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Royals win again

By Andy McCullough

McClatchy-Tribune

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- He was the worst hitter in baseball. This is not hyperbole. During a miserable 2013 campaign, Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar resembled an offensive black hole, a dreadful combination of over-aggressive and underwhelming.

When he arrived in Surprise, Ariz., this spring, Escobar pledged to atone, to be more patient, to showcase the talents that still captivated team officials.

If the claim sounded dubious in February, it sounds less so in May, which the Royals streaked into on Wednesday night with a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays.

Escobar notched the signature hit, a two-run double in the seventh inning, of the team's fourth victory in five games. He slashed a 92-mph fastball from Toronto starter Drew Hutchinson down the third-base line. His hit trickled into the left-field corner, long enough for catcher Salvador Perez to chug home from first base.

It was his eighth double of the season -- he managed only 20 of those in 2013. Escobar entered Wednesday's game in a rare position. He led his team in on-base plus slugging percentage, a testament to his revival and the ongoing malaise infecting his teammates.

Yet the Royals (14-12) continue to score enough to emerge victorious. They are now 14-0 when scoring four runs in a game.

The clutch hit from Escobar occurred an inning after Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow combined to deflate their teammates. Yordano Ventura started on Wednesday night. He was remarkable for his blandness. For five scoreless innings, he combated himself as much as the Blue Jays.

In Baltimore, manager Ned Yost allowed Ventura to throw 113 pitches.

On Wednesday he capped him at 92 after five scoreless innings.

Duffy folded in his last appearance on Saturday in Baltimore. He loaded the bases by hitting a batter and committing a pair of throwing errors. The disaster cost the Royals the game. "The other day was probably one of the worst games of my career," he said on Wednesday afternoon. "And I've already erased it."

Wednesday presented him with a fresh batch of bad memories. Charged with protecting a two-run lead, Duffy plunked former Royal Melky Cabrera with the first pitch he threw. Next he walked slugger Jose Bautista.

Yost unveiled a quick hook. He tasked Aaron Crow with suppressing the flames. Instead, Crow yielded a pair of RBI singles to allow Toronto to tie the game.

Eleven minutes after first pitch, a downpour overtook Kauffman Stadium. The brief deluge chased fans from lower-level seats and forced them to take shelter. They turned their backs as Nori Aoki raced home for a first-inning run. He doubled, took third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on Eric Hosmer's sacrifice fly.

As Ventura reclaimed the mound, the sun cracked the overhanging slate of gray. Toronto practiced patience against him. For his last appearance, Ventura unveiled a devastating curveball to pair with his usually reliable changeup. The Orioles looked overmatched for eight innings.

Ventura lacked similar precision on Wednesday. He kept his curveball holstered. His pitches sprayed outside the strike zone often.

And still, the Royals held the advantage. The lineup doubled the lead in the fourth. Omar Infante and Eric Hosmer cracked doubles off Hutchinson. Infante sprayed a leadoff version to left field, which Melky Cabrera had vacated in a strategic shift. Hosmer smashed his RBI version off the right-field fence, a few feet shy of his elusive first homer of the season.

Hosmer was on third base when Alex Gordon slapped a grounder toward the opposing shortstop. Hosmer gambled and broke for home. Jose Reyes threw him out easily. The umpires reviewed the play to see if catcher Dioner Navarro blocked the plate, but the call was upheld.