Royals salvage final game in I-70 Series with 3-2 victory over Cardinals

ST. LOUIS | Want to gauge the relief among the Royals after they avoided a weekend sweep in the I-70 Series with Sunday’s 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium? No griping at the prospect of a four-hour bus ride across Missouri after a mechanical problem grounded their charter flight. A bus ride was just fine after winning a tense battle that went down to the last pitch.

The Royals needed this one after losing four in a row and 11 of their last 14. After falling below .500 for the first time since the season’s opening week. After not scoring for 24 innings.

It didn’t matter that it was neither pretty nor easy.

“However we win,” third baseman Mark Teahen said, “as long as we win.”

The Royals blew a 2-0 lead through soft defense that led to two two-out runs in the sixth inning against Brian Bannister. They withstood a two-on threat in the ninth after Juan Cruz retired the first two hitters.

The game ended when right fielder Mitch Maier, inserted for defensive purposes, tracked down Chris Duncan’s deep two-out drive after some initial hesitation with the tying and winning runs wheeling around the bases.

“It takes a second longer when they hit the line drive right at you,” Maier explained. “So I froze for a second. But after that, I knew I had it.”

Bannister, 4-1, got the victory after allowing two runs and seven hits in six innings. The Royals regained the lead in the seventh on Mike Jacobs’ two-out pinch single against Cardinals starter Joel Piñeiro, 5-4.

Horacio Ramirez, John Bale and Cruz closed out the victory by combining for three scoreless innings. Bale provided the biggest boost, in his first game since returning from the disabled list, by striking out Rick Ankiel in the seventh after Ramirez issued two two-out walks.

Bale breezed through the eighth, and Cruz retired the first two hitters in the ninth before Colby Rasmus sent a slicing looper to left that landed fair and bounced foul into the seats for a rule-book double.

That brought Albert Pujols to the plate. The Royals declined that challenge with Cruz issuing an intentional walk.

“It’s kind of the way our luck has been running,” manager Trey Hillman said. “Holy cow, that ball bouncing into the stands like that. It’s not often that I walk the go-ahead run, especially in the ninth inning, but I still liked the percentages there.”

The victory lifted the Royals back to .500 at 22-22 and to within three games of first-place Detroit in the American League Central Division. The Royals and Tigers open a three-game series Monday at Kauffman Stadium.

“If we take that series,” Jacobs said, “we’re right back to where we want to be.”

The Royals broke their scoreless streak in the first inning when Duncan misplayed José Guillen’s two-out fly to deep left. They added a run in the fifth when Bannister delivered an RBI single.

That was the first RBI from a Royals pitcher since Gil Meche’s infield single on June 15, 2008 against Micah Owings in an 8-3 victory at Arizona.

Bannister wanted no credit.

“According to baseball math,” he said, “if the other pitcher gets an RBI, it cancels yours out.”

That happened in the sixth when the Royals coughed up their 2-0 lead. Ankiel lined a two-out drive into right and sprinted toward second when Guillen bobbled the ball.

The result was a double, which allowed Ankiel to score when Yadier Molina punched a single into center. Coco Crisp compounded a suspect decision to throw home by tossing a pop fly that didn’t permit it to be cut.

That allowed Molina to chug into second base. An intentional walk to Joe Thurston forced Cardinals manager Tony La Russa to decide whether to keep Piñeiro in the game or send up a pinch-hitter.

Piñeiro batted, worked the count full and blooped an RBI single just beyond the reach of a retreating Willie Bloomquist at short.

“It was the same pitch,” Bannister said, “that Albert (Pujols) had grounded out on earlier in the inning. So I knew it wasn’t a bad pitch. He managed to get underneath it and just bloop it out there.”

The Royals had an answer, though.

Bloomquist hustled his way to a two-out double in the seventh inning on what should have been a single to center. Rasmus was slow in playing the ball, and Bloomquist kept running.

“I was thinking of that out of the box,” Bloomquist said. “That’s a situation where they have a good catcher behind the plate. So stealing a bag is not the easiest thing to do.

“I took a big turn and noticed (Rasmus) hadn’t quite got to the ball yet so, two outs and late in the game, I took a gamble.”

Jacobs batted for Bannister and, with the scoreboard displaying his .189 career average as a pinch-hitter, ripped an RBI single off the right-field wall.

The Royals led 3-2, held on and won.

“It makes the getaway day a little bit better,” Jacobs said. “Even if it’s on a bus.”

Turns out, the bus wasn’t needed. The plane was cleared to fly after a brief repair. Maybe things are looking up.

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