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Royals rally for Friday win

8/16/2014

By Andy McCullough

By Andy McCullough

McClatchy-Tribune

The homecoming ended with a three-child welcoming committee. A chorus of "Daddy!" rang as Josh Willingham opened the door of the visitors' clubhouse at Target Field and welcomed his boys, ages 2, 4 and 7.

Willingham called this ballpark home for three years but never experienced a winning season. On Sunday, in his final game as a Twin, he batted fifth for a last-place team. A waiver claim saved him from another irrelevant summer, sent him to the Royals and placed him in contention for his first playoff berth in 11 big-league seasons.

Willingham returned five days later in a Kansas City uniform, serving as the primary actor in five-run, fourth-inning outburst in a 6-5 Royals victory. With the bases loaded in the fourth, Willingham erased a two-run deficit. He cleared the bases, drove in three runs and received a burst of puzzled applause from the fans here.

"I knew that was a big spot for us," Willingham said. "I was just happy to, this time, come through."

Alcides Escobar added a two-run triple soon after, and a crucial RBI single in the eighth. Still, with one swing, Willingham provided a reminder as to why the Royals had acquired him. He provides heft to a lineup lacking right-handed ballast. He could be the final piece for a club with October aspirations.

The pursuit gained ground on Friday, as the Royals pushed their division lead to 1.5 games to begin a three-city road trip. Even so, the discussion afterward focused on the ninth inning, when the Royals nearly gave back a three-run lead. Greg Holland, the Royals' stalwart closer, delivered a wobbly performance, allowing two runs in the ninth.

While the team won for the 11th time in 12 days, the performance of Holland was a tad troubling. Manager Ned Yost blamed himself for Holland's struggles. He said he has been using Holland too often, eight times already this month, and Holland is showing the strain.

"He's worn out," Yost said. "Poor thing. He's out there battling his (backside) off. His arm is a little bit slow. He's fighting command. He's a little bit tired."

Yost indicated the remedy was a day off. After that, he expected Holland to bounce back.

It was a night of bullpen maneuvering for Yost.

After Willingham ignited the fourth-inning battering, Danny Duffy, 8-10, did not complete the sixth inning. Yost pulled him after 79 pitches in 5.1 innings. Aaron Crow and Francisley Bueno finished the sixth. From there, the team's late-game trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and Holland handled the proceedings.

The previous seven days at Kauffman Stadium were ideal. The front office persuaded owner David Glass to pick up the remaining on $1.836 million on Willingham's three-year, $21 million deal with Minnesota.

The team swept San Francisco and bested Oakland three times in four games. They clambered over the Tigers in the American League Central standings.