By Jeffrey Flanagan and Alden Gonzalez
KANSAS CITY -- Angels left-hander Hector Santiago loves facing the Royals more than any team in baseball, as evidenced by his 1.70 career ERA against them entering Monday's game.
Facing a Royals teams mired in a dreadful slump would seem almost unfair. Santiago held the Royals to two runs through 5 1/3 innings and Albert Pujols drove in four runs with three hits as the Angels cruised to a 6-2 win.
The Angels' bullpen, taxed after back-to-back brief outings by Jered Weaver and Tim Lincecum in Houston, picked up the last 3 2/3 innings and didn't allow a baserunner.
"The bullpen did a great job tonight," Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. "We needed it, too."
The Royals now have lost five of six and 13 of 18, and are fading from playoff contention. The defending-champion Royals have fallen 8 1/2 games behind the American League Central-leading Indians. The Angels snapped a three-game losing streak.
Royals starter Ian Kennedy gave up four runs in the first inning and left in the sixth, trailing, 4-2.
"I just wasn't throwing quality pitches," Kennedy said of his four-run first inning. "My mechanics were off, I was dragging my arm. It didn't come to me until the second or third inning. By that time it was too late."
Santiago gave up five hits and walked four but struck out five.
"I think he's gotten more confidence in his fastball," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "He uses both sides with that and then he mixes in his offspeed stuff."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED RBI Machine: Pujols hit a two-run single up the middle to ignite a four-run first inning, then singled to right in the seventh and added another in the ninth. Pujols has 76 RBIs, third-most in the AL and on pace for 124, which would be his highest total in seven years. Pujols is batting .319 with runners in scoring position this season, after hitting just .248 in that situation the last two years.
"It's part of the game," Pujols said when asked if he has changed his approach with runners in scoring position. "If you look at Houston, I went 0-for-6. But you know that your team is going to give you an opportunity every night to do that, and you can't let one series affect you. You have to stay positive all the time, and that's what I do." More >
Big Sal goes yard: Salvador Perez had been just 3-for-21 on this homestand before he belted a fastball from Santiago into the left-field bullpen with Hosmer aboard in the fourth. Hosmer had reached on a bunt single and advanced to second on Santiago's throwing error. Perez's homer was his 15th, one shy of Kendrys Morales for the team lead.
Rally cut short: The Royals nearly jumped Santiago in the fifth inning with a two-out rally. Alcides Escobar got it going with an infield hit to deep short, and Cheslor Cuthbert followed with another infield single. Hosmer walked on a 3-2 pitch, setting the stage for Morales. But Santiago struck out Morales on three pitches. Escobar and Cuthbert each barely reached first despite back-to-back terrific jump throws from Angels shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
"We thought we could crawl back in it," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Sal got the big homer and got us within two, but it just didn't happen."
"The two at-bats leading up to that at-bat kind of put me in the situation where I could do that," Santiago said of being able to attack Morales with fastballs in that situation. "A lot of offspeeds, a lot of fastballs away, some curveballs. Fastball in to righties is my strength."
Another '0': Young right-hander Cam Bedrosian, who has basically locked down the job as the Angels' setup man, pitched another scoreless inning, striking out Hosmer, Morales and Perez, all of whom went down swinging on breaking balls. Bedrosian has now converted 22 consecutive scoreless outings, tied for the fifth longest in Angels history. His ERA is 0.97.
"So good," Bedrosian said of how it feels to record three strikeouts on breaking balls, a pitch that has given him fits for a long time. "It's been hard work that's paid off; really focusing on throwing it, being able to throw it in whatever count I need to throw it." More >
SAME AS 2014?
The Royals now are at 48-50, the same record they had in 2014 before they made a huge burst to make the postseason and ultimately the World Series. The Royals haven't lost hope on 2016, either.
"We've been down four runs in the eighth inning in the Wild Card Game," Yost said. "We've been down four runs in an elimination game against Houston [in the AL Division Series]. These guys know how to come back. Nobody in there has given up. They still have confidence they can compete for a Wild Card spot or a playoff spot."
Added Hosmer, "It's still doable. If there's any team that can do it, it's us."
Angels sidearm reliever Joe Smith was unavailable because of a stiff back, which he tweaked while throwing long-toss prior to the game. Smith, who was previously on the disabled list with a left hamstring strain, said the back issue isn't serious. He's expected to be available on Tuesday.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
With the Royals down, 4-2, with one on and two out in the bottom of the fifth, Cuthbert hit a soft ground ball and appeared to just miss out on a single, after Simmons made a fantastic throw to get the out at first. The Royals challenged the call and the ruling was overturned.
The Angels challenged a call in the eighth, when their catcher, Carlos Perez, hit a ball down the left-field line that appeared to land fair, which would've given Perez a double. The initial foul call was upheld, however, and Perez ultimately struck out.
WHAT'S NEXT Angels:Tyler Skaggs, who underwent Tommy John surgery in August 2014, makes his long-awaited return, starting five days before the two-year anniversary of his last Major League game. Skaggs dominated in his last two Triple-A starts, striking out 26 batters across 12 2/3 innings.
Royals: Right-hander Dillon Gee (3-3, 4.19 ERA) gets another shot at the No. 5 spot in the rotation in Game 2 of the series on Tuesday. In his last appearance Gee threw 5 ⅓ innings of relief, matching a career long. He gave up three runs.
Alden Gonzalez has covered the Angels for MLB.com since 2012. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.