A cloud of chalk and dirt enveloped home plate as Lorenzo Cain collided with Rangers catcher Robinson Chirinos. Cain was slow to rise. He dug himself out from the pile and dusted off his uniform.
A sight that has become common on this road trip, which the Royals continued with a 6-3 victory on Saturday, greeted him as he loped back to the dugout. There were dozens of fans in Kansas City jerseys and T-shirts up on their feet to applaud the seventh-inning run.
As the Royals (72-56) complete this nine-game, 10-day tour through the heart of the country, they’ve encountered lowly competition and ample crowd support. A first-place team invokes such trappings.
“We’re putting it all together at the right time,” manager Ned Yost said.
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The Royals have not spent much time in first, but they appear comfortable with the terrain. During this trip, they have conducted themselves as a playoff-bound club, batting aside their bottom-dwelling foes each evening.
They have won six times in eight games as Detroit continues to tumble. The Tigers split a doubleheader with the Twins. The Royals inflated their American League Central lead to a season-best three games.
Cain scored in the seventh as the second half of a two-run single by Jarrod Dyson, the backup who matched a career-high with three RBIs on Saturday. Jeremy Guthrie muzzled the injury-depleted Rangers to the tune of one run in eight innings. He relied upon his defense, as he so often does, and the men behind him provided their customary stoutness.
“We were able to get quick outs, mix it up,” Guthrie said. “The mistakes I made, we got fortunate: Not too many of them were hit too hard. The biggest thing was I was trying to be aggressive and keep the pitch count as low as I could.”
For the offense, each night grants the opportunity for a new hero. Already on this trip the team has seen new addition Josh Willingham clear the bases in his former home park, backup catcher Erik Kratz homer twice and Omar Infante snap a dreadful slump with a three-double day. No singular figure emerged on Saturday. Instead, it was a collective triumph.
Their go-ahead barrage stemmed from patience. The lineup’s foremost practitioner, Willingham, started the string by staring at four pitches inside from Texas starter Nick Tepesch to begin the fifth. Mike Moustakas succeeded him with a single into right. A one-out walk by Cain, just his seventh since the All-Star break, loaded the bases.
“I went through a little rough patch,” Cain said. “But I feel like I’m definitely swinging the bat a little better right now.”
A fruitless grounder by Alcides Escobar shifted responsibility to Jarrod Dyson. He waited for Tepesch to throw a strike. Four balls arrived instead. The walk pushed the Royals ahead 2-1. They would never trail again.
The lead swelled three pitches later. Tepesch picked up a pair of strikes on Infante. Then he hung a slider. Infante punched the pitch into center field for a two-run single.
“Omar’s hit was huge,” Yost said.
Guthrie made his second productive start on this trip. In Minnesota he saved the bullpen in a rain-addled afternoon at Target Field. He combated unfavorable elements on Saturday evening.
In the summer, Globe Life Park resembles a launching pad. Home runs soar through the heat. Alex Gordon crushed his 15th of the year with two outs in the first. His solo shot clanged off the right-field pole.
Guthrie gave back the lead with one pitch. He flung an 88-mph fastball over the plate. Shin-Soo Choo muscled the ball back over the center-field fence. Yost called the inning-opener a “good pitch.” Guthrie found this humorous.
“Yeah, good for him to hit,” Guthrie said. “I think it only went like 410 feet.”
The game was tied, but the Royals stayed loose. In the second inning, Guthrie caused J.P. Arencibia to float a pop-up toward first base. The night before, Billy Butler had dropped a similar play, a repeat of a gaffe from a few weeks ago in Oakland. This time, Butler corralled the ball. He pumped his right first and doffed his cap to the dugout.
The blast from Choo did not faze Guthrie, either. He gives up about 28 a season. After Choo went deep, Guthrie retired the next 12 batters. His streak ended with a bloop single by Leonys Martin to lead off the fifth.
How hot are the Royals? Martin tried to steal second. He was thrown out by backup catcher Kratz.
Guthrie epitomized efficiency. He missed barrels. The confines of this ballpark favor the hitters, but Guthrie was unafraid of challenging the wounded Rangers lineup. In the seventh, Butler nabbed a well-struck grounder, stepped on first and then executed a double play at second.
The defense shined in the eighth. Gordon laid out to snag a line drive for one out. Infante and Escobar turned a slick double play to complete the inning. Guthrie saluted Gordon as the Royals exited the diamond.
“Everybody knows what we’re capable of doing,” Dyson said. “And the playoffs are right around the corner. We’re in first place, and we’re trying to stay there and hold it down.”