KANSAS CITY — Salvador Perez slid safely into home, popped up and did a little jig. Or maybe it was a high knees exercise. Whatever you want to call the movement, the Royals catcher had a smile plastered on his face while doing it, and you could sense the energy emulating from the Royals’ dugout as it celebrated Perez scoring on a sacrifice fly to left field in the fifth inning Saturday afternoon.
After snapping a nine-game losing streak Friday, the Royals started a winning streak Saturday with a 6-3 win over the Twins at Kauffman Stadium, taking the first two games of the holiday weekend.
“It’s a lot more fun to win,” starter Danny Duffy, who gave up two runs in four innings, said. “We’ve done our fair share of losing as of late. I just love seeing the guys never give up, never say die.”
To start their 20-game stretch without an off-day leading up to the All-Star break, the Royals went 1-9 on last week’s three-city road trip. Hitting the reset button can be difficult at that point without a day off.
It turns out the Royals just needed to come home. At The K, they’ve found energized crowds that the dugout feeds off of, and the results are beginning to match up with that energy.
“With the losing streak, it’s hard to get going a little bit sometimes,” reliever Scott Barlow, who notched his fourth save of the season, said. “But these last two games, we’re defining what makes us successful. And just executing it.”
That success is because of the offense and bullpen.
Duffy was the model of efficiency to start Saturday, needing just 35 pitches to get through three innings. He needed one less than that to just get through the fourth inning. The Twins scored two off the lefty for the game’s first runs, pouncing on his changeup and fastball.
“That’s part of building up,” Duffy said after his fourth start coming off the injured list. “You get to the point where you need to lock in. … I felt strong throughout, just need to focus in a little bit more with my mechanics as we get deeper into games.”
But the Royals had an answer, with Hunter Dozier’s two-run, game-tying double and Edward Olivares’ first homer of the season, a two-run, 395-foot shot that put the Royals up 4-2. Olivares has shown that power in Triple-A but hasn’t seen it translate yet, whether it’s due to lack of consistent playing time or the way opponents are pitching him. But when he stepped to the plate in the fourth, he thought an inside fastball was coming from Griffin Jax, stepped closer to the plate and turned on the first pitch he saw.
With the Royals leading, Kyle Zimmer came in for the fifth and walked Nelson Cruz to lead off the frame. But Alex Kirilloff flied out to center field, and Zimmer got the double-play ball he wanted from Ryan Jeffers to get out of the frame unscathed — and a zero on the board.
For much of the Royals’ recent losing streak, this was what they lacked: The big inning from the offense, followed by a shutdown inning from the pitching. Too often it was one or the other — or neither. They struggled to answer for it, but insisted if they stayed the course, things would turn.
“It’s a direct result of playing the way we did last night,” Duffy said. “We’re learning more and more what we’re capable of. And it’s a never a lack of confidence, but until you just do it and take the bull by the horns, it’s tough sledding if you don’t execute. And we’ve been executing the past two games.”
Five Royals relievers kept the Twins at bay, with the only mistake coming from Greg Holland in the eighth on Trevor Larnach’s home run. Saturday was the 12th consecutive game a Royals starter hasn’t gotten through the sixth inning, putting the majority of the work in this stretch on the relievers.
“To be able to hand it off and watch that group and take those leverage inning. … they’re carrying a lot of weight in these close games,” manager Mike Matheny said. “We’ve been working them hard, but they’ve responded well.”
For the second straight day, the Royals had the music turned up loud in the clubhouse, signaling a win.
“We will not get tired of that,” Matheny said. “It does not get old. Hearing the guys celebrate each other, point out who did something special each day. We’re getting new guys who are doing something to contribute, help us win. And that’s really the thing that we can’t stop talking about.
“The more this group can get focused on what do I have to do to give our team a better chance to win today, what’s my piece — to throw your piece in there and watch how this thing plays out. It’s a step in the right direction.”