KC tied for top AL Wild Card, one back in Central
Ventura scatters just four hits, fans six over seven scoreless innings
CLEVELAND -- Loud and raucous as usual, the Royals' celebration of a 7-1 victory over the Indians was behind them and they settled in to watch on television as the Tigers tried to keep their claws on first place.
Going off the field on Tuesday night, manager Ned Yost had glanced at the scoreboard and saw that the White Sox had scored two in the ninth inning at Detroit. Once he reached his office, he didn't need anyone to tell him that Chicago tied things up.
"As I was sitting in here, I heard a major eruption [in the clubhouse], so I figured something happened," Yost said.
The TV sets, though, soon showed a disappointing end as Detroit rallied to win and kept a one-game lead over Kansas City in its battle for the American League Central title. Time is running out, as there are just five games to go.
Although they are one game back of the Tigers, the Royals are now tied for the top AL Wild Card spot with the A's, who lost, 2-0, to the Angels.
The Royals kept the heat on with rookie Yordano Ventura pitching masterfully for seven shutout innings and the offense springing to life with an attack that featured six doubles.
Yost was informed that with the Mariners losing again, the Royals' magic number for a postseason berth was down to three.
"Is that the magic number for the Wild Card?" he said. "Well, I'm not really interested in the Wild Card right now. So that number really doesn't mean that much to me. The Wild Card has always been Plan B. We're in good shape right now and I'm glad that it's three, but our focus is on winning this division."
Yost was managing his 770th Royals game, matching Dick Howser's club record, and his team's 86th victory matched its total of last season.
The last two seasons under Yost have marked Kansas City's best back-to-back seasons since Whitey Herzog got 85 wins in 1979 and Jim Frey notched 97 in 1980.
"I'm excited about that a little bit. We're making progress," Yost said.
How much progress would it be if his club became the first Royals team to make the postseason in 29 years? Can they see the finish line?
"You can't let yourself see it," cautioned Billy Butler. "We've got to come out tomorrow and take on Trevor Bauer and just go pitch to pitch. We just can't get too far ahead of ourselves."
It was Danny Salazar that Butler and the Royals roughed up on Tuesday night, even though the Indians' right-hander racked up six strikeouts in the first two innings.
"Salazar that first time through was pretty unbelievable. I think his first six outs were all punchouts," Butler said. "He had his split working. You've got to get him early in the count because you don't want him to get to his strikeout pitch. That split was diving pretty good."
So, putting their heads together in the dugout, the Royals resolved to be more aggressive. They couldn't allow Salazar to get two strikes and then use that off-the-table splitter.
Omar Infante got them going with a two-run double in the fourth inning. Eric Hosmer, Butler and Salvador Perez all whacked doubles to produce a three-run fifth, and by the time the inning was over, Salazar was gone.
Later, facing reliever Scott Atchison, Alex Gordon delivered a two-run double. The middle of the lineup was powering up.
Meantime, Ventura worked seven scoreless innings, giving up four singles and four walks with six strikeouts. After he ran up a career-high 117 pitches doing it, Yost decided that was enough.
"He threw a lot of pitches, but he goes in spurts. It's kind of crazy," Yost said. "He'll get two quick outs, then he gets in trouble. ... But he's got enough stuff and composure and competitiveness to overcome it."
Sure enough, Ventura retired the first two batters in the seventh and then the Indians loaded bases on a walk and singles by Mike Aviles and Michael Bourn. Ventura admitted he and his catcher, Perez, had to do a little politicking to finish out the inning.
"Yeah, a little bit," Ventura said. "Salvy and I expressed confidence that we could get the last out and we were able to do it."
Good thing that he struck out Jose Ramirez or he was gone.
"That was his last hitter," Yost said.
The Indians broke up the shutout in the eighth inning with an unearned run against left-hander Scott Downs. Jason Frasor finished up with a perfect ninth, so the Royals were able to rest the backend of their bullpen -- Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Greg Holland.
The most encouraging sign, though, was the productive hitting.
"I think we're in a good spot," Butler said. "I think we're starting to click at the right time."