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Royals might actually know what they are doing

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There was a time -– a time fewer and fewer people remember -– when the Kansas City Royals represented the cutting edge of baseball thinking. People often ask why Kansas City seems to have an inordinate number of advanced baseball thinkers and writers among its fan base (Bill James, Rob Neyer, Rany Jazayerli, Paul Rudd etc.). It’s easy to forget that, for a time anyway, Kansas City was the Athens of American baseball.

This may sound like an exaggeration to anyone who is younger than, say, 40 or 45 years old, but much in the same way that Oakland and Tampa Bay and St. Louis now seem to be the mecca of baseball thinking, well, that was Kansas City back in the 1970s. Before we get to the exciting Royals stuff of today, it is worth remembering.

In 1968, Charlie Finley moved the Kansas City Athletics to Oakland – this after many years of unrelenting Finley-inspired bleakness. Finley wanted to move the team, more or less, the day he bought it and so every day the newspapers were filled with threats of varying foreboding. Today it was Louisville. Yesterday it was Seattle. Tomorrow it would be Miami. By 1968, people in Kansas City were so sick of Finley’s moaning that they were happy to pack him sandwiches for the long trip to wherever.

Weariness wasn’t the only Kansas City reaction. Some people in Kansas City – led by my old friend and legendary local sportswriter Joe McGuff –- began laying the groundwork for a new team before Finley had even finished packing the trucks. Joe and company made a simple but irrefutable argument to the men who ran baseball: “You owe us. You stuck us with this nutjob owner and terrible baseball teams for a long, long time. You owe us a real baseball team now.”

The argument was persuasive. After one idle season, Kansas City was given an expansion team – the Royals. They would be owned by a level-headed man named Ewing Kauffman, who had started a pharmaceutical business in his basement and turned it into a billion-dollar industry.

The differences between the flamboyant and half-crazy Finley and the staid and utterly reasonable Kauffman are too lengthy to list, but they were apparent immediately. Finley famously loved gimmicks and promotions and schemes. He installed a mechanical rabbit in the stadium to bring new baseballs to umpires. He paid the Beatles some exorbitant fee to play after a game and then tried to pay them even more to play a little longer. He had a live mule at games, and he kept trying to move in the fences, and he designed gaudy multi-colored uniforms, and he fired any baseball announcer who did not sufficiently cover for the team’s awfulness, and he brought Satchel Paige out of retirement for one game at age 58 so he could pitch three innings.*

*This promotion should have been more fun than it was –- Paige was led to believe that he was being given a real chance to pitch again. When Paige threw three scoreless innings and allowed just one hit (to Carl Yastrzemski), his great competitive fire burned again. Satchel Paige was a showman –- that part Finley understood –- but Paige was also a proud athlete and that part Finley didn’t and couldn’t get. Finley just wanted the publicity and the photograph of Ol’ Satch in a rocking chair. Only nine thousand people attended the game.

Ewing Kauffman loathed gimmicks. He was a moderate baseball fan at most, and he watched Finley’s antics with detached disapproval. If THAT was what owning a baseball team was all about, he wanted no part of it. But people in Kansas City (again, with Joe McGuff taking the lead) convinced Kauffman that he could run the team his own way, based on his own ideals and principles. He had built his business on hard work and persistent innovation. He would build the Royals the same way.

When he hired baseball people, he made it very clear: “The Royals are NOT an expansion team.” He meant he did not want any excuses. He intended to win quickly, both on the field and in the box office. And it happened that way. The Royals had a winning record in their third season of existence, which was considered pretty miraculous at the time. They drew a million people in their fifth season which, considering Kansas City’s small market and the baseball attendances of the time, might have been even more remarkable.

Every move was inspired by Kauffman’s energy and his refusal to just do things the way others did. He created a group called the “Royal Lancers” –- this was a collection of prominent citizens who wore blue jackets and sold season tickets at every Optimists, Kiwanis and Chamber of Commerce meeting in town. He funded the Royals Academy, a program designed to find good athletes with limited baseball experience and teach them how to become ballplayers. He was the driving force behind what was then called Royals Stadium (now Kauffman Stadium) –- a whole new kind of baseball stadium, without girders blocking the view, with a seemingly endless supply of parking and with fountains dancing beyond the outfield.

