KANSAS CITY -- The chants overlapped as Nori Aoki stepped toward the plate. From both sides of Kauffman Stadium, the fans threw their voices out toward the diamond, their voices mixing but not muddling. The words were simple, "Let's go, Royals," but the volume only increased.
When Aoki notched a go-ahead hit into left field, when Mike Moustakas dashed home for the winning run of a 6-1 victory over the Minnesota Twins, the noise was only the explosion of screams and applause. The 17,668 packed into this humid park made their presence felt, one night after Royals manager Ned Yost wondered why more fans weren't there in the flesh.
If Wednesday lacked the sheer drama of Tuesday, with Alex Gordon blasting a walk-off homer off Twins closer Glen Perkins, the result was still the same. The script was almost identical. Only the opening actors were different -- as was the corresponding deluge of Royals offense.
As the eighth inning began, Twins starter Phil Hughes appeared triumphant. He had required only 70 pitches to complete the first seven frames. The Royals (74-58) hacked early and often, unable to make solid contact or even cause Hughes to labor.
That reality changed when Raul Ibanez dumped a leadoff single into center. Yost inserted Lorenzo Cain as a pinch runner. Cain swiped second base. He took third on an infield single by Moustakas. Moustakas slid into first base and pounded the dirt beyond the bag when he was called safe.
The Royals still trailed, but they had moved a runner to third base for the first time on Wednesday. Cain did not remain there for long. Jarrod Dyson dropped a deft squeeze bunt, and Cain barreled home. With the game tied, Aoki sliced a curveball off Hughes to play the hero and push the Royals' division lead to 2 1/2 games. As insurance, Billy Butler ripped a two-run single and Salvador Perez tacked on a two-run triple.
For the second day in a row, the Royals starter delivered seven splendid innings, only succumbing to Minnesota's offense for a tally in the final frame. A day after Danny Duffy completed this feat, spot starter Liam Hendriks offered a repeat performance. He held the Twins at bay until an RBI double by Oswaldo Arcia sliced through the humid air to score the game's first run.
Hendriks replaced Yordano Ventura, the 23-year-old rookie. Ventura felt constricted by soreness in his lower back. Rather than ask him to push through the discomfort, the organization turned to their farm system.
About a month ago, the Royals executed a trade designed for this scenario. They acquired Hendriks, along with backup catcher Erik Kratz, from the Blue Jays in exchange for backup third baseman Danny Valencia. Hendriks operated as insurance against injury. The team did not want to repeat the Aaron Brooks fiasco from May, when Brooks picked up only two outs in spot start against Toronto.
Brooks was a greenhorn making his second big-league appearance. Hendriks, a 25-year-old Australian, had pitched in parts of four seasons for the Twins and Blue Jays. The assignment would not overwhelm him. As the clubhouse emptied for batting practice on Wednesday, Hendriks stayed behind, sipping coffee and gazing at an iPad.
He joined a team in the thick of a playoff chase, with a nonpareil defense behind him. The unit's leader showed his worth in the third inning. When Kurt Suzuki lined a curveball to left field, Alex Gordon gave chase.
Gordon leaped as he reached the wall. He collected the baseball in his glove a moment before impact. His head rattled the chain-link fence and he rolled back to the dirt of the warning track. Gordon retained possession of his gum, too. He popped a bubble and tossed the baseball back toward the diamond. The fans showered him with a standing ovation.
Gordon is no stranger to adulation here. His walk-off homer on Tuesday snatched an improbable victory for his club, and earned him a succession of cheers these past two days.
The bolt from Gordon also concealed the team's scarcity of scoring. Heading into Wednesday, the club had produced four runs in their past 27 innings. They dueled with Phil Hughes, a rejuvenated right-hander who muzzled them for one run across 7 1/3 innings less than two weeks ago.
Hughes set about blanking the Royals once more. He and Hendriks traded zeroes from the start. Hendriks retired the first 14 times he faced. Trevor Plouffe slapped a slider down the left-field line for a two-out double in the fifth. Hendriks recovered to pop up Suzuki to end the frame.
Hendriks heard a roar as the sixth ended. He had yielded a bunt single to fleet-footed No. 9 hitter Jordan Schafer. Hendriks picked up the ball and made a jump throw to first. The ball struck Schafer's left shoulder and bounced away. Schafer subsequently stole second.
A groundball by leadoff hitter Danny Santana shuttled Schafer to third. Into the box stepped All-Star second baseman Brian Dozier. Hendriks fired a trio of fastballs, only one of them a strike. Dozier swung through a slider. At 2-2, Hendriks spotted a 93-mph heater low and inside. Umpire Ron Kulpa rung up Dozier to delight the crowd.
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