KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — No unexpected wild-card ride into October this year. The Kansas City Royals are division champs for the first time in three decades — and they want a whole lot more.
Johnny Cueto earned his first win in nearly six weeks and the Royals clinched the AL Central crown Thursday night with a 10-4 victory over the Seattle Mariners.
“I’ve felt all along we would win this division. I’ve got my eyes on a much bigger prize,” manager Ned Yost said. “This is the first step of it.”
The defending AL champions, who made a remarkable run through the postseason as a surprise wild card last year, came charging out of the dugout following the final out.
Back in the clubhouse, they sprayed champagne during a happy celebration that included Royals Hall of Famer George Brett and owner David Glass.
Moments later, players returned to the field at the urging of outfielder Jarrod Dyson to salute about 5,000 fans who were still in the stadium.
Dyson climbed on top of the Royals’ dugout and shook hands with several of them.
It is Kansas City’s first division title since 1985, when Brett led the Royals to the AL West crown en route to their only World Series championship.
“It’s a huge accomplishment,” said Ben Zobrist, who had two doubles and scored three runs. “It hasn’t been done here for a long time. There’s a lot of guys in this clubhouse I’ve talked to that have toiled for years to get to this point, to win the division. For them to do it, you can see the kind of sigh of relief, the excitement in the organization.”
The victory over Seattle, coupled with Minnesota’s 6-3 loss to Cleveland, wrapped up the AL Central for a Royals team that has dominated the division this season. Kansas City led by as many as 14 games and ended Detroit’s four-year reign atop the division.
The Kauffman Stadium crowd of 32,244 cheered when the Twins’ final score was shown on the scoreboard in the top of the ninth.
Yost was caught on camera dancing in the dugout.
“I don’t know what I was doing there,” he said. “I saw it and I said, ‘Who, what and where was that?’ I don’t remember doing it, but I felt pretty good at that time.”
Kansas City became the first team to lock up a division title this year. St. Louis and Pittsburgh have secured playoff berths in the NL.
Last season, the Royals captured a wild card and surged all the way to Game 7 of the World Series before losing to San Francisco.
“It’s a different kind of feeling,” Yost said. “It’s something I’ve expected from the first day of spring training. It’s kind of like, this is what’s supposed to happen.
“Last year we were going tooth-and-nail every game. I just had a real confidence in this group from Day 1 of spring training on that we were going to win this division and get back to the playoffs.”
Cueto (3-6), acquired in a July 26 trade with Cincinnati, allowed three runs and seven hits in seven innings while striking out five and walking two. He was 0-5 in his previous six starts since an Aug. 15 victory.
“Johnny was awesome. A good changeup, good breaking stuff, kept his fastball down,” Yost said.
Mike Moustakas went 3 for 3 with a home run, three RBIs and three runs. He also walked twice.
Lorenzo Cain’s two-run single with two outs in the sixth inning broke a 3-all tie. Cain’s grounder into to left field scored Alex Gordon, who walked, and Zobrist.
“My eyes are burning, but I’ll definitely take this feeling right now,” Cain said during the champagne celebration in the clubhouse. “We understand that we’re not done. We’ve got a lot of unfinished business to take care of.”
Moustakas led off the second with his 21st homer, a career high. He drove in two more runs with a single in the eighth.
Eric Hosmer hit a solo shot to center in the fifth to tie the score at 3.
The Mariners used seven pitchers, with Logan Kensing (1-1) taking the loss.
The Royals padded their lead with two more runs in the seventh behind RBIs from Alex Rios and Alcides Escobar.
Mark Trumbo hit a two-run double in the fourth for the Mariners. Brad Miller doubled home Trumbo in the second for the Mariners’ first run.
Logan Morrison led off the Mariners’ ninth with his 17th home run.
Mariners: LHP James Paxton left after 33 pitches and nine batters with a broken fingernail.
Royals: RHP Greg Holland has a torn right elbow ligament and will see Dr. Neal ElAttrache in Los Angeles next week. Surgery appears probable depending on the second opinion.
Mariners: LHP Vidal Nuno, obtained in a June 3 trade with Arizona, will make his eighth start Friday at the Angels.
Royals: RHP Edinson Volquez, who starts the series opener against the Indians, is 8-3 with a 3.41 ERA in 15 Kauffman Stadium starts.
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