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Keller solid into 7th, but Royals fall to Bucs

Righty allows 4 runs, strikes out 7; O'Hearn, Gordon drive in 2 each
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Brad Keller broke into the Royals' rotation in late May after spending the first two months of the season in the bullpen. He's only solidified the role in 19 starts since, becoming one of the most dependable arms on Kansas City's staff.

The rookie right-hander wasn't as sharp as he would've liked early on in the Royals' 7-6 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park on Monday, allowing runners in the first four innings. Keller described this outing as a battle, but he settled in after making adjustments and finished with seven strikeouts while allowing four runs over six-plus innings.

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PITTSBURGH -- Brad Keller broke into the Royals' rotation in late May after spending the first two months of the season in the bullpen. He's only solidified the role in 19 starts since, becoming one of the most dependable arms on Kansas City's staff.

The rookie right-hander wasn't as sharp as he would've liked early on in the Royals' 7-6 loss to the Pirates at PNC Park on Monday, allowing runners in the first four innings. Keller described this outing as a battle, but he settled in after making adjustments and finished with seven strikeouts while allowing four runs over six-plus innings.

View Full Game Coverage

Keller departed with a lead, but was saddled with a no-decision as the Pirates won in walk-off fashion on Jacob Stallings' RBI single to left field in the ninth inning.

"I obviously didn't have my best command today, especially early on," Keller said. "But the changeup started to come on late, so I tried to roll with that. I felt like I had a few more innings, and then that seventh inning -- base hit up the middle and then kind of a cheap hit right there got me out of that game. But definitely a grind one."

Keller, 23, was originally drafted by the D-backs in the eighth round of the 2013 Draft. After spending his 2017 season with Arizona's Double-A Jackson affiliate, the right-hander was selected by the Reds in the Rule 5 Draft last December before being immediately dealt to the Royals.

Keller has been especially good over his past seven starts, posting a 4-1 record with a 2.40 ERA. He's been efficient with his pitch count as well. Monday was the fourth straight start in which he completed six or more innings, and the 11th time he's done so this season.

"He got us into the seventh. Did a great job by doing that," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "[He] threw the ball really, really well. … I thought he put us in a position to win."

Working with a one-run lead in the third inning, Keller served up a out-out single to Adam Frazier, who scored on Corey Dickerson's RBI single to left field. Frazier later broke the tie when he drove in a pair with a long double to right field in the fourth.

The Royals used a small ball approach to rally against Pirates right-hander Joe Musgrove in the fifth inning. Kansas City strung together four singles -- including RBI knocks by Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez -- to tie the game before Ryan O'Hearn's RBI double and Jorge Bonifacio's sacrifice fly opened a 5-3 lead.

Video: KC@PIT: Gordon laces an RBI single to left-center

Keller pitched a perfect fifth inning and worked around a two-out single in the sixth. Clinging to a two-run advantage, he returned to the mound for the seventh despite having thrown 99 pitches.

"I felt good," Keller said of the decision to pitch beyond the sixth. "And then obviously Ned asked me if I felt good going into the seventh inning, and I said, 'Yeah.'"

Keller didn't last long in the inning. He gave up back-to-back singles to Pablo Reyes and Starling Marte, ending his night as left-hander Tim Hill took over. Hill gave up an RBI single to Josh Bell to cut the Royals' advantage to 5-4, but got out of the inning with the lead.

Video: KC@PIT: Goodwin leaps at the wall for a grab in 7th

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Stallings walks it off: Leading 6-4 in the eighth inning, Royals right-hander Kevin McCarthy gave up consecutive two-out singles, followed by Marte's RBI triple to tie the game. After Kansas City's offense was retired in order in the ninth inning, righty Ben Lively came out to pitch the ninth.

Lively worked around a leadoff walk by inducing a double play, but issued a two-out free pass to Kevin Kramer before giving up a single to Kevin Newman to put the winning run in scoring position. In the ensuing at-bat, his 77.7-mph curveball was met by Stallings' bat at the bottom of the zone and driven to left field for a walk-off single.

Video: KC@PIT: Pirates walk off on Stallings' single in 9th

SOUND SMART
O'Hearn launched a solo home run to right-center field off Pirates left-hander Steven Brault in the eighth inning to give the Royals a 6-4 lead. It was the first career home run Brault had given up to a left-handed batter.

"We watched video; [he throws] a lot of sliders to lefties," O'Hearn said. "I got a slider and just tried to not pull it, just tried to stay through it. The numbers [for] me against lefties aren't great, but it was good to get one there and build some confidence."

Video: KC@PIT: O'Hearn smacks a solo homer to right-center

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Keller also contributed with a bat in his hand on Monday. Leading off the fifth inning, he got ahead in the count, 1-0, before connecting on a 92.7-mph fastball from Musgrove and driving it to right field for his Major League hit.

"I fouled off one early, like the previous [at-bat], and I was just trying to get another heater," Keller said. "I put a good swing on it. I know I was super late, but luckily it squeaked through the hole."

Video: KC@PIT: Keller singles in the 5th for his 1st MLB hit

UP NEXT
Left-hander Eric Skoglund (1-5, 6.19 ERA) will make his second start since coming off the disabled list against the Pirates at PNC Park on Tuesday at 6:05 p.m. CT. The southpaw faced the White Sox last time out, allowing a pair of earned runs on two hits over five innings and earning a no-decision. Right-hander Jameson Taillon (13-9, 3.37) will start for Pittsburgh.

Mason Wittner is a reporter for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh.

Kansas City Royals, Brad Keller

30 breakout performers -- 1 for each team

Whether rookies or players who finally turned the corner, a look at the season's breakthrough performances
MLB.com @williamfleitch

Of the hundreds of great Albert Pujols factoids, here's my favorite one: He only made the Cardinals' roster in 2001, his rookie season, because Bobby Bonilla had a Spring Training injury, opening up a roster spot. All Pujols did that year was hit .329/.403/.610, win the National League Rookie of the Year Award and, of course, begin a career that'll finish in Cooperstown. It was his breakthrough year, and it was undeniable.

You can't expect everyone -- or anyone -- to have a breakthrough like Pujols did. But when a breakthrough happens, you can't miss it. Today we take a look at players on each team who, in 2018, had the breakthrough year that augurs great things for the future. Some of them are rookies, some of them just finally turned the corner, but all of them are players we'll be talking about for years to come. And this was the year they got it all started.

