The sequence confirmed the blessed fortune shining on the Royals, even as the events hinted at the organization’s darkest fear.
In the seventh inning of a 6-4 victory over Minnesota, Salvador Perez stood inside the dugout with his shirt untucked. It was his turn to bat. He did not. Instead Erik Kratz, a 34-year-old backup acquired last month, headed to the plate.
Kratz jumped on the first pitch he saw, allowing the team a moment to forget about Perez’s condition. The impact shattered his bat. His power still propelled the baseball over the left-field fence. For good measure, he boomed a second homer in the ninth, giving him his first career multihomer game and temporarily obscuring the concern over Perez’s right knee.
The team phrased the injury as “discomfort” as the game wound down. A club official relayed that Perez was removed as a “precautionary measure.” The Royals listed his availability as “day to day.” Perez missed 67 games after tearing his left meniscus in the spring of 2012.
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His injury sullied an otherwise tidy evening. The Royals nabbed their eighth consecutive series victory. Jason Vargas extended his streak of scoreless innings to 17 before yielding a solo homer in the seventh. He lasted seven in all, allowing only four hits along the way, as his teammates returned to normalcy after an eventful four days at Target Field.
A bothersome outing by Greg Holland mitigated the happiness of Friday’s victory. The offense sputtered on Saturday and then dropped a dozen runs on their rain-soaked foes the next afternoon. On Monday evening, amid another brief shower, the Royals resembled the club that has stormed past Detroit in the American League Central.
KC hitters punished an erratic rookie starter. Perez came through with a two-run single, and Billy Butler followed with a run-scoring hit of his own in the fifth. Vargas shined in his clinical manner. Kratz crushed the two late-game long balls and padded the advantage. After Aaron Crow surrendered a three-run blast in the ninth, Holland emerged from the bullpen for his 38th save.
The most intriguing aspect of this series was the managerial machinations. Manager Ned Yost spent Saturday’s loss handcuffed by the unavailability of Wade Davis and Holland. He pitched Kelvin Herrera, his seventh-inning specialist, with a six-run lead on Sunday because he felt compelled to “hammer the nails down in the coffin.”
His latest quirk was sitting center fielder Lorenzo Cain. He has sat for four of the last five nights, though he entered the game late on Monday. In his start on Saturday, he struck out four times. Yost planned to play Cain on both today and Wednesday at Coors Field.
But Jarrod Dyson stayed in the starting lineup for Monday, and went one for three with an RBI single, a walk and a run.
“We’ve got 39 games left,” Yost said before Monday’s game. “We’ve got to try to match up every day.”
The pitching duel favored the Royals. Vargas returned to the mound after his finest outing as a Royal. He had spun a three-hit shutout against Oakland last Wednesday. On Monday he looked in danger of allowing a run in the first inning.
Twins leadoff man Danny Santana singled, advanced to second on a ground ball and stole third. But there he lingered, stranded when Vargas struck out Joe Mauer with a change-up and let Kennys Vargas hit a harmless infield fly for the third out.
From there, Vargas settled into a groove. He matched up with a Minnesota rookie
Trevor May, a 24-year-old once considered a midtier prospect, got his second big-league start. In his first, nine days before, he had walked seven Athletics and yielded four runs in two innings.
Facing the Royals, May lost his command in the fifth. He issued walks to Alcides Escobar, Dyson and Omar Infante. The third free pass occurred with two outs. Up to the plate strode Perez, who promptly swung at the first pitch, a thigh-high slider. A two-run single nestled into the center-field grass.
The next batter was Butler. He roped the next pitch into center for another RBI single, a run aided by the Twins’ incompetence. Infante braked as he rounded third and checked the outfield before re-engaging in a sprint homeward. Santana made a strong peg, but backup catcher Eric Fryer fumbled the catch. Infante tiptoed across the plate.
The lineup batted around in the inning. The feat occurred three times over these four games. The nine-man shuffle on Monday marked the 22nd time this season.