KANSAS CITY — You almost have to start believing when the Royals’ margin of victory comes via two home runs by Erik Kratz.
Kratz, a 34-year-old journeyman catcher, was picked up from Toronto on July 28 in exchange for utility infielder Danny Valencia — and what you might not know is Valencia was almost certainly the most disliked player in the Royals’ otherwise harmonious clubhouse.
General manager Dayton Moore made the popular move to ship out Valencia, and even though All-Star Salvador Perez catches most days, Moore wanted a little more sock than previous backup Brett Hayes could provide.
Just in case.
So on Monday night, Perez felt a pain in his right knee — he insists it’s just a tweak — and Kratz startled everyone by appearing in the seventh inning to pinch-hit.
The Royals were leading Minnesota 3-0 at the time, so it seemed just icing on the cake when Kratz muscled the first pitch for a broken-bat home run over the left-field fence at Target Field.
Yup, his bat splintered on contact and Kratz still cleared the wall.
Shades of Bo Jackson?
Well, maybe not, but still…
“Shows you how strong he is,” deadpanned manager Ned Yost, presumably referring to Kratz and not Bo.
But that was just the start of the story.
In the ninth, Kratz launched another homer — this time a blast to dead center in a ballpark that doesn’t yield any cheap homers.
That one pushed the lead to 6-1, but Aaron Crow coughed up a three-run shot to Trevor Plouffe in the bottom half of the inning.
Closer Greg Holland had to gobble up the final two outs to put a wrap on the 6-4 win — meaning that Kratz’s two bombs were the difference in the victory.
If you’re still counting on fingers, toes and refrigerator magnets, the triumph in Minneapolis gave the Royals their eighth straight series win, a record of 21-5 since they lost four straight after the All-Star Game, a perch 14 games over .500 for the first time in 20 years and, most important of all, a two-game lead over Detroit in the Central.
While it was great to see Kratz step in and join the party — as pennant-race additions Raul Ibanez, Christian Colon, Jason Frasor and Josh Willingham already have done — there will be some predictable anxiety over Perez.
Yost told the media that Salvy pinched a patella tendon in his knee while rounding second base and stopping a bit quickly, but that he was removed two innings later simply as a precaution.
The Royals’ nervous fan base — which has every reason to fear something awful since it hasn’t seen playoff baseball in 29 years — now will add Perez’s knee to its list of bad dreams and night terrors.
The way things are shaking out, though, the Royals have having all the little things fall their way on this new journey, which the K.C. media has dubbed “The Hunt for Blue October.”
Just to name a few items that you might easily miss, the pitching matchups for this four-game series in Minnesota worked out so that the Royals missed the Twins’ Kyle Gibson — who shut them out for seven innings the last time they saw him.
Or more accurately, didn’t see him.
At the moment, they’re headed to woeful Colorado for their last two games against National League opposition, and recently discovered that MVP candidate Troy Tulowitski has just been ruled out for the season.
After that, it’s three games in Texas (last in the AL West), and the Rangers’ Yu Darvish has been placed onto the 15-day disabled list.
It’s almost like Yost is sticking pins in dolls or something.
Still, however many favorable matchups you get and all the rest of it, finishing off a stretch run while dragging that 29-year slump will require very good baseball.
The Tigers, despite their injuries and a shaky bullpen, are too used to winning to just fold the tent.
This isn’t going to be easy.
But for the first time in what seems like forever, this Royals team looks good enough — perhaps more than good enough — to enjoy playoff baseball in October.
And hey, if it gets tense toward the finish line…
Erik Kratz is ready.