Of the hundreds of great Albert Pujols factoids, here's my favorite one: He only made the Cardinals' roster in 2001, his rookie season, because Bobby Bonilla had a Spring Training injury, opening up a roster spot. All Pujols did that year was hit .329/.403/.610, win the National League Rookie of the Year Award and, of course, begin a career that'll finish in Cooperstown. It was his breakthrough year, and it was undeniable.

You can't expect everyone -- or anyone -- to have a breakthrough like Pujols did. But when a breakthrough happens, you can't miss it. Today we take a look at players on each team who, in 2018, had the breakthrough year that augurs great things for the future. Some of them are rookies, some of them just finally turned the corner, but all of them are players we'll be talking about for years to come. And this was the year they got it all started.

AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST

Blue Jays: Teoscar Hernandez, OF
Key stat: 20 homers

The strikeouts are a little higher than you'd like, but for a guy who didn't make the Opening Day roster, the power has been a revelation for the Blue Jays.

Video: CLE@TOR: Hernandez crushes a 3-run home run to center

Orioles: Tanner Scott
Key stat: 12.9 K/9

It has been the sort of year in Baltimore that a middle reliever with a high strikeout rate is your breakthrough player … but a 23-year-old with that strikeout rate shouldn't be ignored.

Video: BAL@TEX: Scott K's Guzman with the bases loaded

Rays: Blake Snell
Key stat: 2.03 ERA, 19 wins

This was the year the Rays were waiting for from Snell. Maybe he's the only starter they need!

Video: CLE@TB: Snell gets Diaz, takes no-hitter to 7th

Red Sox: Xander Bogaerts
Key stat: .288/.359/.519

Remember, Bogaerts was a below-average hitter last year. With all the homers at Fenway this year, it's easy to miss that he has more than doubled his total from 2017.

Video: HOU@BOS: Bogaerts clubs a solo homer over the Monster

Yankees: Aaron Hicks
Key stat: 4.1 WAR (Baseball Reference)

With all the injury problems the Yankees have, Hicks is proving that he can be a near-star-level player. 

Video: TOR@NYY: Hicks opens the scoring with RBI single

AL CENTRAL

Indians: Jose Ramirez
Key stat: .282/.396/.578

Sure, Ramirez was terrific last year too, but by converting those doubles into homers, he has turned into the AL Most Valuable Player Award candidate no one saw coming.

Video: Ramirez makes history, joins the exclusive 30-30 club

Royals: Brad Keller
Key stat: 3.04 ERA

Keller had a 4.68 ERA in Double-A Jackson last year, but he has been the Royals' best pitcher this year. He just turned 23 years old as well.

Video: CWS@KC: Keller twirls 7 strong innings in win

Tigers: Niko Goodrum
Key stat: 16 homers

Goodrum was 1-for-17 in 2017 with Minnesota and never hit more than 13 homers in eight years in the Minors. He may end up leading the Tigers in homers this year.

Video: DET@CWS: Goodrum clubs a game-tying solo HR in 7th

Twins: Jose Berrios
Key stat: 3.81 ERA, tied for league lead in complete games and shutouts

Berrios will end up adding about 50 innings to his 2017 total, which gets him closer to being the ace the Twins have been waiting on. He's still 24.

Video: MIN@KC: Berrios strikes out 9 over 6 strong innings

White Sox: Carlos Rodon
Key stat: 3.10 ERA

Rodon's strikeout rate has dropped, but everything else has been golden for him this year, and he looks like a rotation mainstay moving forward.

Video: CWS@KC: Rodon lets up 2 runs, K's 5 over 6 innings

AL WEST

Angels: Shohei Ohtani
Key stat: .370 OBP, 3.31 ERA

The injury is (obviously) a bummer, but seriously, once it heals, it looks like Ohtani really might be able to both pitch and hit in this league, and at high levels.

Video: Must C Combo: Trout, Ohtani smash back-to-back homers

Astros: Alex Bregman
Key stats: .294/.401/.551

Bregman has unquestionably been the best position player on a team full of great ones.

Video: Bregman has 30 homer, 50 double, 100 RBI season

Athletics: Matt Chapman
Key stat: 8.1 WAR (Baseball Reference)

We all knew Chapman could play defense like no one else on earth. But he has raised both his OBP and SLG 50 points from his rookie year. Look out.

Video: OAK@TB: Chapman clubs solo homer off Romo 434 feet

Mariners: Edwin Diaz
Key stat: 55 saves

The Mariners have relied on Diaz more than any team has relied on any reliever, and he has responded nearly every time.

Video: SEA@LAA: Diaz induces flyout, notches his 55th save

Rangers: Jose Leclerc
Key stat: 13.8 K/9

Leclerc has always been able to strike guys out, but he dropped his walk rate in half this year.

Video: TEX@SD: Leclerc whiffs Reyes to earn his 11th save

NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST

Braves: Ronald Acuna Jr.
Key stat: .292/.368/.574

Remember when Acuna was struggling? He looks like he'll be ready to compete for the NL MVP Award as soon as next year. Acuna won't be able to buy his first drink until December.

Video: WSH@ATL: Acuna records 1st career 4-hit game in win

Marlins: Brian Anderson
Key stat: .270/.353/.395

If Anderson's competition consisted of mere mortals instead of some absolute studs this year, he'd be a legitimate NL Rookie of the Year Award candidate.

Video: MIA@NYM: Anderson lines an RBI triple to right field

Mets: Jacob deGrom
Key stat: 1.78 ERA

It's possible that deGrom may be what we remember most from this season.

Video: NYM@BOS: deGrom fans Betts for his 10th K through 5

Nationals: Juan Soto
Key stat: .305/.421/.532

It's easy not to fret about your former superstar teenager possibly leaving when you have another one that just shows up on your roster.

Video: WSH@ATL: Soto knocks in Harper on 9th inning single

Phillies: Aaron Nola
Key stat: 16-5, 2.42 ERA

The Phillies have been excited about Nola for a while. But even they didn't see this coming.

Video: WSH@PHI: Nola K's Rendon to end the frame

NL CENTRAL

Brewers: Christian Yelich
Key stat: .313/.381/.556

Yelich is not only having a better year than Marcell Ozuna, he's having a better year than Giancarlo Stanton.

Video: PIT@MIL: Yelich crushes his 30th homer of the season

Cardinals: Jack Flaherty
2.86 ERA

The Cards have had a few of these guys -- from Miles Mikolas to Harrison Bader to Yairo Munoz -- but we'll go with the guy who would start the NL Wild Card Game.

