Pitching, or more specifically, starting pitching, has plagued the Royals for nearly all of September. Kansas City entered Sunday's match with the Indians with a disappointing 9-15 September record. Time and time again this season, when the team was in desperate need of a quality starting pitching performance, Chris Young came through for the Royals.
Today was no exception. Young was nearly flawless in his five scoreless frames, piloting the Royals to a 3-0 victory over the Cleveland Indians. The bullpen blanked the Indians over the final four innings, capping the first home shutout for Kansas City's pitching staff since August 10.
That is six straight seasons where the Royals have improved their record. Not only has that not happened in baseball since the 1920's, but it's just the second time in major league history that a team has done that.
Young (11-6) opened the game by retiring the first 11 hitters before Michael Brantley walked. That would be the only baserunner allowed by Young over his five innings. While retiring 15 of the 16 men he faced, Young pitched to contact, recording 10 outs in the air. He struck out two and threw a total of 68 pitches. It may have been his first start since July 28, but he was as sharp as he's been all season long.
Cleveland starter Danny Salazar dueled with Young through the game's first three innings, but in the fourth frame, the Royals' offense broke through. Lorenzo Cain, who recorded three hits on Sunday afternoon, reached on an infield single. Eric Hosmer then rocked an RBI double to left field to plate the game's first run, and after a Salvador Perez single put runners on the corners, Mike Moustakas picked up an RBI on a groundout.
Salazar pitched well, but a patient approach from the Kansas City hitters made his pitch count rise quickly. As a result, he only lasted 5.1 innings. Salazar took the loss to fall to 13-10, scattering seven hits and giving up two runs. He struck out just three batters, which is a low number for one of the league's top strikeout pitchers.
Danny Duffy was called on for the sixth inning. He kept the team's bid for a combined no-hitter alive by firing a perfect frame, striking out two of the three hitters he faced. As the Royals prepare for October baseball, Duffy is proving to be a special weapon that Kansas City didn't have last year. He is, perhaps, solidifying his role as "the sixth inning guy" in Ned Yost's system.
Cleveland finally broke through with a hit to open a chaotic seventh inning. With Ryan Madson pitching, a bunt single by Francisco Lindor ended the bid as boos rained down on Kauffman Stadium. Madson then walked Michael Brantley to put two on with none out, and the lead runner advanced to third on a flyout by Carlos Santana.
With one out and two on, Lonnie Chisenhall hit a rocket back to Madson, who snagged it and fired back to first to attempt a double-play. Lindor, who was on third, bolted down the line when the throw went to first, and Cleveland appeared to score its first run. Replay showed that Lindor never went back to touch third base, meaning that he should have been out. The Royals challenged, but the umpiring crew instead looked at the play at first. When that call was upheld, Ned Yost returned to the field to state that the crew had reviewed a different play than the one he had requested. Mike Moustakas barked at third base umpire Mike Estabrook, who missed the blatant non-tag that replay had shown. The umpires huddled and went into replay mode again, this time via an umpires review. After several more minutes of waiting and conversation between umpires and managers, Lindor was correctly called out, ending the inning and the scoring threat.
Kansas City added an insurance run in the eighth inning when Alex Gordon picked up a two-out RBI single. Kelvin Herrera worked a clean eighth inning on 14 pitches. Wade Davis pitched the ninth inning to pick up his first save since taking over the closer's job this week. It was the 14th save in 14 opportunities for Davis. In all, the team combined to two-hit the Indians. Kansas City also won the season series, 10-9; it's the first time the Royals have won a season series with Cleveland since 2012.
The Royals finished their 81-game home slate with a 51-30 record. The final attendance in 2015 was 2,708,549, obliterating the previous team record. That makes the average attendance this year 33,439. That's extraordinary.
At 90-65, the Royals have reached the 90-win mark for the first time since 1989. North of the border, the Blue Jays rallied past the Rays to win on a Josh Donaldson walk-off home run. Both teams are 90-66, but because of the tiebreaker, Toronto would own home field advantage throughout the playoffs if the season ended today.
Fortunately for the Royals, the season does not end today. Seven games remain for Kansas City, all of which are on the road. Tomorrow, Yordano Ventura takes the hill at Wrigley Field in Chicago to makeup a game that was rained out in May. He will be opposed by Kyle Hendricks (7-7, 4.23).