When the Kansas City Royals front office forecast their best hopes for 2014, when they charted their prospective foray into October baseball for the first time since 1985, they banked on the probability of victories like Friday night's 6-1 result over the Blue Jays.
Led by Lorenzo Cain's four RBI, the lineup blended a touch of speed with a healthy dose of power. Jason Vargas tamed Toronto for six innings. The bullpen rendered the final nine outs academic. The defense was sleek and impenetrable.
In turn, the Royals (26-28) clawed a little bit closer to a .500 record, and away from the unsightly play that engulfed them earlier this week.
Through the season's two first months, the ideal has been a rarity. The Royals skittered into Rogers Centre on Thursday, demoted their hitting coach and waited for a turnaround. They got their wish. At the very least, they will split this four-game series with a club that entered on a nine-game winning streak and at the top of the American League East.
The production revolved around three players: Cain recorded a pair of RBI singles and later blasted a two-run homer. Alex Gordon provided a home run of his own. Billy Butler scored three times.
The Royals struck first. They utilized their usual brand of offense in the second: A collection of singles and stranded base runners. Butler opened the frame with a hit and Gordon earned a walk. Two batters later, Cain brought Butler home with a single.
There were runners at the corners with one out. The chance to pounce on J.A. Happ was there. The Royals didn't seize it just yet. In his first at-bat back after five days off to rest his sore left hand, Danny Valencia watched a 94-mph fastball for strike three. Alcides Escobar flied out to center.
The heart of the order was more opportunistic in the fourth. Butler sparked his team once more with a leadoff single to right. He sprinted to the bag, unwilling to replay the embarrassment from the previous night, when Jose Bautista threw him out after fielding a line drive.
Gordon stepped into the box. He worked a 2-2 count and fouled off a pair of fastballs. He laid off a slider. Happ pumped a 92-mph fastball high in the zone. Gordon unloaded on it for his fourth home run of the season.
The lead rose to three runs. Two starts ago, Vargas gave away a five-run advantage. In his last outing, he watched a lead crumble thanks to the troubles of reliever Kelvin Herrera.
Vargas dodged potholes all evening. He worked around a leadoff triple by Jose Reyes in the first. He gave up hits in the second, third and fourth, all without incident.
Now he had to protect a relatively slim lead against an intimidating lineup. Bautista authored the first blow. He whacked an 88-mph fastball and launched a solo home run.
But Happ remained shaky. The Royals plated a run in the sixth thanks to his skittishness. Gordon walked for the second time. He made plans to steal second, which Happ nearly foiled with a pickoff. But the throw veered out of Edwin Encarnacion's immediate reach, and Gordon somehow stole the base.
He came home when Cain threaded a single through the sliver of space between shortstop Jose Reyes and second baseman Steven Tolleson. In his next at-bat, Cain swatted his second homer of the year.
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