Video: LAD@STL: Flaherty whiffs 8 Dodgers, allows just 1 run

Cubs: Javier Baez
Key stat: .294/.328/.563

The batting average and on-base percentage are about what you'd expect from Baez, but that slugging leads the NL.

Video: Must C Combo: Baez homers, executes key bunt in win

Pirates: Trevor Williams
Key stat: 1.19 second-half ERA

If the real Williams is anything close to this, with Jameson Taillon and Chris Archer, the Pirates have quite a threesome in the rotation moving forward.

Video: PIT@MIL: Williams tosses 6 scoreless vs. Brewers

Reds: Eugenio Suarez
Key stat: 101 RBIs

No Red has led the NL in RBIs since Dave Parker in 1985, and Suarez is right there with Trevor Story and Baez for the top spot.

Video: LAD@CIN: Suarez belts a solo home run to right

NL WEST

D-backs: Patrick Corbin
Key stat: 11-5, 3.05 ERA

The pending free agent has picked an excellent year to have his career season.

Video: ARI@COL: Corbin gets Blackmon swinging

Dodgers: Max Muncy
Key stat: .258/.389/.577

Muncy has cooled down a little bit in the second half, but of all the players to lead the Dodgers in homers this year, this guy would have been pretty far down everybody's list in the preseason.

Video: NYM@LAD: Muncy hits towering 2-run homer to center

Giants: Dereck Rodriguez
Key stat: 2.30 ERA

The Giants are almost too old to have too many breakthrough players, but Rodriguez has actually been the team's leader in WAR (Baseball Reference) this year.

Video: COL@SF: Rodriguez K's 5 over 6 strong frames vs. Rox

Padres: Franmil Reyes
Key stat: .848 OPS

The numbers are better than many realize, but the real joy of Reyes is bringing something unique and exciting to a franchise that could use it.

Video: SD@ARI: Reyes smashes a 3-run homer to right-center

Rockies: Kyle Freeland
Key stat: 15-7, 2.96 ERA

According to Baseball Reference WAR, Freeland is having the second-best season by a Rockies pitcher in franchise history … and he's got a real chance to chase down 2010 Ubaldo Jimenez by season's end.

Video: ARI@COL: Freeland K's Jay, the side in the 3rd

Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.

Mondesi stays hot, but Royals fall in slugfest

MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- Royals manager Ned Yost fully admitted this week that he basically has run out of glowing adjectives to describe the rapid development of shortstop Adalberto Mondesi.

After Mondesi's performance Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, Yost again will be perhaps reaching for his thesaurus. Mondesi had three more hits, including his ninth home run, in the Royals' 9-6 loss to the Twins. The Royals took the series, three games to one.

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KANSAS CITY -- Royals manager Ned Yost fully admitted this week that he basically has run out of glowing adjectives to describe the rapid development of shortstop Adalberto Mondesi.

After Mondesi's performance Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, Yost again will be perhaps reaching for his thesaurus. Mondesi had three more hits, including his ninth home run, in the Royals' 9-6 loss to the Twins. The Royals took the series, three games to one.

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Mondesi also stole his 25th base in just 62 games.

Video: MIN@KC: Mondesi swipes second base in the 7th

"He's progressing in every facet of his game, physically and mentally," Yost said.

Mondesi's resurgence this season has been remarkable. He hit .185 in 2016 and .170 last season, looking mostly overmatched at the plate.

But after a slow start this season, Mondesi has taken off. He was hitting .211 on July 9 but has turned it on, hitting .319 over the last two months. And lately he has been scorching, hitting .388 in his last 16 games with five home runs.

"I've been working on the little things, just staying short to the ball and putting the ball in play," Mondesi said.

Video: MIN@KC: O'Hearn fields deflection, dives to bag

Mondesi has raised his average to .291, and certainly a .300 season is within reach.

"I just try to help the team win," Mondesi said. "If you focus on the numbers, you try to do too much."

Meanwhile, right-hander Jakob Junis' hot streak finally came to a halt. Junis hadn't given up more than three earned runs in a start since Aug. 1, a span of seven games. But Junis was chased in the fourth inning this time after giving up eight hits and four runs.

Video: MIN@KC: Junis strikes out Adrianza in the 2nd

"I couldn't find that good strike command with my fastball," Junis said. "And when I made good pitches they battled. My command wasn't the greatest. I threw some sliders that were pretty badly hung."

Junis' old bugaboo -- the long ball -- came back to bite him Sunday. Junis went through a six-game stretch of surrendering only one home run before giving up two in his previous outing. He had given up 24 home runs in his first 17 starts this season.

The Twins hit three home runs off Junis in three-plus innings, and those three came in a span of four batters -- Max Kepler, Tyler Austin and Johnny Field all went deep.

Video: MIN@KC: Merrifield lines RBI single to right-center

"I had been keeping the ball down and staying ahead of hitters," said Junis, who turned 26 on Sunday. "Today, I was behind hitters and not keeping the ball down. Wasn't in the zone consistently."

Added Yost, "He just didn't have it today. It's one of those days where he was grinding, grinding, grinding, but just wasn't sharp."

Royals rookie first baseman Ryan O'Hearn had three hits, tying a career high, including two doubles.

Video: MIN@KC: O'Hearn opens the scoring with an RBI double

HE SAID IT
"I had [catching coach] Pedro [Grifol] ask [Mondesi], just real quietly, just ask him how he's feeling. And he told Pedro, he goes, 'Look, I've programmed myself mentally to play every day. If you guys want to give me a day off, that's your choice. I'm ready to play every day. I feel great.'" -- Yost ,on how Mondesi, who has been injury-prone much of his career, is handling regular duty now

UP NEXT
The Royals open a three-game series in Pittsburgh on Monday at 6:05 p.m. CT with right-hander Brad Keller (8-6, 3.04 ERA) on the mound. Right-hander Joe Musgrove (6-9, 3.87) will pitch for the Pirates. Keller is coming off a win over the White Sox on Tuesday in which he gave up one run and four hits over seven innings.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals

Veterans lead the way in blowout win over Twins

Gordon knocks in five runs; Kennedy snaps winless streak with strong outing
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- For much of the Royals' recent surge -- the club has now won 14 of its last 20 -- it has been the youngsters who have provided the big plays or pitching performances.

But on Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium, it looked like Royals veterans' night. Alex Gordon delivered a pair of two-run doubles and drove in five runs, Alcides Escobar had three hits and three RBIs and right-hander Ian Kennedy snapped his 17-game winless streak in the Royals' 10-3 victory over the Twins.

