Mike Moustakas traipsed back to the Royals dugout in search of fresh lumber and a desolate ballpark came to life. A series of high-pitched catcalls echoed through the barren confines of Progressive Field. A lone voice implored Moustakas to hurry up. He did not listen.
In the seventh inning of a 6-2 Royals victory, Moustakas jousted with the man most recently crowned the American League’s best pitcher. Each player possessed a plan, and neither intended to deviate. Indians starter Corey Kluber desired to seize the inner half of the plate and target a perceived weakness. Moustakas hoped to neutralize Kluber’s scheme until a hittable pitch arrived.
A new bat in hand, Moustakas placed his feet inside the batter’s box. He wiped his face with each twirl of the bat. He fouled off two more pitches. The ninth offering of the encounter was a 94-mph fastball that nicked the outer edge of the zone. It met Moustakas’ liking, so he lined it into left field for an RBI single, his third hit of the game, to raise his team’s lead to two and ignite a three-run insurance rally.
After Moustakas plated outfielder Jarrod Dyson, Kendrys Morales cracked a groundball that former Royal Mike Aviles played into a run-scoring error. Alex Gordon provided an RBI single, his second hit of the night, having already allowed his team to reclaim the lead with an RBI double in the sixth.
The flurry allowed the Royals (13-6) to breathe easier during the final three frames. Jason Vargas gave up two runs but only lasted five innings. Manager Ned Yost opted for Ryan Madson and Franklin Morales for the next two before he turned to his usual combination of Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis for the final six outs.
Kansas City issued a statement after a chaotic, unsuccessful series against the White Sox. The club snapped a losing streak at a mere two games as the offense came alive and Moustakas continued his torrid April. In the past six games, Moustakas has delivered a trio of three-hit games. In all of 2014, he completed only a pair of three-hit games.
After a frigid weekend in Chicago, another miserable evening of weather awaited the Royals. The temperature at first pitch was 44 degrees – and that was with the sun shining during a 6:10 p.m. start. Rookie Paulo Orlando before the game pointed to a row of heaters lining the dugout roof, a welcome addition after the more primitive accommodations at U.S. Cellular Field.
“I like this,” Orlando said as he wended his way through a small group of reporters.
“Just like Sao Paulo, huh?” one of the team’s broadcasters asked.
“No, no,” Orlando smiled.
If the weather was not forgiving, neither was Kansas City’s opponent. A series packed with imposing pitching matchups began with Kluber, the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner. Kluber dominated the Royals as he transformed into a star last season. In 31 innings against him, Kansas City managed only four earned runs.
Kluber relies upon the mixture of his two-seam fastball and an 88-mph cutter that exhibits the exaggerated movement of a slider. Manager Ned Yost credited improved command as the source of Kluber’s excellence. “I mean, just painted on the inside corner, outside corner, up and in, at will,” Yost said. “
One of the few Royals with a sizable history of success against Kluber is Moustakas. He entered the day with a .381 batting average and a 1.149 on-base plus slugging percentage. Moustakas rolled a single past a vacated third base in his first at-bat, and did himself one base better in his second.
Moustakas came to the plate with his team already ahead. In the inning prior, Salvador Perez smacked a double and Omar Infante chopped a grounder toward shortstop Jose Ramirez. The Indians feature one of the game’s worst defenses. The baseball rolled up Ramirez’s glove and into the outfield. Perez scored the game’s first run.
Now Moustakas sliced a 94-mph sinker into the left-center gap for an opposite-field double. Two batters later, Kluber left a first-pitch cutter over the middle for Eric Hosmer. He punched a single into center to plate Moustakas.
The two-run lead never appeared safe. Vargas walked five batters through the game’s first four innings. He managed to avoid damage thanks, in part, to advantageous positioning by his defenders.
In the fifth, Cleveland guaranteed the Royals would not defend their pitcher. Jason Kipnis lashed a fastball off the top of the right-field wall. Jarrod Dyson fielded the ball after its carom and limited Kipnis to a single. Vargas segued into a six-pitch dalliance with former Royal Mike Aviles. With the count full, Aviles tied the game when he smoked a line-drive homer over the fence in left.
But the Royals kept swinging. Gordon doubled home a run in the sixth. An inning later, Moustakas refused to give in, and Kansas City salted away the victory.