It’s May, of course, so maybe Cinco de Mayo parties mean less when they’re happening in the middle of a major-league baseball diamond.
This is baseball, and the Royals’ season is just 27 games old, so perhaps it’s wise to mention sample size and history. But on Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium, as the final hit landed just over an outstretched right-fielder, Alex Gordon rounded first base and spiked his helmet to the ground.
Gordon’s bases-loaded, two-out single in the 10th inning had sealed a 6-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox. And it lit the fuse on another raucous celebration for the surging Royals.
“We just continue to fight,” Royals designated hitter Billy Butler said. “We don’t give up.”
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Look at the standings for a moment: The Royals are now 17-10, seven games over .500 for the first time since sitting at 18-11 after a victory on May 7, 2009. And after their 11th comeback victory of the season, the Royals enter today’s series finale against Chicago — delayed a day by weather — with an opportunity to go eight games over .500 for the first time since Sept. 22, 2003. The Royals are also just a half-game behind the Central Division-leading Tigers, 19-11, but hold a game lead in the loss column.
“We just have a lot of guys that are not worried to be down,” Gordon said.
Just one inning before Gordon’s dramatic walk-off, Butler had rescued the Royals with a two-out, two-RBI double that tied the game at 5-5 in the bottom of the ninth. The dramatic line-drive came on a 3-2 pitch off White Sox closer Addison Reed, and scored pinch-runner Chris Getz and George Kottaras, who had drawn a walk after pinch-hitting for second-baseman Miguel Tejada.
(Some foreshadowing: Kottaras has this walk thing down.)
On the first 3-2 delivery to Butler, Reed had run a fastball in on the hands. Butler was just a tick late, and he was ready for what was coming next.
“I figured he might go something off-speed,” Butler said, “and he just left it up. I put a pretty good swing on it, and just got it in the gap.”
It was the first blown save of the year for Reed, who entered with 10 saves and a 1.38 ERA. It also capped a devastating trend against the Royals: The 24-year-old Reed has now surrendered 13 runs in 102/3 innings against the Royals.
“I’m just trying to battle (in that situation),” Butler said, “because I’m one strike from ending the game, too.”
The clutch hits from Butler and Gordon came after the Royals’ normally trustworthy bullpen coughed up a 3-1 lead in the top of the seventh. Relievers Tim Collins and Aaron Crow combined to surrender four runs, turning a two-run cushion into a 5-3 deficit.
For a moment, it appeared that the bullpen blowup would spoil a bounce-back effort from starter Wade Davis.
For six innings, Davis limited the White Sox to just one run on five hits. He added five strikeouts and maneuvered around three walks — a recent bugaboo — but still drew a no-decision.
After issuing seven walks in his last two outings, Davis said he tried to take a better line to the plate. The results were pretty good.
“Even on the walks,” Davis said, “it was aggressive walks. It wasn’t a pitch that missed by a lot.”
Center fielder Lorenzo Cain added three hits, raising his team-leading batting average to a healthy .341, and reliever Luke Hochevar lowered his ERA to 0.84 with scoreless frames in the eighth and ninth. Hochevar, in the midst of a bullpen transition, also made his case for more work in high-leverage situations.
“Every time he goes out and has outings like that,” Royals manager Ned Yost said, “he’s stepping closer and closer and closer to those type of situations. He got in today and was very efficient with his pitches.”
By the bottom of the 10th, after closer Greg Holland threw a scoreless inning, the Royals were ready to scratch a run across and go home. Cain opened the inning with a leadoff single off reliever Brian Omogrosso, and then swiped second base with one out. After Jeff Francoeur grounded out, White Sox manager Robin Ventura curiously elected to intentionally walk Chris Getz, who had entered as a pinch-runner in the ninth.
“Maybe they didn’t like the matchup,” Getz said.
Kottaras followed with another free pass. And Gordon, who began the day zero for five, followed with a deep drive to right. Off the bat, Yost instinctively began to think of his bullpen. He figured it would be caught, and Gordon did as well.
“It kept going, and it kept going, and it kept going,” Yost said. “The ball had a lot of carry on it.”
White Sox right-fielder Alex Rios also appeared to get a poor jump, and there it was, landing on the warning track, sparking a Sunday afternoon fiesta near second base.
“I thought they were gonna catch it,” Gordon said. “I thought I hit it pretty good, and knew it had a chance, but I had a rough day up to that point; I was just hoping it would drop.
“I was frustrated a little bit, but baseball’s a crazy game, and you’re gonna get a lot of opportunities. The team kept us in the game, and I was able to get that big hit.”