Start with spectacular pitching (eight shutout innings by Bruce Chen). Add a web-gem defensive play with the game on the line (a diving catch by Jarrod Dyson in the ninth inning). And, hey, a well-placed bloop single by Eric Hosmer was all the Royals needed.
Dyson’s catch helped closer Greg Holland survive an anxious final inning for a 1-0 victory over the Detroit Tigers that rewarded Chen’s marvelous effort at Kauffman Stadium.
“It was hit pretty hard,” Dyson said, “and it stayed low on a line. I just ran in, and I felt I had a shot at it. I went with my instincts to lay out for it.”
More on that in a minute.
Chen (10-10) said this was his best game of the year. He limited the Tigers to four hits in a season-high eight innings. It marked the first in 12 starts that he worked at least seven innings.
“Everything was working,” he said. “I felt my command of all of my pitches and the way I changed my arm angles, how I established my fastball and how I used my cutter – all of my pitches were working.”
Chen was at 100 pitches after working a one-two-three eighth, but manager Ned Yost never considered sending him back for the ninth.
“Nooo,” Yost said. “If you haven’t noticed, our bullpen is one of the best in the American League. You get a starter who gives you eight strong innings like he (did), I’ll turn it over the bullpen every time.”
Holland closed out the game, with a big assist to Dyson, and is now perfect in nine save opportunities since becoming the club’s closer following the July 31 trade that sent Jonathan Broxton to Cincinnati for two minor-league pitchers.
This save resembled a Broxton tight-rope walk rather than Joakim Soria’s cool efficiency but say this: Holland ended the game with two strikeouts after the Tigers put the tying and go-ahead runs on base.
“I was actually just looking for a few ground balls to get out of it,” Holland said. “A double play would have helped.”
Former Wichita State star Andy Dirks started the inning with a ground single up the middle before Dyson took extra bases away from Miguel Cabrera with a diving catch on a ball into the left-center gap.
Holland said he thought the ball was “in the gap for sure.” Catcher Brayan Peña was hoping it would be just “first and third.” Third baseman Mike Moustakas saw Dyson dive for the ball and thought, “He misses that ball, and they’re running forever.”
Dyson turned on the jets, gambled and won.
“You’ve got to go hard right there,” he said. “The game is on the line, and you’ve got to see what you can do. I felt if I didn’t make that play that I could at least knock it down. I wasn’t going to play it off a hop. I wanted to make the play.”
It was an absolute game-saver that looked even bigger when Prince Fielder looped a single into right that moved Dirks to second.
Here Holland responded by striking out Delmon Young and Jhonny Peralta.
Detroit starter Anibal Sánchez, a July acquisition from Florida, yielded just one soft run in seven innings. He permitted seven hits but no walks while striking out just one. Ex-Royals closer Octavio Dotel replaced Sánchez (2-4) to start the eighth.
One run was enough.
It came in the fourth inning after Austin Jackson ran down Billy Butler’s leadoff drive at the wall – just in front of the 410-foot marker. Moustakas then yanked a double to right and went to third on Lorenzo Cain’s grounder to second.
Hosmer produced the run with a low looper that dropped between the mound and second – and just beyond Sánchez’s reach and roughly 330 feet shy of Butler’s drive. Hosmer got an RBI single, and the Royals led 1-0.
“I knew it was definitely over the pitcher’s head,” Hosmer said. “My main concern was Peralta coming in (from short) and making a bare-hand play. That’s baseball. You can go up there and hit four lasers right at somebody. Or you can have a hit like that.”
Then it was just a matter of holding on tight – and getting a great catch.
“When it left (Cabrera’s) bat,” Yost said, “I thought, `Oh, my gosh, we’re in trouble.’ Then I looked at Dyce and thought, `Oh, man, there’s no way he’s going to get to that.’ Then those little wings he’s got on his ankles kicked in.”