Kansas City Royals still have a pulse after 5-2 win


Sep 21, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Royals right fielder

Nori Aoki

(23) hits a two-run triple against the Detroit Tigers during the fourth inning at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

If the moniker “Kardiac Kids” had not been taken already by the 1980 Cleveland Browns NFL team, the Kansas City Royals certainly could adopt it after remaining relevant with a 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers.

Perhaps the Royals could adapt the nickname placed on the Browns, who were known for last-minute comebacks, and call themselves the Kauffman Kardiac Kids.

This game didn’t have the makings of a Brian Sipe 2-minute drill. Once the Royals broke free from a 2-2 tie by scoring two runs in the bottom of the fourth, their strong pitching led them the rest of the way to a 5-2 victory, staving off a series sweep at the hands of their division-leading foe.

Instead, the win accentuates how streaky the Royals have been, and how the heart rate of its fans has pounded and eased as the team has tried to gain some level of comfort in a race to the playoffs.

With the win, the Royals pull to within 1.5 games of the division-leading Tigers. Many in the Royals fan base believe the deficit is actually two games, with the remaining three outs of a suspended game against the Cleveland Indians still to play in a game in which the Royals trail by two runs.

Assuming a loss in the completion of that game, which will be finished Monday before the start of a three game series at Cleveland, a Royals loss today could have dropped them three games down to the Tigers with seven to go for both teams. Instead, the two-game deficit is a heart-wrenching distance from first place, pulling and tugging at the hopes of a franchise 29 years removed from its last playoff appearance.

Now the Royals need at least two more wins than the Tigers just to tie for a one-game playoff for ownership of the division title. If the Royals, for instance, go a respectable 5-2 to finish the season (three vs. the Indians, then four vs. the Chicago White Sox, all on the road), they would need the Tigers to finish 3-4 at home against the White Sox (3 games) and Minnesota Twins (4 games).

That’s a tall order of hope to place on the cellar-dwellers of the division if counting on them to take advantage of the Tigers at home.

With the Tigers just winning two out of three from the Royals at the “K,” it’s clear now how important this series was, and how magnified was every move manager Ned Yost made in Saturday’s 3-2 loss, and why some of those moves were scrutinized as closely as they were.

Having Nori Aoki, the Royals hottest hitter, sacrifice not once but twice in crucial early situations Saturday were head-scratching moments to the fan base. The Royals never got to find out if allowing Aoki to swing away would have made a difference.

Again, Sunday, Yost did the same thing. With Alcides Escobar on a roll at the plate, he had him bunt with two on and nobody out. Escobar popped up. But, in an ironic twist of fate so typical of the Royals and their undulating, up-and-down year, Aoki brought the Royals back from the brink by hitting a two-run triple to give the team a 4-2 lead. Yost’s strange, almost reflexive decision was overshadowed by the very player he didn’t trust in the middle of two rallies the day before.

When Escobar popped up, the boos echoed throughout the K like a tempest, released upon a manager who seemingly couldn’t get out of his own way. When Aoki hit the triple, perhaps Yost was the one whose heart fluttered in relief.

And if things have a way of evening out, then the Royals are due for a solid run in the final week. If they don’t, and the division title goes to the Tigers, then their 1.5 game lead over the Seattle Mariners (assume one game after the completion of the suspended game) gives them the chance to play their way into a meaningful postseason series by winning a Wild Card berth.

The Mariners are away for four games against the Toronto Blue Jays and finish up at home for three games against the Los Angeles Angels. The Royals’ one game cushion, the Mariners’ inability to produce on offense and its remaining schedule are all the buffer the Royals have.

Check the standings, and your pulse, often these next seven days.

NOTABLES: Jeremy Guthrie took the win, and is now 12-11, 4.28. Greg Holland picked up his 43rd save. Billy Butler went 2-for-4 at the plate.

NEXT: Completion of suspended game, Royals down 4-2 vs. the Tribe, 6:05 start, followed by Danny Duffy (8-11, 2.42) vs. Carlos Carrasco (8-5, 2.65), 7:05 at Progressive Field.