Chen, three relievers lead KC to fifth straight win
Herrera, Smith, Holland finish off victory with 3 1/3 hitless innings
MINNEAPOLIS -- Once the Royals get going, in one direction or another, it's hard to get them to stop.
They rolled to their fifth straight victory on Thursday, completing a three-game sweep of the Minnesota Twins with a 3-1 victory at sweltering Target Field. The Royals dominated the season series, taking 15 of 19 games from the Twins.
The five-game spurt immediately follows a seven-game swoon in this streaky, up-and-down season for Kansas City.
"It's a young club. They're going to be inconsistent at times," manager Ned Yost said. "They never quit, they keep battling back. It was a nice series here for us. We did everything really well -- swung the bats well, pitched well, solid defense."
The Royals gained a game on Oakland, the team they're chasing in the race for the American League's second Wild Card spot, and now trail the A's, who lost to Detroit, by six games.
No scoreboard watching, though, for Yost. Not yet, anyway.
"My concern every day is just a winning baseball club. That's what I focus on," he said. "I can't even tell you who's ahead of us, to be honest with you. My focus is, if we win, everything else takes care of itself."
The Royals are now five games over .500 at 69-64 with 29 games remaining.
The 28,012 fans at Target Field witnessed a few tense moments between Twins starting pitcher Samuel Deduno and the Royals' Justin Maxwell in the early innings. Maxwell, who had been struck in the right hand with a pitch on Wednesday night, was plunked again by Deduno in the second inning -- and he was upset about it.
"I don't want to hit somebody with two strikes," Deduno said. "I went inside to him. I made a pretty good pitch and it hit him. So I was surprised a little bit [by his reaction]."
Maxwell's personal history had a lot to do with his unhappiness. He missed two months while with Houston earlier this year when a pitch broke a bone in his left hand.
"[The Deduno pitch] hit me in the tricep. I knew it wasn't on purpose, but it was just one of those things," Maxwell said. "I missed two months with a broken hand earlier in the year. We're playing for something here and I just don't want to miss any more time."
Home-plate umpire Alan Porter promptly warned both benches about letting the issue escalate. The teams had also been warned on Wednesday night after Twins pitcher Andrew Albers buzzed Salvador Perez with a pitch. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire objected to Porter's action and was ejected.
Yost was asked if he expected any on-field fireworks to break out after the incident.
"Fireworks -- you can't see 'em during the day anyway, only at night," he said. "There was no real fireworks."
When play resumed, Deduno got an out, but then the Royals scored all three of their runs with Alcides Escobar, Chris Getz and Alex Gordon contributing run-scoring singles.
"I was just glad I could get on base," Maxwell said. "Then Esky had the infield hit and then Getzy came through. So I was glad it helped spur a big inning."
When Maxwell batted again in the third, Deduno heightened the tension with an inside pitch. Missed swings alternated with close pitches until Maxwell struck out. That was Deduno's last inning before he departed with a sore shoulder.
Royals starter Bruce Chen held the Twins scoreless through five innings and pitched into the sixth to earn the victory after two straight losses -- his only two of the season.
"I went back and I tried to be more aggressive," Chen said. "Especially the last game, I walked five guys and I said, 'You know what, I need to give my defense a chance to play.'"
Brian Dozier led off the Twins' sixth with a home run to left field, his 14th of the season. Chen retired the next two batters but, after he'd thrown 93 pitches in 87-degree sunshine, Yost decided that was enough. Kelvin Herrera was brought in and retired all four batters he faced. Left-hander Will Smith followed with a perfect eighth, including two strikeouts.
"We got it to Greg [Holland], and Greg did what he does best -- shuts the door," Smith said.
Holland pitched past a ninth-inning walk and notched his 36th save and 29th in succession.
And the Royals are streaking again, this time in the right direction.
"Baseball is crazy, sometimes it's streaky," Chen said. "I don't put much into it. We like the way we're playing right now. We want to keep it going."
"We'd been struggling at home," Getz added. "Maybe we just needed to get away a little bit, and get on the road and start something away from Kansas City."
"I think we learned a lot from last year," Holland said. "You learn how to deal with those rough stretches and that's going to help us moving forward. We come to the park energized every day, and we don't let what happened yesterday build on the following day. We've been pretty good on that aspect."
This trip also includes three weekend games in Toronto.
"All we can do is control how we play," Maxwell said. "We'll be ready to go tomorrow and have fun north of the border."