Banner day for Royals
Righty leads the way for Kansas City's fifth straight victory
KANSAS CITY -- Faced with a bases-loaded jam in the second inning on Friday night, Brian Bannister received a simple message from pitching coach Bob McClure: Focus solely on the hitter.
After McClure left the mound, Bannister regrouped, made several solid pitches and coaxed a ground ball. The play scored a run, but Bannister was more relaxed and more comfortable on the hill. Bannister finished the inning with a flyout, jumpstarting another quality start.
"I was on cruise control from there," Bannister said.
And the Royals' offense did the rest, as Kansas City won, 8-1, over Chicago at Kauffman Stadium. It marked the team's fifth straight win -- the Royals' longest winning streak since June 11-16, 2005 -- and propelled the ballclub another step closer to fourth place in the American League Central.
Kansas City's rookie quartet provided plenty of help. Bannister worked 6 1/3 innings, Alex Gordon continued his hot hitting with two hits and a run scored, Billy Butler enjoyed his first multihit game since May 4 and Tony Pena was in the middle of several rallies.
"Our young guys are playing pretty doggone good," manager Buddy Bell said.
So is the entire team. Esteban German drove in two more runs, and Shane Costa, receiving a rare start, produced his best game since 2006, while Zack Greinke pitched a perfect 2 2/3 innings for his first Major League save.
"Once you get a winning streak, you always feel more confident, more loose and more relaxed," Gordon said. "The longer this goes, the better we feel."
Kansas City is feeling pretty good right now. For the fifth straight night, starting pitching set the tone early. Bannister worked 6 1/3 innings of one-run ball, and he won his fifth game this month. He is the first pitcher to win five contests in a single month since lefty Mark Redman did it last June and just the second Royals pitcher since July 2003.
"He has been lights-out," Gordon said.
Everything hinged on the second inning. After a scoreless first, Bannister retired A.J. Pierzynski before Tadahito Iguchi doubled to the center-field fence. Bannister, who usually exhibits great control, walked Rob Mackowiak and Josh Fields.
McClure came out to the mound.
"He said, 'Forget what just happened in this inning. Let's just get [Juan] Uribe out. Take the whole game and just make it Uribe,'" Bannister said. "Make the one or two pitches you have to make to him, and let's get out of this inning. That's all it was. I just took a deep breath."
Uribe hit a ground ball up the middle that ticked off Bannister, but German made the play at first. Bannister coaxed a flyout from Scott Podsednik to end the threat.
Bannister rarely faced any trouble the rest of the way. He entered the night with a .299 average versus left-handers, 83 points higher than righties. The right-hander's goal was to equalize those numbers, and he incorporated a new slider to great effect.
"It's a new pitch," Bannister said. "I used to throw a lot of cutters. I have been working on it all year, and tonight, I threw it a lot more. ... Mac has really worked with me on things and I think the slider really helped, especially against the left-handers."
Bannister finished with the rotation's fourth quality start in the past five games. During the winning streak, the rotation is 4-0 with a 2.38 ERA. Overall, the staff has yielded just 11 runs in those five games.
"It's always about the pitching, and I don't think that we could have pitched any better than we have," Bell said.
After scoring a run in the third inning, they tallied two more in the fourth. After Costa doubled and Gordon walked, Butler worked a seven-pitch at-bat before driving a run-scoring single to center that broke the tie at 1.
The Royals broke open the game with three more in the seventh and two in the eighth.
"We did a lot of good things offensively, not just swinging the bats, but taking walks and taking the extra base and things like that," Bell said. "There are a lot of young guys out there and think we are starting to come into our own."
Costa, seeing just his second start since June 9, fashioned the major blow with a bases-loaded two-run single to right field in the seventh.
"It was a big at-bat," Costa said. "Nice to put the game away a little bit and help this team win."
A team that has moved to within one game of the fourth-place White Sox in the AL Central.
"To most teams, it probably wouldn't be that significant, but to us, it's a big deal," Bannister said of being in fourth place. "A bunch of young guys are playing their hearts out right now, and it's a good short-term goal for us."
Conor Nicholl is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.