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HUGE Win for the Royals Last Night

Last night was about as needed a win as the Royals could have gotten. Heading into the bottom of the ninth inning, things looked pretty dire with the Royals three outs away from their sixth consecutive loss, and this one would have stung even more than a couple of the previous ones. Somehow, the Royals had eight hits heading into the ninth inning and had not gotten a runner past second. Part of that was bad base running as the Royals had two caught stealing and another runner cut down trying to stretch a single into a double. Part of it was the inability to get extra base hits. The last part was the inability to string hits together. Well, finally in the ninth inning, the Royals came through as Hosmer hit a ball about as hard as you can right up the middle which drove Holland from the game.

After Hosmer’s single, Francouer hit a rocket single to right off closer Neftali Feliz who was looking shaky for the second straight game. Francouer’s at bat was followed by Billy Butler showing about as much frustration as I’ve ever seen from him. He hit a flyball to center that as not deep enough to move Hosmer to third and essentially accomplished nothing. He slammed his bat down in disgust. I have to say that I feel for the guy. He’s been blistering the ball the last few days and has not had a ton to show for it, though he did have two hits last night. After Butler, Betemit channeled his inner Melky Cabrera and popped up to shortstop leaving it up to Mike Aviles. Now, Aviles has always been a good fastball hitter, but he’s struggled with hard throwing righties this year, so I figured that the Royals would fall just a bit short on this one. Aviles proved me wrong. He had one of the best at bats I can ever remember from him fouling off pitches until he got one that he was able to hit up the middle. At this point, runners were on second and third due to a wild pitch by Feliz. Elvis Andrus made a fantastic play to get to the ball and not allow the winning run to score, but Aviles had singled home the tying run and the Royals were at it again.

You all know what happened in the tenth inning, and of course Hosmer was right in the middle of it hitting a ball slightly softer than his hit in the previous inning before Francouer came through yet again. So the line wasn’t pretty with two runs on 14 hits, but the “W” was pretty darn nice to look at. If I had to quibble with something outside of the inability to score runs with all those hits, it’s Mike Aviles pumping his fist while running to first base before the ball had made it through the infield. If he had been thrown out at first because he was celebrating his single into center before it made it into center, I would have been livid. It didn’t happen, but he has to learn to celebrate after the play is over and not before. Andrus has as much range as the guy Aviles has been watching all year, so he should know just how much a good shortstop can get to.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Luke Hochevar who I was really down on coming into tonight’s start. I know that he’s been better in May than he was in April, and I know that his peripherals indicate that he’s not nearly as bad as his numbers would indicate, but I’ve been getting very frustrated with his performance. Maybe I put higher standards on him than I should, but it’s just very frustrating to watch a guy who has thrown some of the gems that he has get knocked around. But last night, the Royals needed innings in the worst way. You got the feeling before the game that even if he gave up seven or eight runs that he’d probably go seven or eight innings just to save the bullpen that has to be absolutely worn down. Well, he ended up going 8.2 innings and was brilliant throughout them. He only had four strikeouts, which is a concerning trend of his, but you almost feel like it was by design last night as he was trying to conserve pitches in an effort to get very deep into the game. He couldn’t quite finish out the ninth, but he was able to turn it over to another fresh arm in Greg Holland who was just up from Omaha. The Royals bullpen that had been so taxed over the last week finally got a night off. I expect similar innings from Francis tonight as the bullpen will surely be at it again on Saturday with Nate Adcock on a low pitch count.

I’d also be remiss if I didn’t talk about Eric Hosmer. I’m not sure if it’s a good thing or a bad thing for this team that there is nobody I’d rather have up in a big situation. I’m not trying to compare Hosmer to George Brett here. That’s been done too many times with Royals prospects and the results haven’t been great. What I am going to say is that feeling you used to get with Brett up and the game on the line is the same feeling you get when you see Hosmer step to the plate. You just know he’s going to get something done. Two nights ago, that home run was an absolute thing of beauty. Last night, he got hits in both the ninth and tenth inning. I can’t remember the last time the Royals had a top prospect come to the big leagues and hit the ground running the way Hosmer has, but through 12 games he’s hitting .298/.358/.596. The knock on him and the Royals was that he didn’t have enough extra base hits in AAA, but he’s already got seven in the big leagues. He’s driving in runs, he’s playing very good first base defense, and he’s already hitting third and looking like he belongs there. He’s striking out a bit too much, but I think that will decrease as he gets used to the league a little better. He’s a real joy to watch on the baseball field.

I’m glad the Royals won last night, and I hope it jump starts them in a big way. Driving home last night on one of the local sports talk stations, someone mentioned that if the Royals would lose that they would never see .500 again in 2011. I agreed with that. I still don’t think we’re looking at a division champion or even a .500 team this year. The last week or so has shown the flaws that will ultimately limit the Royals from doing anything beyond 75 or so wins, but they have a lot of heart and they don’t give up. I know those are tired clichés, but they’re true with this team. The Cardinals are coming to town now, and I think they’re considerably better than the Royals, but I think the Royals have a chance to take two out of three from them. This is a team that thrives on confidence, and hopefully last night’s win gave them the confidence to get hot again and put together a 10-4 stretch. I’ll go ahead and regurgitate the message the Royals have been sending for the last couple of weeks about the upcoming series. Keep the K blue. Those Cardinals fans are as obnoxious as they come, but this is the weekend to shut them up with good fans and big wins.

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