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KANSAS CITY -- For much of the Royals' recent surge -- the club has now won 14 of its last 20 -- it has been the youngsters who have provided the big plays or pitching performances.

But on Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium, it looked like Royals veterans' night. Alex Gordon delivered a pair of two-run doubles and drove in five runs, Alcides Escobar had three hits and three RBIs and right-hander Ian Kennedy snapped his 17-game winless streak in the Royals' 10-3 victory over the Twins.

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The Royals have now won 13 of their last 15 games at home.

MRI confirms Lopez has deep bruise on ribs

Gordon had three hits and came through with a two-out double down the left-field line in the fourth inning that provided separation, pushing a 4-1 lead to 6-1. Gordon pulled through again in almost identical fashion in the sixth, lining another two-out double down the left-field line to make it 8-2.

"I'm just really proud of Alex Gordon, the way he continues to battle back," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "He had a rough year last year. He's had little spurts this year, but he's working really hard on beating that shift. When he is struggling, it's roll-over after roll-over, and you don't see that as much anymore. It's paying off for him.

"He had some fantastic at-bats. He was staying on the ball, driving it the other way. … I told him he looked like Rod Carew tonight, just peppering them down the left-field line."

Video: MIN@KC: Yost on Kennedy's outing, Gordon's five RBIs

Gordon smiled at the Carew comparison, but said, "I wouldn't go that far. I think I have a little more ways to go for something like that.

"I'm just trying to stay simple. I've been working with [hitting coach Terry Bradshaw and catching coach Pedro Grifol] a lot this year and trying to use the opposite way. Obviously, teams are shifting me, so a lot of my hits are going to come the other way, and that's what I've been trying to do. Not hitting into the shift, but hit it where they aren't. Tonight, it worked out."

Meanwhile, Kennedy dominated the Twins for the second time in a week. He gave up one earned run through six innings in his last start in Minnesota on Sunday, and this time he was just as good, giving up two runs (one earned run) through six innings. He walked two and struck out four and got his first win since April 7, when the Royals beat the Indians, 1-0. It was also his first home win since last September.

Video: MIN@KC: Kennedy gives up 1 earned run in 10-3 win

Kennedy's streak had been the second-longest active winless streak in the Majors. Tampa Bay's Ryne Stanek has gone 26 straight starts without a win, but he is a Rays' "opener" and hasn't lasted more than two innings in a start.

"I just knew it was a really long time [since my last win]," Kennedy said. "It was a matter of time before it happened.

"Sometimes, it's out of your control. There are some times when I pitch bad and sometimes when you pitch good and things don't work out. I was just happy to come back from the disabled list and pitch well."

Escobar was a home run shy of hitting for the cycle as he recorded his fourth three-hit game of the year. Catcher Cam Gallagher had his first career four-hit performance, scoring twice while knocking in a run.

Video: MIN@KC: Gallagher records 4th hit with RBI single

HE SAID IT
"We're not looking at it like that. We're feeling like we're a quality team right now that's playing well. Whether you're young or old, we're just playing together and having fun. That's really all that matters. It doesn't matter who does it, just as long someone gets it done." -- Gordon, on if it was a special night for the Royals' older players amidst the youth movement

Video: MIN@KC: Escobar hits RBI triple down right field line

UP NEXT
Right-hander Jakob Junis (8-12, 4.28 ERA) will get the start for the Royals in the series finale against the Twins at 1:15 p.m. on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium. Junis got a no-decision Monday night against the White Sox. He allowed three runs on seven hits over eight innings and retired 15 of the final 16 batters he faced. Right-hander Kyle Gibson (7-13, 3.67 ERA), a former Missouri Tiger, will start for the Twins.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals

MRI confirms Lopez has deep bruise on ribs

MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- Royals right-hander Jorge Lopez underwent an MRI on Saturday morning that showed exactly what the Royals initially diagnosed on Friday night: He has a deep bruise on his left rib cage.

There is no indication yet whether Lopez will be able to make his next scheduled start, which would come on Thursday in Detroit.

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KANSAS CITY -- Royals right-hander Jorge Lopez underwent an MRI on Saturday morning that showed exactly what the Royals initially diagnosed on Friday night: He has a deep bruise on his left rib cage.

There is no indication yet whether Lopez will be able to make his next scheduled start, which would come on Thursday in Detroit.

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"He's day to day," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "It's just about [pain] tolerance now."

Lopez left Friday's 8-4 win against the Twins with one out in the fifth inning when the bruise began affecting his breathing. The injury occurred an inning earlier, when he collided with third baseman Hunter Dozier as they pursued a high chopper behind the mound.

"I feel much better," Lopez said. "But it still bothers me when I cough. I can't even laugh."

Lopez is optimistic he will heal quickly.

"I feel like in a couple days, if I feel good, I can throw a bullpen," Lopez said.

Lopez had pitched four scoreless innings before the bruise began affecting him. He was tagged for four hits and three runs in the fifth. With one out in the fifth, pitching coach Cal Eldred visited the mound and, after talking with Lopez, signaled for Yost and trainer Nick Kenney to come out. Shortly thereafter, Lopez left the field.

"He's a strong boy," Lopez said of Dozier. "He's like 220 [pounds]. He's 6-4, and I got no upper body."

But Lopez said he did fall asleep rather quickly Friday night.

"When I tried to lay up it hurt," he said. "When I lay down and relax, it's OK. Hopefully, it will be OK."

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Jorge Lopez

Perez crowns 9th-inning rally with walk-off slam

MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- Baseball suddenly is becoming fun again at Kauffman Stadium.

Trailing by a run and having lost starter Jorge Lopez to injury, the Royals clawed back in the ninth inning and tied the score on Whit Merrifield's single. Moments later with the bases loaded and facing a five-man infield, catcher Salvador Perez blasted a 3-2 slider from Trevor Hildenberger into the center-field seats for a walk-off grand slam to beat the Twins, 8-4, on Friday night.

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KANSAS CITY -- Baseball suddenly is becoming fun again at Kauffman Stadium.

Trailing by a run and having lost starter Jorge Lopez to injury, the Royals clawed back in the ninth inning and tied the score on Whit Merrifield's single. Moments later with the bases loaded and facing a five-man infield, catcher Salvador Perez blasted a 3-2 slider from Trevor Hildenberger into the center-field seats for a walk-off grand slam to beat the Twins, 8-4, on Friday night.

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Video: MIN@KC: Merrifield ties game in 9th with RBI single

It was the Royals' third walk-off win this month and fourth in their last 13 home games. And the Royals have won 12 of their last 14 at Kauffman Stadium.

