Cool Hand Luke: Hochevar gives KC sweep
Right-hander hurls complete game as homers power victory
CLEVELAND -- Who would have thought it? The Royals are on the verge of becoming a real, genuine, by-gosh hot item.
The Royals won for the sixth time in eight games, defeating the Cleveland Indians, 9-3, on Thursday afternoon with all sorts of good things happening. Luke Hochevar pitched a complete game, Alberto Callaspo and Jose Guillen popped big home runs and, oh yes, the Royals escaped last place.
Now it's the Indians who are occupying the cellar of the American League Central.
"Well, that's nice. That's good," said manager Ned Yost, "but my focus is playing good every single day, and that stuff all takes care of itself. Our goal is to come in and play good, hard fundamental baseball."
And that's exactly what's happened.
Sweeping the two-game series improved Yost's mark to 5-2 since he took over the club on Friday. Including a win in Trey Hillman's farewell game as manager, it's six in the past eight for Kansas City.
Who knows what's next? A victory over Colorado in the Interleague series that opens Friday night at Kauffman Stadium would mean three consecutive wins for the first time this year.
Music boomed through a happy clubhouse as the Royals packed their bags.
"I see a different team right now," Guillen said. "This team has different energy, there's a different atmosphere in this clubhouse. I'm not trying to point fingers at anybody, but the players are more loose. In the dugout, I see players pulling for one another, which I didn't see in the past. We're just trying to get that losing atmosphere out of this clubhouse and stop people saying, 'This is the same old Royals.'"
These are the new adventures of the old Royals.
Hochevar not only went the distance, but he became the Royals' first four-game winner this season. He needed just 107 pitches, retiring the last 10 batters he faced following Jhonny Peralta's two-run homer in the sixth.
"Everything's that built around pitching is to get you deep in the ballgame, so to accomplish that is a really good feeling," Hochevar said.
He surrendered just four hits and two walks while striking out seven.
"Hoch pitched unbelievable," Yost said. "He got into a little bit of trouble in the first and limited the damage, and just took it from there."
Admittedly, the Indians were weakened by the loss of their one-two hitters, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and center fielder Grady Sizemore.
"With those two guys out of their lineup, it is a different dynamic. Still, though, the guys that they brought up in their place are pretty darn good," Hochevar said. "That's a good club over there regardless, but you've still got to make the pitches and keep that team in check, because they still do have that lineup that can come back and get you."
The Royals conjured up six runs in the second and third innings against right-hander Mitch Talbot. Billy Butler contributed a double to each inning and Callaspo singled in the second and socked a three-run homer in the third.
Callaspo's drive into the right-field bullpen came just after Guillen singled in a run, breaking an 0-for-17 swoon against the Indians this year. When Guillen belted a two-run homer in the seventh, it ended a 54 at-bat drought since his previous blast.
"I'm trying to find my swing. It's still not there," Guillen said. "That's the hard part of this game. When you're doing good, you just do whatever. But when you're doing bad, it's hard to find the swing again. But it's only one swing that can get you going."
Maybe that was it.
According to Guillen, he and fellow veteran Jason Kendall have been pushing the players to forge some togetherness.
"I'm real passionate when it comes to this. I hate losing. I'm not a happy person when I'm losing, so Jason and myself have been pushing these guys to accomplish something," Guillen said. "We've got some good players, man, and our pitching has been stepping up and getting there. But we've still got a lot to do, and we've still got to fix a lot of stuff around here but, trust me, we're on the right track, and hopefully we can get this done."
Kendall takes a simple view of the situation.
"It's going out and having fun, playing the game and picking each other up. Doing what you're capable of doing," Kendall said. "But the bottom line is expecting to win. It took me nine years to be on a winning team, and there's nothing like it."
Now that last place in the rear-view mirror, there are other missions ahead.
"We've got to get to .500 and go from there. But we're playing good baseball," Kendall said.
That's eight victories away at the moment. But stranger things have happened. After the way this season started, who expected that the Royals might surface as a hot item?
"It looked like this team was so far apart, but now we're together and caring about one another," Guillen said. "That's what winning is all about -- for 25 people, not for just one or two guys."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.