More, he engaged his baseball people –- led first by Cedric Tallis, then Joe Burke, then John Schuerholz –- to aggressively improve the ballclub. This mission led Tallis in particular to make a series of mind-blowing moves -– in a short span, Tallis traded for Amos Otis, Fred Patek, John Mayberry and Hal McRae. His baseball people drafted Al Cowens, George Brett and Dennis Leonard. The Baseball Academy produced Frank White. One year after Tallis was let go, the Royals drafted Willie Wilson, who might have been the fastest player ever in Major League Baseball. That was the core for a truly great baseball team that reached the postseason seven times, won two pennants and took one World Series.

Kansas City baseball was a phenomenon then. The Royals would routinely draw two million fans for the season when that was a big deal. People came from six states around, and it helped that the Royals rarely rained out (the artificial turf would just absorb rainwater) and that the Royals rarely lost at home. From 1976 to 1980, the Royals played .630 baseball at Kauffman Stadium; Earl Weaver used to talk about the nightmares he would have watching balls catapult off that springy artificial turf and seeing those Royals players sprint around the bases like 4 x 100 meter relay runners.

[RELATED: Home run hitters? They haven’t played in Kansas City]

Well, the team was built for that ballpark –- fast line-drive hitters, aggressive base-running, terrific infield defense, outfielders who could run down anything, pitchers who battled. Just about everything the Royals did in those days made sense. They unapologetically played a brand of slashing, attacking baseball — steal bases, take extra bases, break up the double play, catch everything. They gave Whitey Herzog his first real chance to express himself as a manager. They developed players; boy, did they develop players. Frank White came out of the Academy and evolved into an eight-time Gold Glove second baseman and offensive threat -– his number is retired now. Willie Wilson was a raw high school running back with impossible speed -– he hit just .268 in the minors. He hit .320 his first four full seasons with the Royals and won a batting title. Dan Quisenberry had no stuff at all –- he became the best reliever in the American League. Dennis Leonard became a 20-game winner. George Brett became a Hall of Famer. Players they acquired –- Darrell Porter, John Mayberry, Freddie Patek, Cookie Rojas, Larry Gura –- all had their best years while in Kansas City.

And here’s the larger point: Those Royals teams commanded faith. See, fans feel emotional extremes. It’s just what we do. We second-guess, we predict doom, we blame officials, we are blindly and absurdly optimistic. That, in a way, is what it means to be a fan. In our jobs, in our lives, we often must face reality. Yep, that job is going to take two months longer than we thought. Nope, the jury is not going to be sympathetic to your client. Sorry, next quarter is going to be rough for everybody. Life is a series of challenges, and to overcome them you generally have to see clearly.

But one of the joys of fanhood is not seeing clearly. You don’t have to be right. You don’t have to understand all the nuances. You don’t have to study. It’s like Dan Quisenberry said: “The best thing about baseball is there’s no homework.” The games are there for you to enjoy, and if you want to get mad at the manager for not intentionally walking someone or if you want to believe the backup quarterback is way better than the starter –- go ahead. True, the manager may have percentages on his side, and the coach might know a lot more about the quarterback situation than you do … but that’s THEIR problem. They are paid to do what they do. And you are not. You are in it for the fun.

Fans second-guessed those 1970s Royals too. They were ticked off when the Royals traded Roger Nelson for Hal McRae –- Roger Nelson was GOOD! They were not too happy when the Royals traded Joe Foy for some backup named Amos Otis –- Foy had power AND speed! They didn’t like it when the Royals hired Whitey Herzog –- that guy was a disaster with the Rangers!

But this is a final beautiful thing about being a fan –- it doesn’t matter how wrong you are (or right, for that matter) as long as the people actually running the team are right. And the Royals in the 1970s were right a lot. One of the best feelings in sports is knowing that the people running your team are going to be right. I imagine that’s how New England Patriots fans feel these days.

Those 1970s Royals did not fully cash in on their rightness -– they were a lot like Billy Beane’s A’s. They were really good in 1976, probably the best team in baseball in 1977, close to it in 1978, but they kept losing to the Yankees in the playoffs. The Royals finally beat the Yankees in 1980, but even then they lost to Philadelphia in the World Series.

[RELATED: Royals roll out the red carpet for fan from South Korea]

And, really, that was the beginning of the end. It’s a funny thing, Kansas City’s greatest moment –- the 1985 World Series –- came after, but I’ve always believed that the era when the Royals just did things better than other teams ended after the 1980 season. The team went through all sorts of turmoil in the early 1980s. There was a drug scandal. Kauffman began losing interest and sold half the team to Avron Fogelman (he eventually bought the team back after Fogelman had money troubles). There was some disillusionment, good players aged and faded and so on.

