Alex Gordon froze with one out in the seventh inning Sunday against the Blue Jays, watching strike three sail by with Jarrod Dyson on third base in a tie ballgame.
The Royals never got Dyson home that inning, but Gordon refused to make the same mistake with the game still undecided two innings later.
“(Blue Jays reliever Brett Cecil) made a good pitch, a cutter in, that froze me (in the seventh), but I came up the next time against (Darren) Oliver — another lefty —and said, ‘Hey, if it’s anywhere close to the strike zone, I’m swinging,’” Gordon said. “I made an adjustment.”
With one out and Chris Getz on second, Gordon jumped on a first-pitch slider from Oliver and ripped the game-winning RBI single into left field for a hard-fought 3-2 victory.
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“I just wanted to be aggressive,” Gordon said. “Getz did a great job getting in scoring position and I was trying to take a good swing, put the barrel on the ball and make something happen.”
The result was a walk-off win when Getz, who reached with a double to right-center, slid home safely well ahead of Emilio Bonifacio’s throw and sent the crowd of 29,057 home smiling.
The Royals, 7-5, opened the season’s first home stand by sweeping the Twins, but had dropped two straight against Toronto before Gordon’s heroics capped another stellar outing by starter Ervin Santana.
While Santana wasn’t nearly as dominant as he was last Monday during the home opener, he consistently wriggled out of trouble, finishing with a no decision after he allowed two runs — one earned — in eight innings.
Santana, who scattered seven hits and three walks, recorded four strikeouts (all on sliders) including one against slugger J.P. Arencibia with two runners on to end the eighth inning in a 2-2 game.
“He was very stingy in terms of giving up runs and made big pitches when he needed to, especially in the eighth when he needed to get Arencibia,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Escaping trouble was Santana’s M.O. throughout the afternoon.
The Jays got one in the first, but an error factored heavily into the equation .
Former Royals Melky Cabrera and Jose Bautista swatted consecutive one-out singles and moved up a base when Dyson bobbled the ball in center.
Santana coaxed Edwin Encarnacion into a groundout to third baseman Elliot Johnson, but there was no chance for an inning-ending double play thanks to the error.
“I talked to him on the bench after that and I told him, ‘I’m going to get you at some point in this game and I’ll bounce back from that,’” Dyson said.
Dyson atoned in the third when he roped a leadoff triple to right-center field and scored on Alcides Escobar’s one-out sacrifice fly.
In between, Santana continued his Houdini act.
He gave up leadoff singles in the second and third innings, throwing in a walk to Bonifacio with nobody out in the third, but induced inning-ending double plays to end both threats.
Santana later worked around a leadoff single by Rajai Davis and one-out walk to Munenori Kawasaki in the fifth then stranded Cabrera and Encarnacion in the eighth with the Arencibia strikeout.
“He’s an experienced pitcher and doesn’t get caught up in too many situations,” Getz said. “He made some huge pitches.”
The only earned run Santana allowed came in the sixth inning when Encarnacion snapped a zero-for-11 skid with a one-out solo home run to left-center. The 393-foot wall-scraper probably benefited from the steady 18 mph tailwind that gusted to 33 mph at times.
However, the Royals tied the game in the bottom of the inning on Lorenzo Cain’s RBI single.
With one out, Billy Butler flared a single over second baseman Macier Izturis’ head in shallow right field. He moved to second on Eric Hosmer’s opposite-field single and scored with ease when Cain rapped a grounder up the middle.
Reliever Kelvin Herrera, 1-0, was credited with the win after a perfect ninth.