"I was just sitting there in the ninth thinking that it's getting fun again," Royals manager Ned Yost said, smiling. "It wasn't a whole lot of fun before. But you just keep your head up and keep working."

 Video: MIN@KC: Yost on walk-off win over the Twins

Lopez left the game in the fifth inning with a left rib contusion after a collision earlier with third baseman Hunter Dozier on an infield chopper. X-rays were negative and Lopez will have an MRI Saturday morning.

Video: MIN@KC: Lopez leaves the game in the 5th inning

But the Royals rallied in Lopez's absence. After Merrifield's single, red-hot Adalberto Mondesi, who had homered and stolen a base earlier in the game, rifled a single to right, sending Merrifield to third and forcing Twins manager Paul Molitor into a corner with one out and the winning run at third.

"Again, Mondesi is having a great year," Yost said. "Really, I don't know what else to say about Mondi. He's working hard. Progressing. He's doing a great job. I'm real proud of him."

Video: MIN@KC: Mondesi crushes a solo homer to right-center

Molitor opted to intentionally walk Alex Gordon, and he also went with five infielders and two outfielders for Perez, a move that Perez admitted he didn't even notice at first.

"I didn't think about that [five infielders]," Perez said. "I didn't see it until a few pitches later. But I just tried to hit the ball. I was sitting on a slider."

Hildenberger threw a first-pitch fastball right down the middle. Perez, a notorious first-pitch swinger, took it for a strike.

"But then Salvy really settled down on three straight breaking balls and fouled one off," Yost said. "Then he got one he could handle and drove it into the night."

The 3-2 slider hung over the plate. Perez knew he'd won the game when he made contact. It was homer No. 26 for Perez, one shy of his career high.

"As soon as I hit it, I thought, OK, we're going to bring him in," Perez said. "There was no one in center field. Then I saw the ball gone. I was more excited. I barreled it pretty good."

The walk-off grand slam was the Royals' first since Paulo Orlando did the same in 2015. It was the Royals' sixth walk-off grand slam in franchise history.

"It's fun again," Perez said. "You never know what's going to happen. You just need to play hard and see what happens." 

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Right-hander Ben Lively, claimed off waivers from the Phillies this month, made his Royals debut in the eighth inning. Lively tossed a scoreless inning, giving up one hit and striking out two.

HE SAID IT
"I didn't feel anything. I was super excited." -- Perez, on being the victim of his own Salvy Splash for the second straight night

UP NEXT
Right-hander Ian Kennedy (1-8, 4.92 ERA) takes the mound for the Royals in Game 2 of the series against Minnesota on Saturday at 6:15 p.m. CT at Kauffman Stadium. Right-hander Chase De Jong (0-0, 0.00 ERA) will pitch for the Twins. Kennedy came off the disabled list last Sunday and gave up one run over six innings to these same Twins. Kennedy is winless in 17 consecutive starts, the longest streak in Royals history within one season.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Salvador Perez

Lexington claims first title since 2001

MLB.com @GoldenSombrero

The Lexington Legends took the lead in the ninth inning and then escaped a bases-loaded jam as they edged Lakewood, 2-1, on Friday to lock up their first Class A South Atlantic League title since 2001.

Box Score

The Lexington Legends took the lead in the ninth inning and then escaped a bases-loaded jam as they edged Lakewood, 2-1, on Friday to lock up their first Class A South Atlantic League title since 2001.

Box Score

:: Complete prospect coverage ::

Lexington took three straight games from the BlueClaws after suffering a series-opening loss in which they squandered a five-run lead. In Game 4, however, runs were hard to come by for both clubs.

After throwing a nine-inning no-hitter in Lakewood's semis-clinching victory, Phillies No 18 prospect Spencer Howard retired the first 10 batters he faced and did not allow a hit for four innings. He ultimately completed five innings, allowing one run on three hits with six strikeouts.

Manny Olloque ended Howard's no-hit bid with a leadoff single to left field in the fifth, and Cristian Perez followed with an RBI double to put Lexington on the board.

Legends starter J.C. Cloney kept Lakewood off the board over the first five innings, allowing just two hits and a walk. He struck out two and faced three over the minimum in the outing while throwing 51 of 80 pitches for strikes.

Lakewood's offense sprung to life in the sixth inning against the Legends' bullpen. After putting runners on second and third with two outs, Phillies No. 7 prospect Jhailyn Ortiz delivered a game-tying single to plate Simon Muzzioti. Lexington right fielder Cal Jones threw out Jake Scheiner at home on the play, denying Lakewood the go-ahead run.

Perez put the Legends ahead for good in the ninth inning with a sacrifice fly that scored Royals No. 21 prospect Brewer Hicklen, who had coaxed a leadoff walk to open the frame before advancing to third on Olloque's third hit of the game.

Lexington closer Tad Ratliff worked the ninth en route to his third save of the series, although the BlueClaws' made it interesting by stringing together three singles before ultimately leaving the bases loaded.

Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero.

Fillmyer rebounds with solid start to beat Twins

Right-hander fans six in 7 1/3 innings; Perez, Bonifacio homer back-to-back
MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- As auditions go for the 2019 Royals rotation, right-hander Heath Fillmyer added a bit more to his resume on Thursday night.

A week after getting roughed up by the Twins for six runs in 2 1/3 innings, Fillmyer came back strong against these same Twins, going a career-high 7 1/3 innings in the Royals' 6-4 win at Kauffman Stadium.

View Full Game Coverage

KANSAS CITY -- As auditions go for the 2019 Royals rotation, right-hander Heath Fillmyer added a bit more to his resume on Thursday night.

A week after getting roughed up by the Twins for six runs in 2 1/3 innings, Fillmyer came back strong against these same Twins, going a career-high 7 1/3 innings in the Royals' 6-4 win at Kauffman Stadium.

View Full Game Coverage

Fillmyer also gave up three runs to the Twins in a three-inning start in early August.

"My first two starts against them didn't go too well," Fillmyer said. "I kinda wanted to give everything I got and redeem myself in a way. I definitely wanted this one, for sure."

Fillmyer made one mistake early, a fastball down and in to Jake Cave in the second inning. Cave golfed a two-run shot to right-center and the Twins had a 2-0 lead. From there, Fillmyer gave up just one more hit until he reached the eighth, when he allowed a double and a single.