The 1985 Royals were not a great team, and they were certainly not like the great Royals teams. Otis and Patek were gone, guys like McRae, Wilson and White were very much in the homestretch of their careers. That Royals team won the World Series because:

source: AP Photo
Willie Wilson pours champagne over the head of George Brett after winning the 1985 AL playoffs.

(1) A remarkable group of young pitchers, led by Bret Saberhagen, came together.

(2) George Brett had a fantastic season.

(3) Their division stunk.

(4) They pulled off a crazy comeback when down three games to one against Toronto in the ALCS.

(5) They pulled off an even crazier comeback when down three games to win against St. Louis in the World Series.

I could put a Don Denkinger comment here to entertain Cardinals fans, but I wouldn’t. As I’ve written before: You have to catch foul pop-ups before you can complain about bad calls.

Anyway, that was the last time the Royals made the postseason. The Royals soon became known as the team with Bo Jackson –- that was a fun time, but the winning slowed. The fun began fading after 1989. The winning stopped completely after 1994.

So what does any of this have to do with the Royals’ resurgence? Well, after the 1994 strike -– 20 years and counting –- the Royals’ entire character has shifted. In the 1970s, they were the team that did everything right. In the 1980s, they were mercurial –- some spectacular years and moments and some very bad ones. After 1994, they played the fool. This has been chronicled in excruciating detail on my blog. The attitude around the Royals through these years ranged from earnest to hopeless but more than anything you could count on them to make the wrong decision. Always.

The wrongness grew so repetitive that after a while it seemed like the Royals were incapable of making anything BUT wrong decisions. This, by definition, means that any decision the Royals made was wrong just because they made it. Put another way: You will sometimes hear baseball people talk about the wonder of a winning streak -– everything seems better, the sun feels warmer, the days look brighter, the food tastes better, the music sounds happier. For two decades, everything about the Royals was the opposite of a winning streak. Sure, they did many dumb things. But, it went far beyond that. Good baseball people lost their way. Reasonable chances backfired horrendously. Solid decisions went flying off of cliffs. It was like the Royals bought all their products from Acme. Two decades of that will batter the hope out of most people.

That, I think, is part of what has made this year’s fantastic run into first place so memorable and wonderful for Kansas City fans. When Dayton Moore was hired as the Royals general manager in 2006, he made a conscious effort to not only change the Royals team on the field but to change their very character. He wanted Royals baseball people to wear ties to work. He demanded that the team improve countless small and seemingly unimportant things, such as how they treat visiting scouts. More than anything, perhaps, he impressed upon David and Dan Glass the necessity to invest real money -– in scouting, in development, in good people, in infrastructure, in Latin America. The previous GM, Allard Baird, was and is a superb baseball man, but he was never able to get those things across to the Glass family.

And so, more or less from the start, the Royals became a more professional operation under Moore. He hired some excellent people to work with him. He dazzled people inside baseball with the team’s commitment to building a farm system. And, in short order, the Royals were not the joke of baseball. The Royals lost 100 games four times between 2002 and 2006. They have not lost 100 since.

That, though, is not exactly something you brag about on your resume, and while Moore made the Royals slightly more respectable, he and his staff could not do much more. They continued to make horrendous blunders on the Major League roster. Moore hired Trey Hillman to be the manager. He signed Jose Guillen and Gil Meche to team-record contracts. The Royals talked a better game but continued to feature an allotment of aging Jason Kendalls and Ross Gloads and Miguel Olivos and Scott Podsedniks, while mixing in relatively-young versions of Yuniesky Betancourt and Kyle Davies and Luke Hochevar. The results were, in their own way, as depressing as ever.

“We have to be patient,” Moore said.

“Trust the process,” Moore said.

“We are going to do this the right way, and it’s going to work,” Moore said.

In 2011, there were signs that Moore’s work was having an impact. That was the year I wrote my Sports Illustrated story about the Royals’ future dynasty, and the year various people around the sport began gushing about their minor league system. Then, last season, the Royals won 86 games, their most since the strike -– a season so promising that even Moore’s ill-advised “In a small way, I feel like we’ve won the World Series” quote at the end did not tarnish the optimism.

