Royals bring out the brooms vs. Tigers
Strong pitching, small ball lead to fourth straight win at home
KANSAS CITY -- Trey Hillman arrived late for an interview Thursday morning. He offered up a good excuse.
Hillman had been chatting with a staff member about how closely this Royals team resembled his first and second year Nippon Ham Fighters teams at this stage in the season.
Hillman had a philosophy in Japan. Slap a few hits. Pitch well. Play solid defense. The runs would come.
He's wanted the Royals to do the same, and in Thursday's 8-4 win, they played an awful lot like his Ham Fighters teams. Kansas City scrapped together infield singles, bunts, steals and enough timely power hits to produce eight runs. Gil Meche gave seven strong innings. The defense never erred.
"Those are things our team has to do win ballgames," shortstop Tony Pena said. "You know Trey is just trying to find ways to produce runs, and that's the number one thing."
And like Hillman's Ham Fighters, the Royals are winning. They swept the Tigers in front of 34,734 at Kauffman Stadium, finishing what started out as a disastrous homestand with a season-high four-game win streak and a 5-5 record. They've taken all six games against Detroit this year after sweeping them at the beginning of the season.
Yeah, there was some power on Thursday. Jose Guillen hit his fourth home run of the year, and Miguel Olivo doubled twice, but this game was about small ball.
The lineup revealed that much. Alex Gordon, David DeJesus and Mark Grudzielanek didn't play Thursday so they could rest. They've driven in a combined 39 runs on the season, about a third of the Royals' RBI total going into Thursday's game. Replacing them were Alberto Callaspo, Ross Gload and Esteban German -- not exactly a powerful group.
Hillman was still confident. Before the game, he assured that this lineup could beat Detroit starter Kenny Rogers.
A three-run first inning proved he was dead on. Joey Gathright walked to start off the frame, then German laid a perfect bunt down the third-base line for a single. With runners on first and second, Billy Butler smacked a double. Olivo doubled to score Butler. Rogers got battered for seven runs in four innings.
The small-ball offense finished the game with four walks, two steals, a sacrifice bunt, a bunt single, two infield singles, two bloop singles and a strange popup from Gload that barely made it out of the infield, but somehow turned into a double.
"It all started with discipline," Hillman said. "Then obviously we had some luck, but we created that momentum by putting people on base in position to do that."
Meche didn't need luck early on, but rather a good talk from his manager. Hillman came to the mound in the second inning and gave Meche a "passionate" message. He wanted his pitcher to let loose and attack the hitters.
"You want your manager to come out there and fire you up," Meche said. "The thing he said was happening -- I wasn't finishing. From that point on I kind of turned it up a little bit."
Meche settled down and allowed one run that inning, another in the fifth and one more in the seventh before exiting. Joel Peralta and Ramon Ramirez pitched the final two innings, helping Meche get his third win of the season.
Guillen continued his recent tear at the plate. He's now hit in seven straight games, with seven RBIs in that span. His solo home run came in the fourth, two innings after he walked home a run. Guillen got his third RBI of the game in the eighth when he slapped a ground ball that tipped off the shorstop's glove into the outfield. German, who had stolen second, scored Kansas City's eighth run.
Eight runs, with a seemingly less potent offense, for a club that has struggled to put up runs all season? They must be playing the Tigers.
The Royals have them figured out. After going 11-25 against them the last two years, Kansas City is 6-0 against Detroit. The Royals have a 1.77 ERA against the Tigers' vaunted offense and are now 3 1/2 games ahead of them in the standings.
"Sometimes you see stuff you're never going to believe," Guillen said, "but we did it."
One of the main comparisons Hillman made between his Nippon teams and the Royals was how the players gelled. They started to learn to trust each other and motivate each other at about this time of the season.
The Royals sure look like they've done that the past four games.
"Sometimes it's a painful process you got to go through," Hillman said. "We're still in that process, but this was a good day."
Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.