Video: MIN@KC: Yost on Filmyer's start, bullpen in 6-4 win

"He threw the ball really well," Royals manager Ned Yost said of Fillmyer. "We wanted to get him through the eighth, but he started to labor. I hesitate to call this a mistake, but he made one -- he was trying to go down and away to Cave and pulled it and left it middle-in."

Unfortunately for Fillmyer, the Royals' bullpen allowed both runners to score to put a smidge on his line as he was charged with four runs overall. But he tied a career high with six strikeouts.

Video: MIN@KC: Merrifield scores from 1st on Polanco error

Meanwhile, the Royals' speed took advantage of some sloppy Twins defense in the fifth. With Whit Merrifield on first and two outs, Adalberto Mondesi sent a hard grounder to shortstop Jorge Polanco. The ball caromed off Polanco's glove and into short right-center, which started the merry-go-round -- Merrifield scored all the way from first and Mondesi sped to third.

The Royals took the lead with a four-run sixth, sparked by back-to-back home runs from Salvador Perez (No. 25) and Jorge Bonifacio (No. 3). Perez's home run was a two-run shot.

Video: MIN@KC: Perez and Bonifacio launch back-to-back jacks

"He continues to improve as a power hitter," Yost said. "He gets better every year. That was a huge hit for us to give us the lead."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The Twins, having already scored two runs in the eighth inning to pull to within one at 5-4, had two runners on and two out when recently acquired left-hander Jerry Vasto was called on to face Cave. Vasto fed Cave a steady diet of sliders and got Cave to ground out to second, preserving the lead.

"He's from New Jersey, so I know he'll be fine," said Fillmyer, another New Jersey native.

Added Yost, "What we've seen from Vasto is he is definitely a strike thrower. He attacks the zone and gets ahead in the count. That inning was really starting to go sideways."

• Willians Astudillo takes piggyback ride in the dugout

UP NEXT
Right-hander Jorge Lopez (2-4, 3.72 ERA) takes the mound for the Royals in the second game of the series against the Twins at Kauffman Stadium at 7:15 p.m. CT. Right-hander Jose Berrios (11-11, 3.83) will pitch for the Twins. Last Saturday against Minnesota, Lopez became the first Royal in franchise history to carry a perfect game into the ninth inning. Lopez lost the perfect game, the no-hitter and the shutout, but still got a 4-1 win.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Heath Fillmyer

Salvy, Bonifacio HR B2B after KC ends no-no

MLB.com @FlannyMLB

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals went into the sixth inning of Thursday night's 6-4 win against the Twins without a hit and trailing, 2-1.

That changed rapidly.

View Full Game Coverage

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals went into the sixth inning of Thursday night's 6-4 win against the Twins without a hit and trailing, 2-1.

That changed rapidly.

View Full Game Coverage

First, Hunter Dozier broke up Minnesota's combined no-hit bid with a leadoff double to left.

Video: MIN@KC: Dozier breaks up no-no with double

Catcher Salvador Perez followed by ripping a 2-1 fastball off Twins right-hander Alan Busenitz into the left-field seats, a two-run shot that put the Royals up, 3-2. It was Perez's 25th home run, and he became one of nine Royals all-time to record back-to-back seasons with 25 or more home runs.

"It was fastball over the plate," Perez said. "I think he tried to go up. Missed right in the middle. I took a pretty good swing.

"The first two or three guys pitched really good against us. They didn't miss too much. But it's not how we start; it's how we finish. Especially in that inning."

Video: MIN@KC: Perez discusses homer, gets doused

"He continues to improve as a power hitter," Royals manager Ned Yost said of Perez. "He gets better every year. That was a huge hit for us to give us the lead."

The Royals weren't finished. Jorge Bonifacio followed with a liner into the left-field bullpen -- his third home run this season -- and the Royals went up, 4-2. It was the fifth time the Royals have gone back-to-back this season.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.

Kansas City Royals, Jorge Bonifacio, Salvador Perez

Who is every club's September hero?

A look back at the greatest individual late-season surges in MLB history
MLB.com

Throughout baseball history, there have been key players who became September heroes for their clubs by helping lift them into the postseason. Whether it's turning in gem after gem on the mound down the stretch, or coming through with clutch hits late in critical games, these are the players who rose to the occasion when the pressure was at its peak during the regular season.

As we head into the final couple of weeks of the 2018 regular season, here's a look from all 30 MLB.com beat writers at each team's greatest September hero:

Throughout baseball history, there have been key players who became September heroes for their clubs by helping lift them into the postseason. Whether it's turning in gem after gem on the mound down the stretch, or coming through with clutch hits late in critical games, these are the players who rose to the occasion when the pressure was at its peak during the regular season.

As we head into the final couple of weeks of the 2018 regular season, here's a look from all 30 MLB.com beat writers at each team's greatest September hero:

Angels: Vladimir Guerrero, 2004
The best season of Guerrero's Hall of Fame career came in his first year with the Angels, when he captured his lone American League MVP Award and led the club to its first division title in 18 years. He carried the Halos in September, batting .500 (15-for-30) with a 1.783 OPS, six home runs, 11 RBIs, six walks and zero strikeouts over his final eight games to fuel a 7-1 run that allowed the Angels to overcome a three-game deficit and edge out the A's in the AL West race on the penultimate day of the season.

Astros: Lance Berkman, 2004
The 2004 Astros -- a star-studded team that included Hall of Famers Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio, along with Jeff Kent and an up-and-coming Carlos Beltran for the second half of the season -- was sputtering at the All-Star break, which led to Phil Garner replacing Jimy Williams as manager. Houston had to go 36-10 down the stretch to win the National League Wild Card on the final day of the season, and Berkman spearheaded the surge by hitting .350 with 13 homers, 17 doubles and 45 RBIs in the final 68 games (1.056 OPS).

Athletics: Jason Giambi, 2000
Giambi's storied 20-year career featured 440 home runs -- 43 of them recorded during his 2000 AL MVP Award-winning campaign. The slugger guided the A's to their first postseason appearance in eight years that season, absolutely demolishing the ball down the stretch with 13 multihit games and 13 home runs in the final month of the regular season.

Blue Jays: David Price, 2015
The Blue Jays were one game above .500 when David Price walked into the clubhouse on July 31. Toronto went 41-18 the rest of the way to snap a 22-year postseason drought, and Price was a major reason why. The former rival, turned teammate, won all but two of his 11 starts for the Blue Jays, including a 5-0 record and a 2.32 ERA in September. Price won both of his September starts against the Yankees, and in four starts vs. New York after the trade, he allowed just five runs over 26 1/3 innings. Toronto acquired five players before the 2015 Trade Deadline, but Price was by far the biggest addition of all.

