KANSAS CITY — The playoff aspirations are gone. The pitching rotation is still a mess. A triple-digit loss column is not out of the question.
The Kansas City Royals, though, can still play some decent baseball — every once in a while. By doing that, or at least trying to, they could manage to salvage a little self-respect from a promising year gone wrong.
The Royals seemed to have that in mind when they won two of three against the Cleveland Indians during the weekend.
“We were at a point where we had been so bad for so long,” infielder Desi Relaford said. “But it’s a matter of guys being professional.
“We want to put a better product on the field, and we have to be able to look at ourselves in the mirror.”
The collective decision to keep at it (the team’s motto is “Together We Can,”) followed the worst week of the season, a stretch from July 23-29 during which the Royals lost seven games by a combined score of 40-11. During a loss at Tampa Bay, manager Tony Pena benched All-Star first baseman Ken Harvey for not running out a grounder.
“I don’t know if that had anything to do with how well we started playing,” Pena said Sunday. “We just started playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
The losing streak reached eight games on the first night of the Cleveland series, but clearly, something had changed.
The Royals fell behind 5-0 after 3 1/2 innings, but tied the game and almost won it in the ninth on a play at the plate. The Indians finally won 7-6 in 11 innings with the help of a bloop triple that was fair by inches.
A 10-3 victory Saturday, the same night Kansas City honored former second baseman Frank White, a member of the team that won the 1985 World Series, broke the losing streak and lightened the mood. Then came Sunday, when the Royals went up 6-2 early and then held on to win 8-7, giving them their first series win since mid-July.
“We all get paid very well for playing baseball. We know that,” reliever Scott Sullivan said. “We’re employees, and it’s our job to show up every day. Nobody’s going to quit.”
Perhaps most encouraging for the future: Throughout the series, the Royals got big performances from players who might not have gotten to play had the season not gone south.
Rookie center fielder David DeJesus, who inherited the center fielder’s job when the Royals traded Carlos Beltran to Houston, ended Sunday’s game with a sliding grab of Coco Crisp’s sinking fly ball. That followed his three-hit performance Saturday.
Catcher John Buck, acquired in the trade for Beltran, made a savvy, run-saving play on a stray pitch in Friday’s game and hit a three-run home run off Indians ace C.C. Sabathia in Sunday’s win.
Also on Sunday, outfielder Abraham Nunez, the day after being acquired from Florida, where he hit .173 in 58 games for the Marlins, drove in two runs.
Right field was supposed to be the domain of two-time MVP Juan Gonzalez, done for the season with a bad back after playing only 33 games.