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Royals snap streak behind stellar bullpen outing

After last night’s debacle, there was a real chance Cleveland’s streak would reach into next week. And you can excuse Royals fans for feeling a familiar, sinking feeling going into the home half of the ninth on Friday night—bottom of the Tribe order, limited options out of the bullpen.

And Mike Minor trotted out in his first career save attempt. Breaths were bated, to be certain.

Minor, a converted starter, had never closed a professional game. Never tried to. But he looked like an old hand at it, striking out a trio of Cleveland Professional Baseball Players after Yandy Diaz led off the ninth with a popped up single that fell between three Royals as every Kansas City fan felt their sphincter involuntarily tighten.

Minor’s outing was part of a larger solid showing by Kansas City pitching Friday night, something that’s been sadly missing over the past couple of months—right around the time Jason Vargas went from All-Star to… basically the Jason Vargas we’d come to know and tolerate. He was fine—five innings, five hits, three earned, four strikeouts. Fine is all you can really expect from Jason Vargas, despite what the first two months showed.

(For a soft-tosser, he still threw too many first-pitch fastballs, and he still went to the changeup too much when he fell behind. I outlined why he was pitching less effectively last week, and yet he did the same thing tonight. Just because results were slightly improved tonight doesn’t change the fact that he needs to quit doing those things.)

The Doctor needed a little help closing this one out, which is fine. Usually, the more of the Royals bullpen we see, the less confidence they instill—by my count, they’re 2-105 this season when the starter can’t get past the fifth inning (numbers approximate). A scoreless Ryan Buchter (!) inning gave way to two capital innings from Trevor Cahill (!!!) in relief, quite possibly the first truly good moment those two have had in the same contest for the Royals. Too bad they were essentially out of the Wild Card race before that happened.

Offensively, Lorenzo Cain had three hits, Alex Gordon had two and both Alcides Escobar and Brandon Moss homered because time is a flat circle and/or a construct of our imaginations. Maybe somebody tricked those guys into thinking it’s 2010 again. Maybe Cleveland hurlers all think it’s 2045. As Satchel Paige said, “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you were?”

That’s a story for another day. The Royals did two important things on Friday night. They stopped Cleveland’s winning streak and they maintained striking distance on the second AL Wild Card spot because being “good” is not a prerequisite for being a playoff contender, apparently. At 73-74, the Royals are average and there’s still a non-zero chance that average will be enough.

Cleveland stands a pretty good chance of starting a new streak Saturday, though. Carlos Carrasco, of the 0.62 ERA in his last four starts, faces Jason Hammel who has not been nearly that good over any four-start stretch this season and possibly in his career.

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