Video: NYY@TOR: Price escapes bases loaded jam in the third

Braves: Chipper Jones, 1999
While Jones had many great performances over the course of his Hall of Fame career, he arguably peaked in the second half of the 1999 season, when he hit .328/.464/.693 with 24 homers, 62 walks, and 33 strikeouts after the break en route to his only NL MVP Award. He all but sealed that award when he homered four times in a three-game September series against the Mets that helped secure Atlanta's eighth straight division title.

Brewers: CC Sabathia, 2008
A free agent-to-be, Sabathia had his future to worry about as he carried the 2008 Brewers to their first postseason appearance in 26 years. But Sabathia put personal considerations aside and made his final three regular-season starts on three days' rest, allowing two earned runs in 21 2/3 innings in those games, including a complete-game effort against the Cubs in the regular-season finale that clinched the NL Wild Card. In all, he logged a 1.65 ERA in 17 regular-season starts for Milwaukee down the stretch.

Cardinals: Albert Pujols, 2006
Pujols actually didn't win the NL MVP Award in 2006 -- it went to Ryan Howard -- despite arguably his most productive all-around campaign (.331/.431/.671 with 49 home runs). It was a season Pujols finished in style, hitting .373/.465/.700 with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs in 29 games that September to lead the 83-win Cardinals to an unlikely division crown, and eventually, an even more improbable World Series title. Pujols notched a three-homer game against Pittsburgh early in the month and finished it by hitting safely in 10 of the Cards' last 11 games down the stretch.

Cubs: Rick Sutcliffe, 1984
Sutcliffe's late-season performance was one of the keys to winning Chicago's first pennant in 39 years. His best work came following the All-Star break, and, particularly in September. In the first half of the season, the right-hander posted a 4.26 ERA over 20 starts, but over 15 second-half outings, Sutcliffe's ERA was 2.93, helping the Cubs turn a 4 1/2-game deficit in the NL East on July 26 into a 6 1/2-game lead by the end of the season. In September, he posted a 2.06 ERA over five starts, including a two-hitter against the Pirates on Sept. 24 to clinch the division title.

D-backs: J.D. Martinez, 2017
Martinez will go down as one of the great Trade Deadline acquisitions. Although he performed well in his first month and a half with the D-backs, he saved his best for September as he helped them to a strong finish and the top NL Wild Card spot. Martinez hit .396/.431/.950 during the month for an OPS of 1.382, and his biggest night came Sept. 4 at Dodger Stadium when he hit four home runs. Martinez's 16 homers in September tied him with Pittsburgh's Ralph Kiner for the most September long balls in NL history and was one shy of the Major League record set by Cleveland's Albert Belle in 1995 and the Yankees' Babe Ruth in '27.

Video: SF@ARI: Martinez hits grand slam, drives in six

Dodgers: Orel Hershiser, 1988
With apologies to Manny Ramirez, whose ridiculously torrid bat helped lift the Dodgers into the postseason after his 2008 arrival, what Hershiser did still stands as an MLB record and he continued right through the World Series clincher. He finished the regular season with 59 consecutive scoreless innings, went 5-0 in September, won the NL Championship Series MVP Award and the World Series MVP Award. The Dodgers haven't won a World Series since.

Giants: Tim Lincecum, 2010
Lincecum sustained many stretches of dominant pitching during his Giants tenure, but none was more essential than his final-month flurry in 2010, the first of San Francisco's three World Series-winning years. After a dreadful August in which he went 0-5 with a 7.82 ERA, Lincecum was superb in six September starts, going 5-1 with a 1.94 ERA. That effort went a long way toward helping the Giants overtake the Padres in the NL West race.

Indians: Gene Bearden, 1948
With apologies to current Tribe ace Corey Kluber, who was 6-0 with a 0.84 ERA in September 2017 to help Cleveland clinch the top AL seed, Bearden's performance down the stretch in 1948 was the stuff of legend. Starting on Sept. 7, Bearden went 7-0 with a 1.57 ERA in his last nine outings, including six complete games and back-to-back late-inning relief appearances (Sept. 12-13). He finished that stretch with four consecutive complete games, culminating in a win over the Red Sox on Oct. 4 in a one-game tiebreaker game that punched the Indians' ticket to the World Series. Bearden then spun a 0.00 ERA against the Boston Braves in Cleveland's last Fall Classic triumph.

Mariners: Randy Johnson, 1995
The Mariners' magical late-season run to their first playoff appearance in franchise history had a number of heroes. But down the stretch, the "Refuse to Lose" campaign rode heavily on the shoulders of their big ace. Seattle won all 10 of Johnson's final starts from Aug. 11 on, with the Big Unit going 7-0 with a 1.45 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings. Opponents' slash line in those starts: .168/.240/.256. Johnson capped his dominating run by beating the Angels in the one-game tiebreaker to settle the AL West, allowing just three hits and one run in a complete-game 9-1 win. The future Hall of Famer wound up winning the first of his five Cy Young Awards after going 18-2 with a 2.48 ERA and 294 strikeouts in 214 1/3 innings in 30 starts in the strike-shortened season.

Marlins: Miguel Cabrera, 2003
The future Hall of Famer broke in as a 20-year-old, and he emerged as a force in the middle of the order for the Marlins during their drive to the NL Wild Card and the World Series title. Down the stretch, manager Jack McKeon moved Cabrera from hitting mostly seventh to mostly fifth. Cabrera responded, and after struggling with a .230 batting average in August, the rookie took off in September, slashing .308/.370/.505 with nine doubles, three home runs and 20 RBIs in the month. Cabrera found himself hitting cleanup in the World Series.

Mets: Yoenis Cespedes, 2015
Few trades in franchise history altered the Mets' trajectory more than their July 2015 deal for Cespedes. Over his final 47 games of the season, Cespedes hit 17 home runs with a 1.014 OPS, including 10 homers in his first 13 September games. Just two games above .500 when they acquired Cespedes, the Mets went 37-22 with him on the roster, made the World Series, then re-signed him after the season.

Video: NYM@ATL: Cespedes collects 100th RBI with monster HR

Nationals: Adam LaRoche, 2012
LaRoche slashed .324/.390/.667 with eight doubles and 10 homers over the season's final month, helping vault the Nationals to their first NL East title since moving from Montreal to Washington, and second postseason appearance in franchise history (also the 1981 Expos). Overall, LaRoche finished sixth in NL MVP Award voting that season, hitting .271/.343/.510 with 33 homers, including 18 in the second half.

