KANSAS CITY, Mo. —There are rules to pitching that Royals starter Brian Bannister has acquired through the years, and one of them is to never throw the same pitch to a hitter three consecutive times.
So when Bannister fell behind Detroit third baseman Don Kelly, who was leading off the eighth inning of the Royals' 7-2 win on Sunday, he found himself in a precarious position.
He didn't want to walk Kelly, especially with a six-run lead. But he also knew that challenging Kelly, he ran the risk of giving up a home run for the 10th straight outing, which would be the longest current streak in the majors.
Ultimately, Bannister chose the latter option. And considering his recent luck, all he could do was cringe when — three get-me-over cutters later — he saw the ball sail high toward the seats in right before it landed safely in the gap for a double.
"I was kind of laughing to myself," Bannister said. "I knew I'd get a little lucky at some point."
Forget the fact that Kelly later scored — it was inconsequential — or that Bannister would exit to a standing ovation shortly thereafter. That moment was like the icing on the cake for Bannister, a veteran right-hander who allowed only two runs and five hits over 7 1/3 strong innings in front of an announced crowd of 22,240 at Kauffman Stadium.
Afterward, even the Tigers, who have scored only five runs in 19 1/3 innings against Bannister this season, tipped their hats.
"We were late on a bunch of swings, and he was just pin-pointing (his pitches)," said Detroit's Johnny Damon, who went one for three with two strikeouts as the designated hitter Sunday. "We just haven't been able to square him up."
But Bannister (6-3) won his fifth consecutive start, got plenty of help. For the second time in three games, all nine starters in the Royals' lineup recorded a hit, and five of the Royals' seven runs came with two outs.
"Two-out RBIs are big," Royals manager Ned Yost said, "and we've been getting a bunch of them lately."
The onslaught started in the first inning, when David DeJesus and Billy Butler hit two, two-out singles and Jose Guillen drilled a 1-2 fastball off Tigers starter Jeremy Bonderman, 2-4, that gave the Royals a 3-0 lead. Yuniesky Betancourt added an RBI double and Jason Kendall added an RBI single in the second, extending the Royals' lead to 5-0.
Detroit, 29-27, finally got on the board in the fourth with an RBI single by Magglio Ordonez, but the Royals weren't quite done with Bonderman.
After a single by Alberto Callaspo and a double by Mike Aviles put runners at second and third with one out in the sixth, the Tigers decided to walk Mitch Maier so they could face Betancourt, who made them pay with a sacrifice fly. Willie Bloomquist then singled to left and brought home Aviles, making the score 7-1.
Bannister, meanwhile, was cruising. He allowed only a single from the fifth to the seventh inning but left in the eighth after 98 pitches when Kelly scored on a wild pitch and Ramon Santiago reached on an infield single.
But Yost called on reliever Blake Wood, who recorded two more outs and ended the inning. Closer Joakim Soria took care of the rest, pitching a scoreless ninth as the Royals improved to 12-11 under their new manager.
"We've played very, very well lately," Yost said. "They feel like they can come back and win every game. That's a great attitude. If they continue with that, there's no telling what we can accomplish between now and the end of the year."
But while Yost was feeling particularly optimistic — let's face it, the Royals' 24-34 record indicates there's still a heap of work to be done to justify that enthusiasm — no one was happier than Bannister, who continued a good streak Sunday while ending a bad one.
"It (was) turning into a joke," Bannister said, referring to the home-run streak. "I'm kind of glad it's over."
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