The noise inside Kauffman Stadium swelled and the action on the diamond ground to a halt. But inside the dugout, soon after swatting his second three-run homer of the day in an 8-6 victory over Baltimore, Royals outfielder Alex Gordon appeared blissfully unaware of what awaited him.
As Gordon descended the steps toward the team’s bat rack, James Shields turned and shouted after him.
“Gordo!” he said. “Get up here!”
The clamor confused Gordon. Never before in his career, he said afterward, had he received a curtain call. He did not know what to do. He asked teammates for advice. They told him to doff his helmet and wave. Gordon obliged, and soaked in the response. “It gave me goosebumps,” he said.
The reaction occurred after Gordon drove in a career-best six runs. He boomed two home runs after recording just one in the season’s first 42 games. Along with Billy Butler, one of the team’s few remaining connections to the miserable past, Gordon powered the offense as the Royals salvaged a four-game split with Baltimore and boosted their record back above .500.
Shields (6-3, 2.67 ERA) logged his typical quality start, giving up three runs across seven innings. The Orioles bruised him with singles in the third, but otherwise came away empty. Aaron Crow yielded a three-run shot to Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones in the ninth to tighten the gap.
As the Royals embark on a three-game series with the White Sox on Monday, they can take comfort in the reappearance of their offense. Both Gordon and Butler have disappointed through the first seven weeks of the season. But they resembled their former selves on Sunday. Butler notched three hits and score twice; Gordon went 4-for-4 and scored three times.
“If we hold our heads above water, when this offense gets hot, we’re going to take off.,” manager Ned Yost said.
The Royals barely treaded water during the first three games against Baltimore. They managed two runs in 26 innings. A gem from Danny Duffy saved them on Saturday. A day later, the stage belonged to Gordon.
On Saturday, he received raves for his glove, after he dove to preserve Duffy’s bid for a perfect game. On Sunday, he demonstrated his ability at the plate, notching four hits and scoring three runs, and offering a reminder of his production in 2011 and 2012.
“It was good to see for him, man,” Shields said. “He’s really been grinding all season.”
Gordon’s production sagged in the second half of 2013. The trend continued into this season. Gordon entered Sunday’s game with a pitiable .655 on-base plus slugging percentage, 119 points below his career average. In the first 16 games of May, he batted .217 with three extra-base hits.
Butler has been even more worrisome. Even after his performance on Sunday, his .599 OPS is still .215 points below his career average of .814. Yet the team has yet to waver in their faith in him. He still bats in the heart of the order. He opened the scoring with an RBI single for the second game in a row.
The lead was neither substantial nor safe. Baltimore loaded the bases with three singles in the third, and Nick Markakis rolled a two-run single past second baseman Pedro Ciriaco. Shields limited the Orioles to only one more run in the frame, which was cause for excitement for his club.
When the inning ended, pitching coach Dave Eiland turned to Yost inside the dugout.
“That’s it,” Eiland said. “That’s all they’re going to get.”
He was right. And the Royals would not go quietly. As a collective, they still have only 20 home runs this season – or, merely five more than White Sox rookie Jose Abreu. Gordon boomed No. 19 with two outs in the fifth. He belted a 92-mph fastball from Ubaldo Jimenez into the Orioles bullpen in right.
Two innings later, he unloaded on a hanging slider from reliever Troy Patton. The second homer prompted the curtain call. At 30, he achieved a new milestone. For the team, the hope is they can soon “catch fire” as Yost says so often.
“We’re above .500 right now, and I don’t even think we’re playing well,” Gordon said. “So hopefully our offense can pick it up like we did today, and we can start playing better.”