Orioles: Cal Ripken Jr. 1983
A follow-up to a stellar rookie campaign, Ripken's second-half performance is one of the best in team history. He was particularly dangerous in September, hitting .393 with 11 doubles, six homers and 19 RBIs. Ripken also scored 30 runs and posted a 1.023 OPS. He helped lead the O's to a World Series win that year, taking the AL MVP Award as well.

Padres: Kevin Brown, 1998
The Padres acquired Brown prior to the 1998 season with the goal of adding an ace who could put them over the top. Brown did exactly that. As San Diego steamrolled its way to 98 wins and an NL West title, Brown posted a 2.06 second-half ERA. In five starts over the season's final month, he struck out 35 and walked only six, foreshadowing a dominant first two rounds of the postseason.

Phillies: Ryan Howard, 2008
Howard always seemed to hit well late in the season, and 2008 proved to be no exception. He hit .352 with 11 home runs, 32 RBIs and a 1.274 OPS in September. It ranks as the fourth-best OPS in September in franchise history. It helped the Phillies overcome a 3 1/2-game deficit against the Mets with 16 games to play to win the NL East.

Pirates: Barry Bonds, 1992
There is an argument for Ralph Kiner, who hit 16 of his 54 homers and recorded 33 of his 127 RBIs in 1949 after Sept. 1. More recently, Gerrit Cole (2013) and J.A. Happ ('15) pushed the Pirates into the postseason with strong stretch-run performances. But the pick here is Bonds, who capped his 1992 NL MVP Award-winning campaign with an absurdly productive final month. Bonds slashed .392/.537/.833 with 11 homers, 27 RBIs, nine steals and more than twice as many walks (33) as strikeouts (15) as the Bucs went 22-10 after Sept. 1 to win the NL East.

Rangers: Adrian Beltre, 2015
Beltre fueled the Rangers' second-half drive to a division title by hitting .344 with five home runs, 38 RBIs, a .403 on-base percentage percentage and a .555 slugging percentage over 32 games in September and October. He hit .424 with a .707 slugging percentage with 33 RBIs in the last 23 games. Texas didn't clinch the division title until the last day of the season. The Rangers trailed the Angels, 2-1, in the bottom of the fifth when Beltre put them ahead for good with a two-run home run off Garrett Richards. Texas ended up with a 9-2 victory.

Video: OAK@TEX: Beltre blasts two homers, tallies five RBIs

Rays: Carl Crawford, 2010
Tampa Bay won its last AL East championship in 2010, Crawford's last season with the team. The speedster was consistent throughout the season, but he was at his best in September, when he somehow managed to turn it up a notch hitting .376/.422/.604.

Red Sox: Carl Yastrzemski, 1967
To complete the "Impossible Dream" and get to the World Series, the Red Sox needed a superhuman effort from Yastrzemski in the final two games of the regular season -- both must-wins against the Twins. That's exactly what Yaz provided, going 7-for-8 with a double, a homer and six RBIs as Boston won both games by scores of 6-4 and 5-3. In the final month of the season, when his team needed him most, Yaz slashed .417/.504/.760 with nine homers and 26 RBIs.

Video: 10/1/67 MIN@BOS: Yaz wills Sox to pennant

Reds: Jose Rijo, 1990
As the Reds completed their wire-to-wire claim of the NL West title, Rijo was brilliant down the stretch. In seven starts in September, he was 4-2 with a 1.26 ERA and four complete games, with five games of nine innings pitched. Rijo allowed only one home run over 57 innings in the month. He went on to allow one run in 15 1/3 innings in the 1990 World Series vs. Oakland, while winning Games 1 and 4 to earn MVP Award honors.

Rockies: Matt Holliday, 2007
The Rockies' miracle run that landed them in the World Series was fueled by the big bat of a young Holliday, who hit .365 with 12 home runs and 32 RBIs -- or a 1.236 OPS. What's funny is another Colorado September was actually better in terms of run production -- Troy Tulowitzki's 15 homers and 40 RBIs in 2010 -- but the Rox fell just shy of the postseason.

Video: Moments in Rockies History: October 1st, 2007

Royals: George Brett, 1985
The Royals entered the final week of the season one game behind the Angels with seven to go. Over the next six games, Brett hit .450 (9-for-20) with five home runs and 11 RBIs, carrying Kansas City to five wins -- the only game it lost in that stretch was the game Brett didn't hit a homer. And his second and fourth home runs during that week were inside-the-park homers. Brett got blue-fame hot when the Royals needed it most, and he helped them clinched the division and eventually win their first World Series crown.

Tigers: Miguel Cabrera, 2012
Take your pick of stretch-run performances for Cabrera, who batted .358 with a 1.073 OPS in September-October from 2011-14. While his .333 average in September 2012 seemed low by comparison, he homered 11 times with 30 RBIs in 31 games, helping the Tigers rally past the White Sox in the final week for their second consecutive AL Central title -- and baseball's first batting Triple Crown in 45 years.

Video: Must C Curtains: Miggy exits to ovation

Twins: Joe Mauer, 2009
After missing the first month of the season due to a back injury, Mauer more than made up for it the rest of the way, having a career year en route to winning the AL MVP Award and his third career batting title. Mauer was particularly strong down the stretch, hitting a blistering .373/.460/.570 with 10 homers, 15 doubles and 39 RBIs over his final 60 games from Aug. 1 until the end of the season. His impressive performance helped the Twins overcome a seven-game deficit in the AL Central in early September, as they caught the Tigers and forced a one-game tiebreaker that was memorably won by Minnesota in the last regular-season game played at the Metrodome.

White Sox: LaMarr Hoyt, 1983
This honor could go to either Hoyt, Richard Dotson (14-2, 2.25 ERA in the second half) or Floyd Bannister (13-1, 2.23 ERA), who combined with Hoyt to finish 42-5 in the second half of the 1983 AL West championship season featuring 99 victories. But in his AL Cy Young Award-winning campaign, Hoyt posted a 15-2 record with a 3.16 ERA in 18 second-half starts. He finished 12-0 with a 2.63 ERA over 13 starts covering August and September.

Yankees: Ron Guidry, 1978
"Louisiana Lightning" completed the best season of his career in strong fashion, going 12-2 with a 1.48 ERA in 17 starts for the eventual World Series champions, including 10 complete games and seven shutouts. Guidry limited opponents to an 0.823 WHIP over that span and was rewarded with the AL Cy Young Award after finishing 25-3 with a 1.74 ERA.