KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bruce Chen went from the Kansas City Royals’ 2012 Opening Day starter to the bullpen to begin this season.
Chen, however, is back in the rotation and throwing extremely well.
Chen pitched a gem and Billy Butler and Justin Maxwell homered as the Royals topped the Boston Red Sox 5-1 on Thursday night.
Chen (5-0) limited the Red Sox to five singles in 7 2/3 innings, his longest outing since moving into the rotation on July 12.
“We have been playing very well and they are the best team in the American League record-wise,” Chen said. “I wanted to go out and give this team a chance to win.
“We started on the right foot. We won the first game (of a four-game series) and now we have our three best pitchers coming up — (Ervin) Santana, (Jeremy) Guthrie and (James) Shields. I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position so we can keep moving forward.”
What? Chen is not one of three best?
“No, you know how it is,” Chen said and laughed.
Luke Hochevar replaced Chen and got the final four outs for his second career save.
Jon Lester (10-7) was charged with the loss, although he allowed just one earned run and four hits in seven innings. Two of three runs charged to Lester were unearned after a Jonny Gomes error in the first inning.
“If you’re going to get to a guy like Jon Lester, you better do it in the first inning,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Jon found his gear after the first.”
Butler and Maxwell homered in the eighth off Red Sox reliever Rubby De La Rosa.
The Red Sox avoided a shutout when Stephen Drew’s ninth-inning single scored Gomes. It was the first run that Hochevar has allowed in 18 innings and 16 outings.
Lester, who entered the game with a 1.64 ERA in nine career starts against the Royals including a no-hitter in 2008, yielded three runs, two hits and two walks in the first inning.
“In the past, we haven’t fared too well off him, but like we’ve been saying in here, we’re a different team now,” Butler said. “The confidence has been there. It means everything in the world to come out of the gates. Early runs are big.”
Lester labored through 41 pitches and was not helped by Gomes’ fielding miscue on Alex Gordon’s routine fly to left that resulted in two unearned runs. Gordon was credited with a sacrifice fly that scored Lorenzo Cain, who led off with a double.
“I picked the ball up perfect,” Gomes said. “With a runner on third and less than two out, I wanted to get in throwing position and just slipped. A big chunk of the ground came up and I couldn’t recover.”
Lester, however, wasn’t making excuses for his first-inning woes.
“Stuff like that happens,” Lester said. “I’ve got to do a better job of picking up Jonny. I loaded the bases on a four-pitch walk (to Maxwell).
“I’ve got to do a better job containing that situation and not letting them get those other two. If they don’t get those other two, maybe Chen pitches a little differently and things turn out different.”
Mike Moustakas, hitting a paltry .173 with five RBIs against left-handers, stroked a two-run, two-out single for the key blow of the inning.
Chen, who was making his fifth start after moving into the rotation on July 12, held the Red Sox to two singles in the first five innings.
Jacoby Ellsbury led off the game with a single, but Chen promptly picked him off first base.
The Royals threatened in the fifth when Alcides Escobar singled and Eric Hosmer reached when Daniel Nava mishandled his grounder. Lester got out of that mess by striking out Butler and retiring Gordon on an infield popup.
NOTES: Nava came off paternity leave and made just his fifth start of the season at first base for the Red Sox. RHP Steven Wright was optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket. …The Royals promoted LHP Francisley Bueno from Triple-A Omaha and optioned LHP Danny Duffy to the Storm Chasers. Bueno, 32, went 1-1 with a 1.56 ERA in 18 relief appearances last season with Kansas City. Duffy could be recalled for an Aug. 16 start as the 26th man when the Royals play a doubleheader at Detroit.
TWINS 7, WHITE SOX 5: Hours after the Chicago White Sox traded Alex Rios to Texas, Justin Morneau hit two home runs, including a go-ahead grand slam, to lead the Minnesota Twins to a 7-5 win over Chicago in the first game of Friday’s doubleheader.
With two outs in the seventh and the Twins trailing 3-1, Morneau fouled off three two-strike pitches from Nate Jones before turning on a fastball and sending it into the right-field seats for his seventh career grand slam. Chicago pitchers walked three batters in the inning before Morneau’s homer, one of four home runs for Minnesota.
Chris Colabello homered in the second off John Danks to give Minnesota an early 1-0 lead, and Oswaldo Arcia hit a home run in the eighth off David Purcey to expand the Twins’ lead to 6-3. Morneau’s second homer in the ninth was his 13th of the season and gave him his 20th career multi-homer game.
Kyle Gibson pitched 5 2/3 innings and gave up three runs and four hits. Brian Duensing (5-1) pitched a third of an inning for the win for the Twins, who have won five of seven. In a non-save situation, closer Glen Perkins gave up two runs in the ninth and allowed the tying run to reach base before striking out Adam Dunn to end the game.
Paul Konerko hit a solo homer and Alexei Ramirez hit a two-run home run for Chicago. John Danks pitched six-plus innings and gave up three runs and four hits while walking five and striking out nine but hasn’t won since beating Baltimore July 2. Donnie Veal (1-3) walked the only batter he faced in the seventh and took the loss.