PHOENIX -- A red-eye flight awaited the Kansas City Royals after a 6-2 victory over Arizona. They departed the desert in an ideal position, one that appeared almost so unlikely a few weeks ago. The club returns to Kansas City in sole possession of the American League's second wild-card berth, and appears to control its own destiny as they hunt for their first playoff berth since 1985.
To complete a sweep of the Diamondbacks, Jeremy Guthrie authored a clinic on efficiency in a complete-game victory. After giving up seven hits in the first three frames, he kept his opponents off the bases for the next five innings. He retired the last 19 batters he faced.
The offense struck early and in swift fashion. Alex Gordon thumped his first home run since June 21. Salvador Perez contributed a two-RBI single, while Alcides Escobar and Nori Aoki each offered RBI hits of their own.
The flurries allowed the Royals, 60-53, to return home with momentum in time for seven momentous games against San Francisco and Oakland. The bullpen will be fresh, because Guthrie went the distance for the first time since Aug. 5, 2013.
The external events on Thursday favored them. The Tigers dropped their third game in four days at Yankee Stadium. The Blue Jays lost for the fifth time in six games. In turn, the Royals climbed over Toronto and sliced Detroit's division lead to 2 1/2 games.
With five wins in six games, this West Coast sojourn solidified Kansas City as a playoff contender. Operating without Eric Hosmer, their Gold Glove first baseman, the Royals did not miss a beat. Instead, they behaved as a team bound for October might: For three days in Oakland, they toppled one of baseball's best and garnered a series victory. For three nights in the desert, they thrashed an overmatched Arizona club.
On July 21, the Royals managed merely a futile effort against White Sox ace Chris Sale. They fell two games below .500, and eight behind the Tigers. General manager Dayton Moore issued for manager Ned Yost a vote of confidence, a dreaded event at this time of year. As the trade deadline approached, a potential fire sale appeared more fruitful than a doomed push for the playoffs.
The players reversed the narrative in expedient fashion. They won 12 of their next 15 games. Yost's seat cooled. Even after standing pat on July 31, unable to patch over right field or improve the starting rotation, the Royals continued to roll.
During these past six games, they experienced the unexpected and the commonplace. Billy Butler found his batting stroke, and Mike Moustakas flashed some power. Nori Aoki hit a grand slam. James Shields dominated. The back end of the bullpen remained ferocious. And their fifth starter nabbed two victories.
This trip began with a stalwart effort from Guthrie. He muffled the Athletics for six innings in last Friday's 1-0 victory. In his first inning on Thursday, he yielded his first run of the trip. Arizona cobbled together a pair of singles, one of which Mike Moustakas could have fielded at third, and a sacrifice fly by Mark Trumbo.
The Royals did not spend much time trailing. Four pitches into the second frame, they captured the lead. Butler smoked an 0-2 curveball into the left-field corner for a double. Arizona starter Vidal Nuno placed the bender below Butler's knees, but he still dug it out.
The next offering from Nuno was a waist-high fastball. The Chase Field radar gun clocked it at 90 mph. It departed the playing field at a quicker speed. Gordon pulverized the ball past Royals bullpen near the right-field pole.
An inning later, the Royals fashioned two more runs thanks to a trio of singles and a dash of guile. The first two singles were credited to Nori Aoki and Omar Infante. From there, the duo executed a double steal. Arizona catcher Miguel Montero skipped his throw to third base, and both were safe.
The gambled placed two men in scoring position for Perez. He hooked a fastball past a dive by rookie Jake Lamb to bring both runners home.
Lamb exacted a measure of revenge in the bottom of the frame. Called up earlier that afternoon, he dunked a single into center field to cut the Royals lead in half. It was the seventh hit Guthrie gave up during his first three innings.
The Royals recouped that run quickly. Lorenzo Cain yanked another double past Lamb. A broken-bat bloop by Alcides Escobar plated Cain two batters later. The Royals had made swift work of Nuno, who departed after only four innings.
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