And then, yep, Royals style, Moore started acquiring old guys like Omar Infante and Nori Aoki. That didn’t seem too great. Then the Royals’ season began, and it was somewhat blah. Manager Ned Yost said something. Third baseman Mike Moustakas wasn’t hitting. The season offered more blah. Manager Ned Yost said something else. Moore offered words of encouragement. More blah. Eric Hosmer couldn’t buy a home run. More blah. The Royals talked about doing a lot at the trade deadline but they did nothing. More blah. The Royals were 48-50 on July 21 and a full eight games out of first place.

[RELATED: Lorde gets an autographed jersey from George Brett]

Everyone knew where this was going.

Only, no, it went a whole other way. They started winning. It was imperceptible at first. The Royals did not seem to be playing any better. They squeaked out a 2-1 win in Chicago after the White Sox catcher dropped a throw. The next day, they beat Cleveland 2-1 in 14 innings. Against Minnesota, they got out of a ninth-inning jam to win by a run, and in Oakland they beat Sonny Gray 1-0. Then they went into Arizona and beat the diamonds out of the Diamondbacks and came home to take five of six from the two Bay Area teams. After all that the Royals had won 18 of 22 games. And they were in first place. They have won six of eight since then and are now in first by two full games.

The surprise is the wonderful part. It’s not only the surprise of the team winning baseball games … it’s the surprise of Royals’ decisions actually working. It is notable that the Royals, for the most part, are NOT winning because of those talented young prospects I wrote about in 2011. Moustakas still isn’t hitting.  Hosmer’s power disappeared, and he’s hurt. Wil Myers is gone. John Lamb is on the comeback trail in Omaha.

No, they are winning because they made a series of quiet decisions that did not necessarily seem great at the time but are working. When they made the much-discussed Wil Myers trade, Moore said the key was acquiring pitcher Wade Davis, who they intended to make a starter. That idea flopped, but then they put him back in the bullpen where he has been a revelation -– the league is slugging .156 against him. Again, that’s their SLUGGING PERCENTAGE. He has given up two extra-base hits all year –- both of them doubles.

Then, it was the Royals’ plan to build an overpowering bullpen, and so they loaded it up with power arms and now they have a power bullpen. In their hot streak, they are 13-1 in games decided by two runs or less. That bullpen has been fantastic.

It was the Royals plan to have James Shields lead a solid five-man rotation that would give the Royals a chance to win every night. That may seem like an obvious thing, but in the bad years it was almost impossible for the Royals to find even one good starter, much less five. The Royals kept drafting pitchers and drafting pitchers and, other than Zack Greinke, it just didn’t work out. When the Royals traded Myers for Shields, Moore knew that he was potentially trading a future All-Star for a couple of years of good starting pitching. He believed that it would be worth it.

And … it is working. Shields has been the good pitcher the Royals expected. And the Royals’ rotation has been altered. Last year, the Royals led the American League in ERA. This year, they have five pitchers who are on pace to throw 170 innings and win 10-plus games. I’m no fan of the pitcher-win statistic, but it is telling that the last time the Royals had five pitchers with 10 wins was, yep, 1985.

It was also the Royals’ plan to build the best defensive team in the American League. People say that sort of thing all the time, just like basketball coaches like to say that they are going to play up-tempo. In the early years of the Moore regime, the talk about defense did not seem to match any of the actual moves the team made. But you know what? The Royals are now one of the best defensive teams in the American League. John Dewan’s Runs Saved statistic -– my favorite defensive team statistic –- has them third in the league with 24 runs saved behind Baltimore (43) and Oakland (28). But if you look even closer you see that the Royals outfield is by far the best in the league with MVP candidate Alex Gordon in left field and a couple of excellent fielding center fielders. Kauffman Stadium has one of the biggest outfields in baseball. The Royals’ defensive excellence out there matters.

So, yes, this too was part of the plan –- building a team to take advantage of the ballpark.

And what makes all of this so satisfying for Royals fans because most never saw it coming. They were the same old Royals until, suddenly, they weren’t. They were defined by their blunders until, suddenly, some of their plans actually worked.

There is a lot of baseball left in the 2014 season –- more than enough games left for the Royals to not only fall out of first place but fall far enough that nobody even remembers that they were there. But that’s old Royals pessimism. This is a team playing great baseball, and their confidence grows. Fans confidence grows too. It has been a long time since anyone thought this: The Royals might actually know what they’re doing.

