KANSAS CITY — Just when many observers had left the Royals for dead, they rose up this weekend and swept the Indians, who arguably have been the class of the American League Central the past few years.
On the heels of a 10-game losing streak, the Royals rolled past the Tribe and did so in dramatic fashion on Sunday: Red-hot Hunter Dozier (10 for his last 20) singled in pinch-runner Terrance Gore with none out in the ninth for a 9-8 walk-off victory and a sweep of the three-game series at Kauffman Stadium.
“I think that’s a really good team over there,” manager Ned Yost said of the Indians. “They’ve been touted to be the head of this division. They’re a good team, but I think we’re a good team, too.”
Added Dozier, “During those 10 games, we were in almost all of them. It’s just that things didn’t go our way. We got a lot of talent in that locker room. This series things started falling for us.”
The Royals certainly showed some resiliency on Sunday. After overcoming a 3-0 deficit, they took leads of 6-3 and 8-5.
But the bullpen — still a major concern — gave up three runs in the seventh. Left-hander Richard Lovelady gave up two soft-contact singles, and after an intentional walk, right-hander Jake Newberry walked in a run before allowing a tying two-run single to Jake Bauers.
It was the walk that irked Yost to some degree.
“We still have issues,” Yost said. “We still have to have [our pitchers] get on the attack. We got young guys, but they have to trust their stuff and attack. But we give up three runs [in the seventh] and that has to stop. They’re good enough to make it stop.”
The Royals’ offense, though, bailed out the bullpen with a thrilling ninth. First, Ryan O’Hearn drew a walk against tough left-hander Brad Hand.
“Tough at-bat for him,” Yost said. “My whole mindset was if he finds a way to get on, we’ll win this game.”
Yost had Gore — their designated late-game pinch-runner — waiting in the wings. After Hand threw one pitch to Dozier, which was fouled off, Gore took off and stole second, and he then went to third when the throw skipped into center field.
Gore had no idea what Hand’s move to first was until he did a quick study on his iPad prior to the ninth.
“I got a key to go on and I went,” Gore said.
Strangely, Indians manager Terry Francona didn’t walk Dozier once Gore got to third.
“I didn’t even think about that,” Dozier said. “But once I saw Terrance get to third, I was just trying to get him in anyway I can.”
Dozier got a 1-1 slider from Hand and rifled it down the left-field line.
“You know, this is exactly why we have Terrance Gore,” Yost said, “for situations like this.”
Trailing, 3-0, the Royals responded with four runs in the second, three coming home on Lucas Duda’s first home run of the season, and the other coming from Whit Merrifield’s solo shot.
Kansas City extended that lead with two more in the third on bases-loaded walks to Duda and Chris Owings.
Later, Jorge Soler jolted a solo home run to give the Royals an 8-5 lead in the sixth.
Starter Jakob Junis, after a 29-pitch first inning, settled in and gave 6 1/3 innings, giving up five runs and eight hits. Junis not only was relieved at the Royals’ big offensive day, but by the sweep over the formidable Indians.
“It’s definitely uplifting,” Junis said. “It’s not fun to lose 10 games in a row. But getting a sweep is pretty good for morale.”’
It was the first home sweep of Cleveland since June 2016.
“Don’t give up on us,” Gore said. “We’re going to turn it around.”