As the ball jumped off Alex Gordon’s bat and rose toward the right-field seats, the relief could be felt throughout Kauffman Stadium.
On the field. In the dugout. And especially in the grandstands.
They all exhaled when Gordon’s three-run shot broke open the Royals’ 7-3 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Wednesday and snapped the club’s streak of seven games without a home run, the longest dry spell to open a season in franchise history.
The Royals, never a team known for power, had gone the first four games without a home run five times in their history, but not since 1993.
But on a warm April day, with the winds blowing out at 16 mph, Gordon muscled up in a five-run fifth inning against former Royal Jake Odorizzi, 1-1, eliciting a large cheer and exhale from the announced matinee crowd of 13,612 for the conclusion of the season-opening homestand.
The Royals downplayed the fact they were the last team in the major leagues to hit a home run but understood the significance of Gordon’s 396-foot blast.
“It’s nice to get three runs,” manager Ned Yost said. “I don’t care how we get ’em. I don’t care if it’s a home run, or it’s two doubles … home runs are nice …”
Gordon, who had four RBIs in the game, struck the home run the way most homers are hit — by not trying to hit it out of the yard.
“This is a big park,” Gordon said. “We’re not going to hit a lot of home runs here. They’re going to come. We knew that. We were trying not to do too much and stay within ourselves. Sometimes you put a good swing on it, and that happens.
“I’m sure we’re going to hit more than one … so we’ll play it from here.”
Gordon’s shot enabled starter Jeremy Guthrie, 2-0, to continue his April mastery. Guthrie, who worked the first seven innings, allowing one run and four hits, is now undefeated in his last eight April starts, dating to 2012 when he was with Colorado. Since then, he has gone 6-0 in the month.
The victory also was sparked by second baseman Johnny Giavotella, who was recalled from Omaha before the game as a replacement for injured Omar Infante. Giavotella had a hand in both the two-run fourth when the Royals grabbed the lead and in the Royals’ five-run fifth, their most productive inning of the young season.
Guthrie was a little shaky in the early going, stranding five Tampa Bay runners in the first three innings. After Tampa Bay’s Desmond Jennings hit a leadoff home run to centerfield in the fourth for a 1-0 lead, Guthrie retired 12 straight batters, with shortstop Alcides Escobar turning in several web gems for outs.
Escobar’s best play may have been a back-to-the-infield, over-the-shoulder, basket catch of a pop fly to short left with one on and one out in the second inning.
“That’s what good defense does,” said Guthrie, who threw 109 pitches, 70 for strikes before giving way to Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera for the final two innings. “The ability to get out of a few jams … Escobar makes the tremendous play … You get out of jams because you throw strikes and the defense picks you up.
“On that ball to hit to shall left center that Escobar caught, you’re already preparing for first and second and one out, how am I going to get out of this …? And the next thing you know, you’ve got two outs.”
With the Royals down 1-0, Giavotella triggered a two-run fourth with a leadoff single. When the Royals exploded for five runs on six hits in the fifth, Giavotella was in the middle of the action again.
After Nori Aoki delivered an RBI triple for a 3-1 lead, Giavotella hit a sacrifice fly to center, scoring Aoki, and earning Giavotella a standing ovation from the fans behind the first-base dugout.
“That was a big at-bat,” Yost said of Giavotella’s sacrifice fly. “We’re coming off a night like we had (Tuesday) night when we couldn’t put together any kind of offensive outburst, and even score a run, so Nori comes up with the big triple to make it 3-1 and Gio with his sac fly was huge, it gave us a nice three-run lead. You can work with a three-run lead. And Gordie capped it with the three-run homer.”
The win gave the Royals, 4-4, their second straight series win on the season-opening homestand, having taking two of three from the Chicago White Sox and the Rays.
“It was a great home stand for us,” said Yost, whose team has a chance to assert itself in the AL Central race when it begins a six-game road trip on Friday to Minnesota and Houston.
“We came in here after two real close losses … we could have won either game in Detroit. To put together a 4-2 homestand … you want to win series. When you start a season, the focus is to win a series, win a series, win a series, and we’ve won two series. It was a real good homestand for us.”