READ MORE JOE POSNANSKI PIECES ON HBT

And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights

NEW YORK, NY - MAY 30:  Matt Harvey #33 of the New York Mets celebrates after retiring the side in the seventh inning against the Chicago White Sox  during their game at Citi Field on May 30, 2016 in New York City.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
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There were a lot of complete games and a lot of non-complete games that nonetheless saved tired bullpens yesterday. It’s not like it was 1973 all over again or anything, but it was pretty notable all the same. Anyway, here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Mets 1, White Sox 0: Matt Harvey is 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 6/1 since deciding to not talk to the media. Clearly avoiding the press is a good move for him and he should continue to do so.

Braves 5, Giants 3: Mike Foltynewicz gave up an early homer to Brandon Belt but then buckled down and allowed only one run over six innings. Mallex Smith hit a three-run triple. If you squint a little you can imagine those two starring in games that actually matter for Atlanta one day.

Red Sox 7, Orioles 2: Steven Wright allowed two runs on four hits in tossing a complete game. It was his third of those on the year. In 2015 the league leaders in complete games in both the NL and the AL notched four each. Will White had 75 of them in 1879. People always talk about Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak as being baseball’s ultimate unbreakable record. I got my money on Will White’s CG mark. If you insist on going post-deadball era I’ll take Bob Feller’s 36 in 1946, which I’m pretty sure is equally unbreakable.

Cardinals 6, Brewers 0: Carlos Martinez struck out eight in eight shutout innings — he needed that — and Matt Carpenter had four hits. Martinez has owned the Brewers so far in his career. He should be getting quarterly reports and have his own parking space at Miller Park.

Athletics 3, Twins 2: Kendall Graveman had an uncharacteristically solid start. Coco Crisp led off the game with a homer. He also added to the difficulty of a nice Chris Coghlan catch on a sac fly in the fifth, providing a body block of sorts. We’ve still never seen a heel-turn in a major league baseball game, but this is how one would start. They’re more creative now, but back in the 80s all the good heel turns started with some minor accident or miscommunication during a tag team match or something, causing the newly formed heel to believe his friend had turned on him when he really just made a mistake. If Coghlan was getting a push as a new heel, this is how it’d go. I doubt it will happen because MLB’s bookers really aren’t on top of things, but I’m gonna watch the next A’s game anyway to see if he hits Crisp with a metal chair during a standup interview with whoever the A’s version of Gordon Solie is.

Mariners 9, Padres 3Kyle Seager and Dae-Ho Lee homered. It wasn’t too long ago that the two teams combined in a Mariners-Padres game might not score nine runs in a whole three-game series. Or at least it felt like that. Seattle has come a long way.

Reds 11, Rockies 8: An 11-8 game with 28 hits and seven home runs that featured a big lead blown and a big rally that had its momentum maintained by a walk to a pitcher? Let me guess: Coors Field? *checks* Yes, I guessed correctly. Two homers from Adam Duvall who has 11 on the year somehow.

Astros 8, Diamondbacks 3: The offense was nice for Houston but a big game from Collin McHugh, going the distance the day after the Astros bullpen got sapped, was huge for them too. Jason Castro drove in three. Houston has won six of seven. I told y’all they’d come around eventually.

Cubs 2, Dodgers 0: Jason Hammel had to leave the game after two shutout innings with hamstring cramps. All the Cubs bullpen did was toss seven perfect innings. Not seven shutout innings. Seven perfect innings. Dang. One hit and one walk in the game for the Dodgers, each off of Hammel.

Rangers 9, Indians 2: Nomar Mazara’s hit a homer — a long homer —  in the fourth innins. He now has five home runs and 12 RBI in his last 11 games. The Astros may be turning it around, but the first place Rangers have won eight of 10 so it’s not like they’re gaining much ground.

Nationals 4, Phillies 3: Daniel Murphy hit a solo homer, singled, doubled and drove in three. He’s at .395/.426/.621 on the year. That’ll play. Bryce Harper had to leave after getting hit on the knee with a pitch, but he shouldn’t miss much time.

Blue Jays 4, Yankees 2: The Jays have taken five of six. Marco Estrada allowed three hits and struck out six in eight shutout innings. Just a ton of strong pitching performances yesterday. Not crazy Kershaw-style things, but a lot of “the bullpen was tired after the weekend and we need you to eat innings” kind of gutsy performances, this one being no exception.

