KANSAS CITY, Mo. — File this away for later: the next time the Royals go a couple weeks without winning a series, it would probably behoove them to find a way to play the Cubs.
The Royals clinched a series victory — their first since they took two-of-three from the Angels June 10-12 — Sunday with a 6-3 victory over Chicago at Kauffman Stadium. They should get credit for that, considering they lost the opening game of the series on Friday.
"We had a tough loss the first night here against the Cubs," said outfielder Jeff Francoeur, "so to come out the way we did the last two games was huge."
And while Sunday's series finale wasn't a poorly-played game or anything, the Royals certainly got some help from Chicago — particularly starting pitcher Randy Wells, who gave up three runs in the first inning without recording an out.
Of course, you could argue Wells, 1-2, didn't get a lot of help, either. Billy Butler drove home the first run with a RBI double to left, but another runner came home when Alex Gordon — with runners on first and third — hit a rocket up the middle that bounced off shortstop Starlin Castro's glove and bounced into center.
That sounds harmless enough, but outfielder Reed Johnson didn't get to the ball particularly quickly, which allowed Butler to advance to third and a hustling Gordon to reach second for a double. Francoeur added a RBI single, and Matt Treanor added a sacrifice fly to left with one out to make the score 4-0. That was all the Royals would get, as Wells escaped the inning with a strike 'em out, throw 'em out double play of Alcides Escobar at the plate and Francoeur at third.
Wells went on to pitch six more innings, but the Royals had the Cubs in a hole — the question was whether Chicago could climb out of it. Armed with a four-run lead, Royals starter Luke Hochevar knew this, so he pitched like he didn't have much margin for error.
"When you get a lead like that, you can't let them inch their way back into it," Hochevar said. "What you're tying to do is keep them back in that corner and not let them wiggle their way out."
But that's exactly what it looked like Chicago would do. The Cubs got on the board with a Geovany Soto solo home run in the third, and a RBI single by Blake DeWitt and a RBI double by Soto in the fourth made the score 4-3. Hochevar, however, escaped further damage, as he got the next man, D.J. LeMahieu, to ground out and end the inning.
The Royals needed to give their starter some insurance runs at this point, and teammates Chris Getz and Eric Hosmer heeded the call with RBI singles in the bottom of the fourth that made the score 6-3 entering the fifth.
"The two runs in the fourth was huge," said Royals manager Ned Yost. "It took the momentum away from them."
"It gives you a little bit more breathing room," Getz said.
Hochevar, who improved to 5-8, was pulled in the sixth after throwing 88 pitches — his lowest output of the year — and allowing seven hits and three runs in 5 2/3 innings. His replacement, Louis Coleman, entered with two runners on and two out and promptly loaded the bases with a walk but rebounded to strike LeMahieu to end the inning.
The Royals came up empty in a few more chances to pad their lead — including a two-out, bases loaded situation in the eighth — but in the end, it didn't matter. By that point, the Royals had gotten a scoreless seventh from Coleman and Tim Collins and a scoreless eighth from Aaron Crow, and closer Joakim Soria added a scoreless ninth to pick up his 13th save.
The Royals, who improved to 33-45, will travel to San Diego for a three-game series against the Padres starting Monday. And they will go to sunny Southern California happy with the knowledge they managed to fight their way back to get a much-needed series win.
"We were able to run off two at the end, so that was good," Gordon said. "Hopefully we can keep it rolling going into this road trip."