at-bats without one.
“I’ve been looking for that swing for a while,” he said. “Look, it takes 25 guys. I left a runner on base (in the second inning) and said to Callaspo, `Pick me up.’ He did.
“Same thing with Billy (in the seventh). I told him, `I’ve got you.’ That’s what you’ve got to do. I’m telling you, it’s different around here. Hopefully, we can keep it up.”