Pirates 10, Marlins 0: OK, I take that back. Jeff Locke had a dominant performance with a three-hit shutout. Although he only struck out one dude, so that may or may not qualify depending on your definition of dominance. 105 pitches and no walks is pretty dang spiffy either way, though. Gregory Polanco hit a grand slam. Guy is hitting .315/.393/.565 from the 7-hole.

Royals 6, Rays 2: Eric Hosmer hit a three-run bomb in the Royals’ four-run eighth inning. Four wins in a row for the champs.

Angels 5, Tigers 1: Justin Verlander and Jhoulys Chacin traded zeroes until the eighth inning when Verlander ran out of zeros. The Angels rallied four five runs that inning, four charged to JV, and Chacin kept cruising, finishing the game with 10 strikeouts and allowing only one run in a complete game.

Chacin wins duel with Verlander, Angels top Tigers 5-1

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ANAHEIM, Calif. (AP) Over the first 4 1/2 innings at Angel Stadium, Jhoulys Chacin and Justin Verlander retired all 27 batters they faced. They kept trading zeros deep into the eighth inning of a scintillating pitchers’ duel.

After the Los Angeles Angels finally cracked Verlander, Chacin kept pushing all the way to a breakthrough victory for his new team.

Chacin threw a four-hitter, and Cliff Pennington‘s tiebreaking RBI single during a five-run eighth propelled the Angels to a 5-1 victory over the Detroit Tigers on Monday night.

With shadows on the field for an early holiday start at Angel Stadium, nobody could get a hit off Chacin (1-1) or Verlander (4-5) until C.J. Cron‘s single leading off the fifth for Los Angeles.

Chacin lost his own perfect game bid on Andrew Romine‘s two-out single in the sixth, but the veteran Venezuelan right-hander persevered all the way to his third career complete game in his fourth start for the Angels.

“It felt great, and I’m really happy,” Chacin said. “I feel like my arm is just getting stronger, and hopefully it can stay like that the whole season.”

Los Angeles acquired Chacin from Atlanta earlier this month to bolster their injury-battered rotation. In his fourth start on the West Coast, he struck out 10 while throwing the Angels’ first complete game of the season.

“There’s no doubt he was hitting his spots,” Angels manager Mike Scioscia said. “He got a lot of called strikes and some ugly swings from some really good hitters. His command was terrific. I don’t even think he threw 20 pitches (while) behind in the count. It was unbelievable.”

Chacin’s dominance was invaluable after the Angels’ bullpen was taxed in a 13-inning loss to Houston on Sunday, their fourth defeat in five games. Facing Detroit for the first time, the veteran right-hander threw his first complete game since 2011.

He fell just shy of the second shutout of his career when J.D. Martinez doubled and scored on Victor Martinez‘s long fly in the ninth, but Los Angeles had already given him plenty of room for error after eight nail-biting innings.

Chacin’s satisfaction was likely as large as the frustration felt by the Tigers, who wasted a gem from Verlander.

“When we don’t do anything offensively, it seems like it’s a lineup epidemic,” Detroit manager Brad Ausmus said. “When you’re in a 0-0 game, there’s no room for error, as you saw.”

Verlander, who threw eight scoreless innings last week against Philadelphia, gave up only one hit in the first seven innings while retiring the first 12 Angels he faced. He got no support from his teammates in Detroit’s fourth loss in five games.

“It’s tough for everybody here,” Verlander said. “You never know with our lineup. We can put up runs in a hurry, so you just kind of keep waiting for the big hit. Just keep going out there and plugging along, and hoping that it happens.”

BIG RALLY

Verlander sat down eight straight Angels shortly after Cron’s hit, but the bottom of their order finally beat him. After Johnny Giavotella and Rafael Ortega opened the eighth with back-to-back singles, Pennington failed on two bunt attempts before confidently lining a single to left.

Gregorio Petit then grounded to short, but Romine’s throw home was too late to get Ortega, and James McCann‘s subsequent throw to first skipped into right field, scoring Pennington.

HOLIDAY PAY

Albert Pujols and Cron added RBI singles off Buck Farmer in the eighth. Pujols has 20 career RBIs on Memorial Day, the most among active big leaguers. He is batting .363 with 32 RBIs against Detroit in his career.

FIELD OF SCREAMS

Detroit has lost 18 of its last 22 games in Anaheim since 2009, including eight straight and 14 of the last 15.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Tigers: Right-hander Jordan Zimmermann went through a pregame workout at Angel Stadium, and he’ll throw a bullpen session Tuesday in hopes of returning later this week from a groin strain.

