Bruce Chen’s long victory drought ended Thursday night when the Royals avoided a three-game sweep by the Seattle Mariners with an 8-2 victory at Kauffman Stadium.
And Chen, by working 6 2/3 strong innings, got his first victory since Oct. 2, 2005 -- a three-year, 10-month, four-day span that included 53 appearances, 20 starts, major elbow surgeryand 13 consecutive losses.
A long time; long enough that Chen wondered if he’d ever win again.
“As much as I don’t want to admit it, yeah,” he said. “I remember 2006, I was 0-7. It was like, `When am I going to get a win?’ Then I had the (elbow) surgery and didn’t pitch for a couple of years. I came here and still couldn’t get a win.
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“I knew I was getting better, I just had to hang in there. Finally, today, I got my first win. So I’m very, very happy.”
Chen, 1-6, retired the Mariners in order in the first inning but spent the rest of the time maneuvering around trouble. He yielded 10 hits but just the two runs before Jamey Wright and Doug Waechter, just back from the disabled list, closed out the victory.
The Royals backed Chen with plenty of offense, including a five-run first inning against Mariners starter Jason Vargas, and some atypically tight defense.
The best example came in the fifth inning when second baseman Willie Bloomquist squelched a first-and-third threat with one out -- and the Royals leading just 5-2 -- by turning José Lopez’s sharp grounder up the middle into an inning-ending double play.
“That’s a rangy play,” manager Trey Hillman said. “(Bloomquist) got a good break off the ball and did what he has the ability to do in moving side to side.”
When Vargas, 3-6, then yielded three more runs in the Royals’ fifth, the margin was virtually bullpen-proof. The Royals, 42-66 won for just the second time in nine games overall and only the second time in 12 home games since the All-Star break.
Billy Butler’s two-run homer ignited the five-run first inning. It was a 392-foot blast to left; left fielder Michael Saunders never moved, never even turned around.
Singles by Brayan Peña and Alberto Callaspo put runners at first and second before Mark Teahen squirted a two-run double past first. Teahen went to third on Mitch Maier’s fly to deep center before Yuniesky Betancourt lined an RBI double over Saunders’ head for a 5-0 lead.
“We went aggressive,” said Peña, who started a big-league game as the cleanup hitter for the first time in his career. “Everything was clicking. That first inning was crucial for us. We made a statement that we’re a team that can hit.”
It was the Royals’ biggest first inning since a similar five-run burst on Aug. 29 in a 5-0 victory over Detroit at Kauffman Stadium. Zack Greinke started that game but was limited to four innings in his fourth start since returning from the bullpen.
Chen worked three scoreless innings before yielding a one-out homer to Mike Sweeney in the fourth inning. It was Sweeney’s 100th career homer at Kauffman Stadium but first as a visiting player.
The Mariners added another run in the fourth on two singles and a sacrifice fly before threatening again in the fifth. Bloomquist’s play turned the momentum.
“My teammates knew I didn’t have a win in a long time,” Chen said, “and they really did everything today. They made good plays. They got the five runs in the first inning. After that, it was just a lot easier to pitch.”
Butler opened the three-run fifth with a single and went to third on Peña’s double into the left-field corner. Callaspo’s single made it 6-2 before Teahen sent a grounder through the legs of first baseman Russell Branyan.
Peña scored on the grounder, and the error put runners on second and third. Callaspo scored for an 8-2 lead on Maier soft chopper to short.
That, effectively, started the outs countdown to Chen’s victory. He departed with two outs in the seventh with runners at first and third. Wright ended that threat by retiring Lopez on a grounder to short.
Wright worked around a one-out single in a scoreless eighth inning before Waechter pitched the ninth. Vargas allowed eight runs and nine hits in eight innings.
Butler, Peña and Callaspo each had two of the Royals’ nine hits. Teahen had three RBIs. Josh Anderson went one for four with a bunt single in his Royals’ debut.
“We need to have more days like this,” Butler said. “That’s all there is to it.”
The Mariners out-hit the Royals 12-9, but that hardly mattered. This night belonged to Chen, who had not allowed more than three earned runs in his last six starts.
“I’ve pitched well before and didn’t get a win,” he said. “I just told myself to stay focused, keep getting better and you’re eventually going to get a win.”
To reach Bob Dutton, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow his news updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.