"Yeah, man, we can pull it off. Absolutely," Shields said. "We've just got to keep winning games."
That's what the Royals did on a cool, misty Monday night at Kauffman Stadium, knocking off the Cleveland Indians, 7-1, to pull within 2 1/2 games of Texas for the American League's second Wild Card spot. By losing, the Indians muffed a chance to grab the lead for that coveted final postseason slot.
The Royals wowed the 15,413 fans with a couple of rarities.
Their four pitchers combined for 17 strikeouts to break the club record for the most in a nine-inning game. Along with Shields' 10, Wade Davis had two, Luke Hochevar three and Tim Collins two. The last of eight times that 16 was reached came just last Aug. 7 against Minnesota.
"Shields kind of set the tone," Davis said. "Ten through six innings is pretty impressive in itself. We just come in and try to make pitches and keep it going."
In another oddity, Salvador Perez and Lorenzo Cain raced to back-to-back triples, both hammered into deep left-center field in the sixth inning against Indians starter Scott Kazmir. That hadn't been acommplished by the Royals in more than a year; Jarrod Dyson and Alex Gordon did a double triple on July 17, 2012, against Seattle.
"When I saw it in the outfield, I thought, 'OK, maybe I've got a chance to make it to third.' That was a big run for the team in that situation," Perez said.
But Perez is not exactly the swiftest runner, so did manager Ned Yost think he'd make it?
"I thought he had it all the way," Yost said with a straight face. Really? "Well, not really," he added quickly. "But, I was glad to see him go. At that time the score was really close, 2-1, and knowing how good our bullpen is, a two-run lead is better than a one-run lead."
It was a close play at third base on Perez as well as on Cain.
"We were hustling, trying to get there," Cain said. "We were hungry, trying to get to third and get in a better position for our next hitter to drive us in."
As it turned out, that was pinch-hitter David Lough who greeted reliever Matt Albers with an RBI single. After two Indians errors, it turned into a three-run inning and a 5-1 lead. The Royals were suddenly skating to a win to blot out the memory of a tough Sunday loss at Detroit.
"When you're battling for a playoff spot, you're going to have tough losses. Because losses before didn't mean anything," Yost said. "They mean something now so they're all tough and you have to learn how to deal with it. And these kids from the All-Star break on have learned how to deal with tough losses. It doesn't affect them coming into the clubhouse the next day. They're focused, their energy is high. They trust in each other, they believe in each other and they walk through that door with a lot of confidence."
A five-game skid dropped the Royals' record to 43-49 going into the break and they've gone 36-22 since then.
"We bought into the process after the All-Star break and we stuck to the same thing we've been doing all year. That's coming together and playing as a team," Shields said. "We've got a lot of heart and character in this clubhouse and I think these guys understand now how to win ballgames."
One good way to win is to have your starting pitcher pile up strikeouts. The 10 by Shields was the 20th time that he's reached double-digit K's in his career, but the first time he's done it for the Royals.
"We've been pitching strong all year," Yost said. "James Shields was really on, had his good change on again and was really racking up strikeouts."
Shields fanned Jason Kipnis all three times he faced him. Lonnie Chisenhall produced the only run off Shields with a homer into the right-field bullpen in the fifth inning. Michael Bourn followed with a bunt single, but Shields put an end to that foolishness by striking out the side.
"He always has that offspeed kind of in his back pocket," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He'll get a roll-over, but we had a lot of strikeouts. Some looking. Some swinging. That means he's staying out of the middle."
Another good way to win is to pile up 14 hits as the Royals did. Perez had three of them as he boosted his average since Aug. 23 to .403 (31-for-77) with 23 RBIs in 22 games.
"Salvy's really been hot for us lately," Yost said. "Swinging the bat as well as you want somebody to be swinging the bat at a big time of year."
As Perez demonstrated, every Royals runner is willing to try stretching a hit. They also added a stolen base to their Major League-leading total (143) and showed a knack for chancy advances after outfield catches.
"That's the type of team they are," Kazmir said. "They're a very scrappy team. They go out there and try to get that extra base. They just push the envelope. That's kind of their M.O. It's something that we need to be aware of."
There are two games left with the Indians before the Rangers roll into town for another crucial series.
There's no doubt what the Royals are thinking.
"We need a sweep right here. That's what we're going for," Cain said. "If we can sweep these guys, it's going to be huge for us."