Angels: Closer Huston Street was activated from the disabled list before the game. He hadn’t pitched since April 23 due to a strained oblique muscle.

UP NEXT

Tigers: Anibal Sanchez (3-6, 6.04 ERA) is winless in four career starts at Angel Stadium.

Angels: Hector Santiago (3-3, 4.58 ERA) got ejected in the third inning of his last start in Texas.

Cubs ‘pen perfect for 7 innings in 1-hit win over Dodgers

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CHICAGO (AP) Travis Wood and three other relievers combined for seven perfect innings after starter Jason Hammel left with cramps, and the Chicago Cubs held the Los Angeles Dodgers to one hit in a 2-0 victory Monday.

Hammel exited after his right hamstring cramped while warming up for the third inning. Wood (3-0) pitched four perfect innings in his longest stint of the season.

Justin Grimm, Pedro Strop and Hector Rondon pitched one inning each for the Cubs, with Rondon getting his ninth save. He has converted 20 straight save opportunities dating back to Aug. 14.

Ben Zobrist extended his hitting streak to a career-high-tying 16 games. He singled leading off the fifth and reached third when right fielder Yasiel Puig misplayed the ball. He scored on Jason Heyward‘s infield single.

Anthony Rizzo drove home Heyward with a double to right.

Zobrist has reached base in his last 35 starts, the longest streak by a Cub since Starlin Castro‘s 40 in 2011.

The Cubs (35-14) have the best record in baseball and are a season-high 21 games over .500. They have won six straight since dropping eight of 12.

They entered Monday 6 1/2 games in front of the second-place Pittsburgh Pirates in the NL Central.

The Dodgers had won six of seven entering this Memorial Day matinee. The Dodgers arrived at their Chicago hotel at 3:30 a.m. following a 4-2 win over Mets on Sunday in New York, but manager Dave Roberts said before the game that his team had no problem with the quick turnaround.

“It makes it a lot easier after you win a game like we did last night,” he said. “To be here (at Wrigley Field) in this environment, it’s pretty exciting. But it’s kind of business as usual.”

Dodgers starting pitcher Alex Wood (1-4) gave up two runs on seven hits in five innings, striking out seven and walking three. His normal turn would have been last Friday, but he injured his left triceps swinging a bat in his previous start, May 21 in San Diego. Nineteen-year-old Julio Urias started in his place Friday.

MEMORIAL DAY LAMENT

Cubs manager Joe Maddon said his father, uncles and grandparents served in the military – and that his Uncle Buzz was a POW.

“The one regret I have in my own personal life is the fact that I never did serve,” Maddon said. “At the time, it was very unpopular. The Vietnam War was going on, and I was in college. At the time, you really thought you were very fortunate not to have to do that. But retrospectively, that would be the one life experience that I missed out on. I wish I hadn’t.”

TRAINER’S ROOM

Dodgers: OF Trayce Thompson, who left Saturday’s game in New York with lower back soreness, was 100 percent and available off the bench, according to Roberts. He’s expected to start in left field on Tuesday. … OF Carl Crawford, pulled from Saturday’s game with a hamstring injury, started in left Monday. “I just wanted to give him (Thompson) another day and give C.C. an opportunity,” Roberts said. “C.C. is a quick healer. I like the matchup of him and Hammel.” … RHP Brandon McCarthy (Tommy John surgery) was scheduled to throw to hitters at Dodger Stadium on Monday.

CUBS: Maddon did not start center fielder Dexter Fowler, who has a sore heel. Maddon said he hoped Fowler would return to the lineup Tuesday. Maddon moved Jason Heyward from right to center, shifted Ben Zobrist from second to right, and inserted Javier Baez at second. Zobrist also took Fowler’s leadoff spot. Fowler entered Monday’s game with a six-game hitting streak.

UP NEXT

CUBS: RHP Jake Arrieta (9-0, 1.72 ERA) will try to become the major league’s first 10-game winner. He is the first Cubs starter to win his first nine decisions in a season since Kenny Holtzman in 1967. The only Cubs starter with a longer season-opening streak was Jim McCormick, who started 16-0 in 1886. Arrieta is 20-0 with a 0.98 ERA in 22 starts since Aug. 1, 2015.

