Royals strike early, late to split with Blue Jays

Royals strike early, late to split with Blue Jays

Royals strike early, late to split with Blue Jays
TORONTO -- Salvador Perez got four hits for the first time, Billy Butler finally got his first hit off the Blue Jays this year and Luke Hochevar got a victory despite leaving the game with a sprained ankle.

Add all that up, along with other intriguing events, and the Royals wound up with a 9-6 victory on Thursday night with 20,598 fans absorbing a wild game at the Rogers Centre.

That gave the Royals a split of the four-game series as they reached the numerical halfway point of their season. With 81 of 162 games in the books, they stand seven games under .500 at 37-44.

"It's a lot better than being 12 games under .500 like we were early in the year, so we just keep battling," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We just keep striving to get back to that .500 [mark] and go from there."

The series finale turned out to a dicey battle even after the Royals pounced on Blue Jays right-hander Henderson Alvarez for five runs in the third inning. Alvarez had retired the first seven batters when Perez, who shares his hometown of Valencia, Venezuela, broke the spell with a single.

"I played with him in the same little league in Venezuela," Perez said. "I've known him all my life. He was a pitcher then and played third base. But I never faced him before. That was my first time in all my life."

Perez finished with a career-high four hits and has an 11-game hit streak, in which he's 17-for-40 (.425) since returning from the disabled list on June 22.

Later in the inning, Butler came up wearing a huge collar against the Blue Jays this season -- he was 0-for-25 against them. Batting with the bases loaded, he hit a rocket down the third-base line that Brett Lawrie dove to stop, but then heaved over second base for an error. Two runs scored on the play, but Butler figured it might have been three.

"I thought it was going to be a double down line and was going to clear the bases, and he snared it," Butler said. "Most third basemen don't get there and it clears the bases. Man, that's just how my luck's been against them this year."

Butler, who went 1-for-4 on the night, finished 1-for-28 against the Blue Jays this year.

"Let's get out of Toronto," he said.

Then, Hochevar gave up a two-run homer to J.P. Arencibia who, in another small world scenario, had been his catcher in 2005 at the University of Tennessee.

But Hochevar was getting along OK until he covered first base on a play in the fifth inning and turned his right ankle. He finished the inning with a strikeout of home-run leader Jose Bautista, but then was pulled from the game with a medial sprain and the bullpen -- six different pitchers, in fact -- took over.

"He rolled his ankle in the fifth and I didn't want to take any chances, so we had to improvise a little bit, but we got through it," Yost said.

Arencibia hit his second homer, a solo shot off Tim Collins, in the seventh inning to make it 5-3.

Then the Royals came up with a three-run eighth inning. Eric Hosmer got the last two runs -- essential as it turned out -- by beating out a deep ground ball to first baseman Edwin Encarnacion. Perez scored from third and, somehow, the speedy Jarrod Dyson got home from second base.

"I gave it everything I had right there to try to get that hit," Hosmer said. "That was an unreal job by Dyson, I don't know how he scored on that but he did and it worked out well."

Sure did because, in the bottom half of the eighth, the Blue Jays came right back against relievers Aaron Crow and Jose Mijares and scored three runs of their own. Pinch-hitter Ben Francisco capped the comeback with a two-run triple off Mijares to tighten the score at 8-6.

"This is a club," Yost said, "that's going to give you a wild ride because they're all aggressive guys that take hacks at the ball. No lead's safe in this ballpark, really."

Yost felt a bit more comfortable when Yuniesky Betancourt led off the ninth inning with a home run that provided closer Jonathan Broxton with a three-run margin to play with.

"Hoch went out there and gave us five, and then kind of got hurt," Broxton said. "We just turned to the bullpen and we did everything we could to try to give it away but, somehow, Ned put it together to get the win. Each guy he put out there got into a little bit of trouble, but we found a way to make it work."

Broxton, being a master of heart-stopping finishes, gave the Blue Jays' faithful some hope when Colby Rasmus drilled a one-out single. Up came Bautista, the Majors' home run hero and, in character, Broxton strung out the drama.

"Especially when I got 3-0, I've got to come back and throw 'em right down the middle. I can't walk him and bring the tying run to the plate," Broxton said. "If he gets me, he's only got a two-run homer, so I just tried to throw it right down the middle and let the action of my ball work."

Bautista ripped into a pitch, but drove it right to third baseman Mike Moustakas. He caught the sizzler and threw across the diamond to Hosmer, where Rasmus was doubled off easily.

Broxton had his 21st save and the Royals had survived in a wild one.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.