ST. LOUIS | Sure, Mark Grudzielanek gets pumped whenever he returns here for a series against the Cardinals.
“How can you not?” he said after Thursday’s 4-1 victory completed a three-game sweep for the Royals at Busch Stadium. “I only played here for one year, and look at how (the fans) treat me.”
Grudzielanek got the prodigal son treatment each game from the sellout crowds. That was his reward, it seems, for playing for the Cardinals in 2005, batting .294 and helping them reach the National League Championship Series.
Stalled contract talks after the season prompted him to look elsewhere as a free agent; he landed with the Royals.
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“This is a fun place,” he said. “I enjoyed it for that year. Of course, you want to come back and play well. It’s a nice feeling to come in here and beat them.”
Grudzielanek played a key role Thursday in helping the Royals extend their winning streak to five games. His RBI double that opened the scoring in the fourth inning, and he scored the game’s second run when Mark Teahen guided a soft single through the right side.
“I was running, probably, 75-80 percent (from second),” Grudzielanek said, “because it wasn’t hit hard. I wasn’t even sure it was going to get through. It was a hard angle (to read).
“So I came around (third), and (coach Luis Silverio) kept waving me. I thought, `Oh, shoot, I’d better get going.’ I kicked it in and boom.”
The throw from right fielder Ryan Ludwick appeared to beat Grudzielanek to the plate, but he eluded the tag of ex-Royals teammate Jason LaRue. That run was the difference in the game until Teahen hit a two-run homer in the ninth.
Can closer Joakim Soria, if needed, pitch four days in a row?
Manager Trey Hillman plans to take a cautious approach after using Soria to close out all three victories against the Cardinals.
“We’ll see how he feels,” Hillman said. “I’d be hesitant to do it. But if he comes back (Friday) and says, `I’ve got to have the ball.’ Then we’ll consider it.”
Soria threw just 12 pitches Thursday after an eight-pitch inning on Wednesday. This is the third time in his career that he has pitched three consecutive days; he has never pitched four days in a row.
“We’ll be a little bit lighter (Friday),” Hillman admitted. “But to get three wins, that’s well worth it.”
Rotation keep rolling
Zack Greinke provided the Royals with their sixth straight quality start and the ninth in their last 10 games by allowing just one run in seven innings.
“They’ve done an outstanding job the last two times through,” Hillman said. “Hopefully, we can keep that rolling. Hopefully, they can keep feeding off each other.”
The rotation has allowed just 17 runs in 67 1/3 innings over the last 10 games. The unit’s earned-run average has dropped from 4.99 to 4.57 in that span.
Bearing down (or not)
John Buck entered Thursday’s game leading the majors with a .426 average with runners in scoring position. That represents a remarkable turnaround since, before this season, he batted .230 in those situations.
“I’ve made a conscious effort to stay calm,” he said. “Before, I would get overly excited and try to hit it harder or farther or to try to hit a fly ball.
“This year, I’m just trying to play pepper. It’s as simple as that. It’s helped me stay on off-speed stuff. I’ve just tried to simplify it and not put as much emphasis on it as I used to.”
Buck flied out Thursday in his only at-bat with runners in scoring position in Thursday’s game. It was a two-out fly to right with Teahen at third base in the second inning.
Royals outfielder David DeJesus was tied for third, through Wednesday, with a .400 average with runners in scoring position.
The Royals open a nine-game homestand against three National League teams when the San Francisco Giants arrive Friday for a three-game series. The homestand also includes three-game series against the Colorado Rockies and the Cardinals.
Thursday’s game in St. Louis concluded a stretch in which the Royals played 24 of 33 games away from home. Starting Friday, they play 31 of their next 44 at Kauffman Stadium.
The pitching matchups for the three games against the Giants:
Friday: RHP Luke Hochevar, 4-5 with a 4.66 ERA, vs. San Francisco RHP Matt Cain, 3-5 and 4.35, at 7:10 p.m.
Saturday: RHP Gil Meche, 4-8 and 5.12, vs. San Francisco RHP Kevin Correia, 1-4 and 5.17, at 6:10 p.m.
Sunday: RHP Kyle Davies, 3-0 and 1.45, vs. San Francisco RHP Tim Lincecum, 8-1 and 2.21, at 1:10 p.m.
Like fireworks? The Royals say Friday’s post-game display will be the largest in the city’s history. They’re calling it the Kansas City Sky Show, and say it will be five times longer than the usual Friday Fireworks offerings. Hy-Vee, Pepsi and 99.7 FM The Boulevard are co-sponsoring the event.
It’s also scholar-athlete night at Kauffman Stadium. More than 100 individual school winners in The Star’s annual scholar-athlete program will attend the game. The two overall winners — Allison Mayfield of St. Thomas Aquinas and Riley Reynolds of Blue Springs South — will participate in throwing out a ceremonial first pitch.
Veteran lefty Horacio Ramirez continues to impress at Class AAA Omaha. He allowed just two unearned runs Wednesday in seven innings but settled for a no-decision in a 4-3 loss at Round Rock.
Ramirez, 28, has allowed three earned runs in 19 innings in his three starts since signing a minor-league deal on May 22. He was 38-29 with a 4.61 ERA over the last five years with the Braves and Mariners.
Ross Gload started for the third straight game at first base. He went one for four and finished two for 12 in the series.
Greinke’s 14 homers allowed are the most among American League pitchers. He had pitched 10 consecutive scoreless innings before Rick Ankiel’s homer in the fourth inning.
The Cardinals suffered a three-game sweep at home for the first time since April 1-4, 2007 against the Mets. The Cardinals have been swept at home in two two-game series since then.
The Royals now have a winning record in St. Louis at 11-10. (No, that doesn’t count the 1985 World Series.) But the Cardinals still hold a 26-22 edge in the all-time series.