MINNEAPOLIS — Take a good look at the standings, Royals fans. After Tuesday’s 7-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins, your club has a winning record on the morning of July’s final day for the first time in a decade.
Ervin Santana delivered seven strong innings for his third straight victory since the All-Star break and — more encouraging — the Moose broke loose for two home runs.
Mike Moustakas snapped a 1-1 tie by capping a four-run third inning with a three-run drive against Twins starter Mike Pelfrey before rocking a solo shot in the eighth inning against lefty reliever Brian Duensing for a 5-2 lead.
So bad for so long this season — Moustakas was batting .183 over the first two months — he is now on a .286 surge (38 for 133) since June 10. His overall average is up to .224.
“It’s taking 100 swings every day,” he said, “and just trying to get that good feel back. And today, I found it. Now, just keep working and keep building off of this.”
It was Moustakas’ second career multihomer game. He previously did it on June 24, 2012, in an 11-8 loss to St. Louis at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals added two runs in the ninth inning and, when Luke Hochevar set down the Twins in the ninth, stretched their season-best winning streak to seven games.
They also climbed above .500, at 52-51, for the first time since they were 20-19 on May 18. The last time they had a winning record this late in the season was when they ended 2003 at 83-79.
“We don’t think about that,” Santana said. “You just take it one day at a time and keep having fun. You want to just keep winning series. That’s the key for us.”
The Royals are 9-2 since returning from the All-Star break — and Santana, 7-6, is a big reason why. He limited the Twins to two runs and four hits and is now 3-0 since the break while allowing three runs in 221/3 innings.
“He’s been good all year long,” manager Ned Yost said. “Again tonight. To get us through seven innings, the way that he did, and turn it over to the bullpen was phenomenal.”
This continues a career trend: Santana is 52-31 with a 3.90 ERA in 114 career games (111 starts) after the All-Star break.
“He’s the magic man,” Moustakas said. “Anytime he goes out on the mound, you know he’s going to deal, and he’s going to keep them to two or under runs. We’ve just got to score for him. He did it again tonight.”
Pelfrey, 4-9, was fortunate to yield just four runs in his four innings while allowing eight hits and throwing 93 pitches. The Royals stranded six runners.
“We had Pelfrey on the ropes the first four innings,” Yost said, “but we really couldn’t do much damage. Then Miggy’s (Tejada) big hit, which he squirted up the middle, was huge to get Moose to the plate.”
That came in the third after the Royals stranded two runners in each of the first two innings. Eric Hosmer led off with single and went to second on Salvy Perez’s one-out single.
David Lough popped to Pelfrey, but Tejada wedged a grounder up the middle for a game-tying single. Moustakas followed with a 398-foot drive over the big right-field scoreboard for a 4-1 lead.
Santana surrendered single runs in the first and fourth innings but set down the last 11 batters he faced before handing a 5-2 lead to Tim Collins to start the eighth.
Collins worked a one-two-three inning before Hochevar closed out the victory. Hosmer contributed two singles and a double to a 12-hit attack, while Alex Gordon, Moustakas, Perez and Tejada each had two hits.
The Royals’ last seven-game winning streak was Sept. 10-17, 2011.
“That’s the only stat that counts right now,” Moustakas said. “As long as we keep winning ballgames, we’re going to make that push. There’s a lot of season left, and we’ll see what happens.
“As of right now, we’re playing great baseball. It feels good to be back over .500.”
The Royals failed to gain any ground on the two clubs ahead of them in the American League Central Division. They still trail Detroit by seven games and second-place Cleveland by 41/2 games.
“That’s fine,” Yost said. “They keep winning, and we keep winning. The most important thing is we keep winning. We can’t focus on what they do. We have to control our own destiny every single night.”
BY BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star