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Clutch hitting, timely baserunning keep Royals in postseason hunt

"That's what speed do" is Jarrod Dyson's trademark phrase. On Monday night, the fleet-footed Dyson and Terrance Gore, working as pinch runners, raced home as the tying and winning runs in a wild ninth inning to complete a comeback that carried the Royals past the White Sox, 4-3, at Kauffman Stadium. The win allowed the Royals to keep pace with the AL Central-leading Tigers while gaining ground in the wild card race.

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While the White Sox built an early 3-0 lead against Royals starter James Shields, John Danks kept the KC lineup at bay through the first six innings despite walking four to go along with two hits allowed. The Royals chipped away, however, scoring a run off reliever Javy Guerra in the seventh via an Eric Hosmer double and an Omar Infante single, and they added another in the eighth off Zach Putnam via a Nori Aoki single, a throwing error by third baseman Conor Gillaspie, a wild pitch and an Alex Gordon single. 

Jake Petricka, who had gotten the final out of the eighth inning, returned for the ninth inning and retired Infante on a ground ball, but then yielded a sharp double into the left field corner by Mike Moustakas. Manager Ned Yost responded by inserting Dyson to pinch run. While the 29-year-old speedster has 33 steals in 40 attempts this year, the memory of him being picked off second base by the Tigers' Joe Nathan in the ninth inning of last Tuesday's loss still looms large as far as differentiating the two AL Central contenders.

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Dyson stayed put on Alcides Escobar's grounder to third, but with Aoki batting, he stole third base. When Petricka's 93 MPH fastball in the dirt squirted past catcher Tyler Flowers, Dyson sprinted home to knot the game at 3-3:

Aoki got ahead 2-1 and then doubled to left field for his fourth hit of the game. Yost replaced him with Gore, a 23-year-old rookie who stole 68 bases in 76 attempts in A-ball last year, and 47 bases in 54 attempts split between High-A and Triple-A this year before being recalled. He hadn't taken a plate appearance in any of his three previous stints, but had stolen third base and scored on a a throwing error on September 3.

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Facing Lorenzo Cain, Petricka got ahead 0-2, and then Gore took off for third base as Cain hit a chopper through the box. Second baseman Marcus Semien was poised to field the ball, but shortstop Alexei Ramirez raced over to try to cut it off. When he couldn't find the handle, Gore crossed the plate as the whole team sprinted out of the dugout and onto the field:

That’s what speed do, indeed.

The victory helped the Royals turn the page after losing back-to-back series against the Tigers and Red Sox. Their 2-5 skid turned a two-game lead over Detroit into a 1 1/2-game deficit. At 82-67, they still trail by that margin, with the Tigers having held off the Twins on Monday night. The Royals currently occupy the second wild card slot, with a two-game lead over the Mariners. Vying for their first playoff appearance since 1985, they may just have found the extra step that can put them across the finish line.