DODGERS: LHP Scott Kazmir (4-3, 4.84) pitched for then-Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon’s 2008 World Series team. He has a 1-0 career record and 2.53 ERA in two games against the Cubs. Kazmir is 3-1 in May with a 4.13 ERA.

Bogaerts hit streak at 23 as Red Sox beat Orioles 7-2

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BALTIMORE (AP) Xander Bogaerts did the damage early, extending his hitting streak to 23 games and driving in two runs.

From there, Boston used the long ball to pull away from the Baltimore Orioles in a matchup between the top two teams in the AL East.

Jackie Bradley put the first-place Red Sox ahead for good with a sixth-inning homer, and David Ortiz and Marco Hernandez connected in the eighth to seal a 7-2 victory Monday.

Knuckleballer Steven Wright (5-4) pitched a four-hitter, striking out seven and walking five in his third straight complete game.

Mookie Betts scored twice, courtesy of Bogaerts, before Bradley connected off Tyler Wilson (2-4) leading off the sixth. Bradley’s 29-game hitting streak, which ended last week, is the only one this season longer than Bogaerts’ career-best run.

“I’m just trying to go up there and get hits, you know? If it happens, it happens,” Bogaerts said. “Just trying to be me, and not trying to be someone who I’m not.”

Ortiz led off the eighth with his 14th home run and Hernandez added a three-run shot to send many in the crowd of 43,926 up the exit ramps. Hernandez’s first major league homer came in his 10th game.

Wright, meanwhile, threw a 122-pitch masterpiece by mixing a fluttering knuckler with a vastly contrasting fastball.

“It was a challenge,” Baltimore’s Mark Trumbo said. “He had great stuff today. It never ended up where it started. You can’t really predict where to swing. You just hope that you get one that maybe doesn’t move quite as much.”

Ryan Flaherty doubled in a run and scored one for the Orioles, who have lost six of eight.

Wilson gave up three runs and eight hits over 6 2-3 innings in losing his third straight start.

Limited to an infield hit over the first four innings, Baltimore temporarily solved Wright’s knuckler in the fifth. Nolan Reimold tripled, Flaherty doubled, Caleb Joseph snapped an 0-for-19 skid with a single and Adam Jones delivered a sacrifice fly to tie the game at 2.

“They’re a very aggressive team. They’re all really good hitters,” Wright said. “In that inning they scored the two runs, I think I kind of got caught up in the same speed.”

The deadlock lasted only until Bradley crushed Wilson’s third pitch of the following inning.

Boston got a first-inning run when Betts scored from second base on Bogaerts’ dribbler down the third-base line. Bogaerts was thrown out, but neither Wilson nor Joseph, the catcher, got back to cover the plate. Replays indicated the ball bounced off Bogaerts’ foot in foul ground, but such plays are not reviewable.

Bogaerts knew the ball should have been called foul, but learned from experience to run it out.

“We had a play back at home, same play. I stood at home, the ball hit me, and they threw to first, out,” he said. “I told the umpire the ball hit me, and he said, `No, you’re out.’ This time I’m running, you know. And it worked out for RBI.”

Bogaerts hit an RBI double in the third following singles by Betts and Dustin Pedroia.

DOUBLE DOWN

Red Sox: Bogaerts’ two doubles increased Boston’s major-league leading total to 133, but Ortiz’s career-high run of six straight games with a double came to an end.

Orioles: Flaherty’s fifth-inning double was his second in 61 at-bats this season and produced his second RBI.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Red Sox: Placed on the concussion list May 20, utility man Brock Holt has ramped up his baseball-related activities. But there is no timetable for his return, manager John Farrell said. … Ortiz returned after sitting out Sunday’s game in Toronto with a sore left foot.

Orioles: RHP Yovani Gallardo (shoulder tendinitis) will begin his rehabilitation assignment on Thursday and with 40-60 pitches in a minor league game. … SS J.J. Hardy (broken foot) will have a CT scan Friday. He hopes to be cleared to begin baseball-related activities. Joseph was taken to the hospital for observation after getting struck in the groin by a foul ball.

UP NEXT

Red Sox: Eduardo Rodriguez (right knee) comes off the disabled list to make his season debut, starting on the mound Tuesday night against the organization that drafted him. Rodriquez went 0-3 in five rehab starts with Triple-A Pawtucket. After the game, Boston sent reliever Heath Hembree to the minors to make room for Rodriguez.

Orioles: Starting for the eighth time this season, Kevin Gausman (0-2, 3.24 ERA) makes another run at his first win.