Royals cap best season since 1989 with victory
Kansas City finishes with 86 wins; Chen rides pair of homers
CHICAGO -- That's another year in the books and, this time, the Royals don't mind counting up the numbers.
Their 4-1 victory over the White Sox on Sunday gave them an 86-76 record -- 10 games over the .500 mark. That's a big improvement over last year when they were 18 games under the break-even point at 72-90.
"It's a good start. I think we're making progress as an organization," manager Ned Yost said. "Ten games over .500 is a significant first step and now we need to continue to build on that."
The Royals finished third in the American League Central, seven games behind Detroit. They haven't been that close since their last previous winning season, 2003, when they finished third behind Minnesota, also seven games out.
This was Kansas City's best record in 24 years, when they won 92 games in 1989. They stayed in the Wild Card chase until there were four games remaining.
"I think we learned a lot last year. We kind of learned the hard way," closer Greg Holland said. "But this team came out every game and expected to win every game regardless of what happened the night before. And you've got to grind it out that way -- that's how you get in the playoffs. We came up short, but going into next spring, we're going to be pretty happy with where we're at."
Salvador Perez and Brett Hayes each belted two-run homers and left-hander Bruce Chen worked 6 2/3 innings for the victory in front of 22,633 fans at sunny and windy U.S. Cellular Field.
Perez, a catcher making his first start at first base, tipped his cap to the dugout after grabbing his first chance -- Paul Konerko's foul popup near the stands. But when Marcus Semien lofted a fair pop fly a couple innings later, the strong wind had Perez staggering under it and he missed the ball for an error.
"The wind was a little crazy today," Perez said.
Perez made up for it when he got to a more familiar place, the batter's box. He pounded a two-run homer into the left-field seats in the fourth inning against White Sox starter Jose Quintana. Perez's 13th blast came with Johnny Giavotella, who walked, on base.
"What a day he had, offensively. Salvy's going to be a producer all the way around -- defensively, offensively," Yost said. "I think he's got a real shot at winning the Gold Glove and one day he's got a chance at winning the Silver Slugger at the position, too. I just think he's going to be an All-Star for years to come."
The fast home-run pace continued -- there were seven homers in Saturday night's 6-5 White Sox win -- in the seventh inning. This time, Justin Maxwell drew a walk from Quintana and Hayes, catching while Perez tested his first-base wings, slammed a two-run homer to left field for a 4-1 lead.
It was Hayes' first home run since Sept. 21, 2011, at Miami when he was with the Marlins. He went 133 at-bats between homers.
"A homer any time is good," Hayes said.
Chen left with two outs and two on in the seventh and Kelvin Herrera got the third out. Luke Hochevar worked a perfect eighth, setting up Holland's last save opportunity.
The Royals' bullpen led the American League in ERA at 2.55.
"These guys were lights out," Hayes said. "Any time they got put in the game, you felt pretty confident."
Holland got his 47th save, adding to his own franchise record, but it wasn't easy. With one out, the White Sox loaded the bases on Avisail Garcia's single, Jordan Danks' walk and Dayan Viciedo's single.
"It was just one of those things -- you can't always go in there and get three quick outs," Holland said. "I'd have taken three line drives there, for sure. Oh, I got probably three line drives, but they weren't at people."
However, Holland struck out the last two batters and, in doing so, tied the club record for strikeouts by a reliever. He matched Jim York's 103 in 1971. While York did his in 93 1/3 innings, Holland needed just 67 innings.
While Holland appreciated tying the record, he'd have gladly taken a different escape route.
"I was hoping for a ground-ball double play, to be honest with you," he said. "But it's been a good season for me."
Holland finished with a 1.21 ERA.
"He's an All-Star closer, I don't know what else you can say," Yost said.
Chen improved his record to 9-4 in what could be his last season with the Royals because he's heading into free agency. Even if he does leave, he'll cherish the memories.
"I've been here the last five years and this year was definitely one of the best years in my career in terms of pushing for a playoff [spot]. I think now we all know what we're capable of doing," Chen said.
"We want to see this organization win. I know the fans had a blast this year and they supported us, they were great and they want to win. This city is ready to win and I feel like this team is ready to step it up."