Kansas City, Mo. Alex Gordon knew that the Atlanta Braves were going to be careful with him with first base open and the go-ahead run standing on second in the 10th inning Wednesday night.
He didn’t waste the first good pitch he saw.
Gordon lofted it into shallow left field, just deep enough to allow David Lough to score, and gave the Royals a 4-3 victory and a split of the first two games the Braves have played in Kansas City.
“I just go out there and try to play hard and let my game speak for itself,” said Gordon, who hit a leadoff homer in the first inning and made several stellar players in left field throughout the night.
“I don’t think about it individually,” he added. “I think of it as a W.”
It was a much-needed W, too, after the Royals dropped five of their previous six games.
“That’s a great team over there that’s leading its division,” manager Ned Yost said. “They’ve got 45 wins and we matched them pitch for pitch. Every game we played them we competed. These kids are getting better. I think throughout the second half they will continue to that.”
Lough had entered the game the previous inning as a pinch hitter, but was still at-bat because Elliot Johnson was picked off first base to end the ninth. Lough singled off Braves reliever Alex Wood (0-2) to start the 10th and then reached second when Miguel Tejada laid down a perfect sacrifice bunt.
That set the stage for Gordon, who came through with his third game-winning hit of the season.
“He started the game with a homer and ended it with a base hit,” Yost said. “He’s come up clutch for us in those situations. He did it again tonight.”
Aaron Crow (4-3) worked the 10th inning for the Royals, who had lost five of their last six. It was the sixth time in the last eight games that Kansas City played a one-run contest.
“It’s huge,” Lough said. “I mean, we know what the Braves are capable of doing, they’re in first place in their division, they’re a great team and we stuck with them.”
The Royals were in control through six innings.
Gordon ended a 159 at-bat homerless drought with his first-inning shot, the first leadoff homer of the season for the Royals. It was Gordon’s first home run since May 9.
Billy Butler added a two-out double to right, and then the big DH chugged home when Salvador Perez got just enough of the bat on a pitch from Mike Minor to hit a single to left field.
The Royals tacked on another run in the third when Gordon singled to lead off the inning. Alcides Escobar put runners on the corners with nobody out before Eric Hosmer lined into a double play, but Butler managed to bring Gordon home with a timely single to make it 3-0.
That was all the offense until Luis Mendoza started to unravel in the seventh inning.
The Royals starter kept the Braves off balance with a mixture of fastballs and sliders, and had given up just three hits to that point. But he’d put runners on the corners with two outs when he was lifted for left-hander Bruce Chen, who promptly served up an RBI single to pinch-hitter Reed Johnson.
Chen walked Jason Heyward to load the bases and was replaced by right-hander Luke Hochevar, who gave up a tying two-run single to Justin Upton. Heyward was thrown out at third on the play to end the inning.
Minor allowed three runs on nine hits over six innings, while Mendoza gave up two runs on five hits over 6 2-3 innings. Neither of them factored into the decision.
“Mike did a nice job,” Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “The solo home run by Gordon and he had a couple of innings that were stressful innings, but he did a nice job.”
Just not good enough to keep the outcome out of the hands of the bullpens.
Alex Avilan and Jordan Walden breezed through the Royals lineup, the only blip coming when Mike Moustakas singled off Walden with two outs in the ninth inning. Johnson came in to pinch run and strayed too far from first base, allowing Walden to pick him off and end the inning.
Hochevar wound up going 1 1-3 innings for the Royals, who brought in star closer Greg Holland to pitch the ninth inning. He struck out the side on just 11 pitches.
“They have a very strong bullpen,” Lough said, “but we were able to get to them in that last inning.”
NOTES: Royals RHP Yordano Ventura (Double-A Northwest Arkansas) and RHP Miguel Almonte (Class A Lexington) will pitch for the world team in the Futures Game. Braves INF Joey Terdoslavich (Triple-A Gwinnett) will play for the U.S. and C Christian Bethancourt (Double-A Mississippi) for the world. ... The Royals begin a four-game series Thursday at Minnesota. The Braves have a day off before starting a three-game set against Arizona on Friday night.