Safe to say, the Royals needed a little good news Monday night after learning left-hander Danny Duffy is likely to require Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the season.
Cue up Bruce Chen and an increasingly efficient bullpen for a 3-1 victory over Texas at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. They throttled the game’s best attack, which had put up 61 runs over its previous seven games.
“They’re the best team in the American League,” Chen said. “They have a very balanced lineup. They have power. They pitch well. This is a very tough ballpark to pitch in. I t’s very satisfying.”
The Royals have now won three in a row, are guaranteed another winning road trip – at 3-1 with only tonight’s conclusion to a two-game series remaining before they return home.
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Alcides Escobar continued a recent hitting surge with a two-run single with two outs in the fifth inning, which erased the 1-0 deficit created by Nelson Cruz’s booming homer in the fourth inning.
“When I hit that ball,” Escobar said, “I saw (center fielder Craig Gentry) running in. But I thought I had a chance to get a base-hit. I wasn’t 100 percent sure, but I thought it was a base-hit.”
The ball found the grass just in front of a diving Gentry – just the sort of “game of inches” play that seemed to go against the Royals in April during their 12-game losing streak.
The Royals added another run in the seventh after Jeff Francoeur gambled in going from first to third on a single into short center.
That was the scoring.
Chen finessed his way through the Rangers for 6 2/3 innings, yielding only one run, before departing after a walk to Gentry, which turned over the Rangers’ lineup for a fourth time.
Kelvin Herrera surrendered an infield single to Elvis Andrus, and Gentry took third when Mike Moustakas made a wild throw to first. But Herrera stranded both runners by striking out Michael Young.
That left Chen, 2-4, with a line that showed one run and five hits with seven strikeouts and two walks. He now has back-to-back victories after opening the season with six winless starts.
“Against this lineup,” catcher Brayan Peña said, “he was unbelievable. He picked up where he left off in his last start. He kept the ball down. He mixed pretty well. He was trying to make sure the big boys didn’t hurt us.
“Nelson Cruz got a solo shot, but that was it. And Bruce did a great job with the hottest hitter on the planet – (Josh) Hamilton.”
Hamilton leads the majors is virtually all major offensive categories and is coming off a monster week in which he had nine homers and 18 RBIs in seven games. But he twice sent bats sailing toward the stands when fooled by Chen pitches.
“He’s on fire,” Chen said, “but I thought I made real good pitches. It’s one of those things. He’s so hot, I wanted to make sure, I kept the ball down and kept him off-balance.”
Lefty José Mijares made one pitch in the eighth, but it retired Hamilton on a pop to third. Aaron Crow retired two right-handed hitters, Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz – and that got the game to Jonathan Broxton, who closed out the victory.
Broxton now has seven saves in seven opportunities since that memorable April 11 meltdown in Oakland, when he blew a one-run lead by hitting two batters in a row with the bases loaded.
The Royals’ bullpen has yielded two earned runs over 22 innings in the last six games.
“We know that’s one of our strengths,” Peña said. “Now, (Greg) Holland is back. Our lefties are doing a great job. And when we get the baseball to Broxton, wow. We have a pretty good chance.”
Texas called on Scott Feldman, 0-1, for a spot start because of a recent double-header in Baltimore, following a rainout, created an opening. He responded by allowing two unearned runs over 4 2/3 innings in an 88-pitch outing.
The Rangers couldn’t have asked for much more. It just wasn’t good enough.
Neither team offered much before Cruz opened the fourth inning with a towering homer into the club level just inside the left-field pole. The distance was estimated at 416 feet. It might have been that high, too.
“I wanted to go up and in to him,” Chen said, “and he just got his arms extended. He’s hitting like .400 for the last eight games. I have to give him credit. He didn’t miss it.”
The Royals answered in the fifth.
Francoeur led off by grounding a single through the left side. He went to second on Peña’s one-out grounder to second and to third when Beltre committed a throwing error on Chris Getz’s two-out grounder to third.
Getz stole second base before Escobar served a 3-2 offering into center field, which turned into a two-run single when the ball just eluded a diving Gentry. Both runs were unearned.
“When he hit it,” Francoeur said, “I was screaming at it to get down because I know how fast Gentry is out there.”
When it did, it finished Feldman.
The Royals added another run in the seventh against reliever Robbie Ross after Francoeur led off with a walk. Francoeur gambled in trying for third on Mike Moustakas’ single up the middle – and the move paid off when he beat Gentry’s throw.
Francoeur’s gamble turned into a run when Peña grounded into a double play.
“That’s a great win right there,” manager Ned Yost said. “Bruce was just superb. Our bullpen has been really effective for the better part of the year. Just enough offense today. Escobar with a great piece of hitting”
Just what the Royals needed.