The Royals must be living right, because it seems like they’re getting all the big breaks right now. Tuesday night’s 3-2 win over the Mariners was another close call, but manager Ned Yost’s crew found a way to hold on — with an assist from the greatest baseball fan in Seattle (at least from my point of view) — to win their ninth game in their last twelve contests.
There was a lot to like about this game. Zack Greinke dominated, striking out nine batters in seven innings enroute to his fourth straight victory. He is now 5-8 on the season – not bad when you consider where his record stood just a a few short weeks ago. Joakim Soria pitched a scoreless ninth for his Major League leading 24th save of the season. Wilson Betemit continued his tremendous contribution to the Royals season, in limited opportunities, by driving in all three Royals runs with a home run and two rare (for him) singles. And the Royals eeked out yet another ten hit game, and continue to lead the Major Leagues in team batting average at .283 – something no rational person would have predicted at the start of this season.
The turning point of the game came in the eighth inning, with Blake Wood on in relief of Zack Greinke and the score 3-1 Royals. After retiring the first batter, Wood gave up a soft line drive to Mariners shortstop Jack Wilson which Mike Aviles failed to handle. The ball hit a diving Aviles in the glove, but popped out before he hit the ground. Ichiro Suzuki then singled sharply to right field, and Wilson later stole third before the next batter, Chone Figgins, hit a sacrifice fly to Scott Podsednik for the second out of the inning to make the score 3-2. That left Ichiro as the tying run on first with two down, and Russell Branyan at the plate. Then came the big break. Branyan smoked a hard grounder right down the first base line that was grabbed by a clueless young Mariners fan before it could rebound off the wall. The umpires ruled that Branyan was to be awarded second base (questionable), but that the speedy Ichiro — who would very likely have scored if not for the interference — must stay at third. Wood then induced the next batter to ground out to third baseman Wilson Betemit to end the Mariners threat.
Blake Wood held on in a tough situation, a positive sign for a pitcher who appears to be struggling a bit compared to his impressive start after being called up earlier in the season. My guess is that Wood might begin to appear less frequently in crucial situations in the near future, now that Farnsworth and Tejeda appear rock solid (though anyone can be had at anytime facing Major League hitters).
The Royals defense continues to be a source of concern. And Jose Guillen pulled up lame while running out a ground ball (he should have been safe on a fielder’s choice) in the eighth inning (it looked like it could be serious judging from his reaction). But double digit hits per game and a stingy bullpen can go a long way towards overcoming sloppy fielding.
All in all, life is pretty good for Royals fans at the moment.