Royals march on

Storms can’t slow down first-place Kansas City

08/17/2014 8:02 PM

08/17/2014 8:02 PM

Jeremy Guthrie waited 10 minutes before he entered the indoor batting cage at Target Field. A rain delay had paused an eventual 12-6 Royals victory over the Twins, but Guthrie committed to outlasting the storm. He threw a 12-pitch simulated inning, rested for 20 more minutes and then tossed 12 more.

After a 54-minute delay, the game resumed and Guthrie remained. He provided seven innings of four-run baseball, a valuable performance that allowed manager Ned Yost to save his bullpen on a day his offense exploded.

“Just to be able to maneuver through that made it a great day for us,” Yost said.

A day after plating a lone run, the Royals matched their season high with a dozen runs. As rain pelted the diamond, the lineup strung together a seven-run rally in the second inning. A trio of homers soared out of the park after the delay, with Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Josh Willingham each going deep.

Gordon lofted a two-run blast to right-center field, the deepest crevice of the ballpark. Perez crushed a laser into the stands in left. Willingham received a standing ovation from his former fanbase when he deposited a ninth-inning blast in the third deck.

Guthrie, 9-10, 4.48 ERA, allowed a pair of homers of his own. He pumped strikes at the Twins, comfortable with the advantage created by his teammates. He threw 100 pitches on the mound in addition to the work he consumed during the delay to stay fresh.

“Obviously the big lead early was huge for us,” Guthrie said. “It allowed me to really just go out there and attack, and not have to worry about too much, with the way the offense was going.”

With a loss by the Detroit Tigers, the Royals, 68-55, again expanded their lead in the American League Central to 1 1/2 games. Kansas City can capture its eighth consecutive series victory by besting Minnesota in Monday’s series finale.

The conditions marred the game’s flow. The first pitch was thrown after a 34-minute wait. The tarp stayed stationary for the duration of the delay. At last, at 1:44 p.m., Twins starter Tommy Milone threw the day’s first pitch. He needed nine to handle the first inning; the rest of his afternoon would be far less enjoyable.

Between innings, Yost tarried into his office to check his iPad. The forecast informed him of an approaching storm. The Royals tossed Milone into one as rain started to pelt the diamond. “Milone had to pitch through the majority of the tough situation,” Guthrie said.

As the first inning ended, the skies opened. The Twins took the field, anyway. Milone absorbed a swift pounding. He loaded the bases by yielding a single to Billy Butler, plunking Alex Gordon with an 87-mph fastball and walking Josh Willingham on five pitches.

“We were making him work, not leaving the strike zone,” Butler said. “He was trying to make us chase some stuff. And then having to come to us, and we were squaring it up. It was one of those things where we got into a good situation, got a couple good hits, and next thing you know, it turned into a huge inning.”

With one out, Alcides Escobar stuck his cleats in the muddy footing by home plate. He punched a grounder up the middle, out of Milone’s grasp and into center field for a two-run hit. After a walk by Jarrod Dyson, Escobar made a perfect read on a bloop single from Nori Aoki. He followed Willingham to the plate.

Twins manager Ron Gardenhire inched his fielders forward to defend against a groundball by Omar Infante. Caught in a miserable slump, with a .522 on-base plus slugging percentage in August heading into Sunday, he slapped a grounder toward All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier.

Dozier ranged to his right. Sliding across the slippery grass, he let the ball shoot into the outfield. Two runs scored. Butler smacked his second single of the inning to plate the seventh run.

The rain slackened for a spell. But at 2:42 p.m., thunder rumbled in the distance. A second delay started 18 minutes later. When the game resumed, Guthrie returned to the mound and maintained his swift pace. He yielded a two-run blast to designated hitter Kennys Vargas, but the trio of homers from Gordon, Perez and Willingham mitigated the damage.

In the seventh inning, the players completed a quirky collective achievement: They hit for the cycle against reliever Ryan Pressley. Perez roped his home run into the left-field seats. Gordon followed him with a triple. Willingham provided an RBI double. When Escobar dunked a single into center, the feat was complete.

The surplus of scoring allowed Yost to rest his late-game duo of Wade Davis and Greg Holland for the second day in a row. After Jason Frasor served up a two-run shot in the eighth, Yost did use Kelvin Herrera, the team’s seventh-inning stalwart, in the ninth with a six-run advantage. Aware of both Detroit’s loss and more encroaching storms, Yost opted to take no chances.

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