KANSAS CITY -- The Royals are starting to believe that their playoff dreams are the real thing.
Well, why not after they won their third straight game and eighth of their last 10 on Tuesday night, defeating the Seattle Mariners, 4-3, at Kauffman Stadium.
"That's the mentality in this clubhouse right now," said winning pitcher Luke Hochevar. "Do whatever we've got to do to get to the postseason and catch that Wild Card. So every night is big for us, every game is big for us, especially being in September now when you're running out of games."
The Royals are 72-66, already matching their 2012 victory total. With 24 games to go, they have some ground to make up in the American League Wild Card race.
They remained 4½ games behind Tampa Bay in the battle for the second Wild Card spot. And there are still three other teams between them and the Rays.
"We're just trying to keep it rolling and give ourselves as good a chance as we can at the postseason," said closer Greg Holland, who notched his 38th save. "We're going to have to run off a really good string here to end the season, but you can't really get too ahead of yourself. You've got to play each game like it's the last game you're going to play and we did that today."
A scintillating rally came in the eighth inning with the score tied at 3, two outs and nobody on base. Mike Moustakas stroked a line drive to center field and in charged Abraham Almonte, looking for a shoestring catch. He missed and the ball bounced away.
"He's not going to make that catch," said Mariners manager Eric Wedge. "So the best play for him is to pull up, get it on a hop and keep him out of scoring position. He's trying to make a play right there. A little bit overly-aggressive."
Moustakas was delighted to see Almonte scampering after the ball.
"It kind of scooted away from him and I saw it get away, and I knew that I needed to get into scoring position," Moustakas said.
In the Royals' dugout, manager Ned Yost was startled to see Moustakas, who just got over a calf injury, charge into second base.
"I had [Pedro] Ciriaco ready to pinch-run for him if he got on first base," Yost said. "As soon as he got the hit, I was thinking it was probably going to be a single, and he turned on the afterburners and ran great to second. That changed my mind right there -- he had great stride, great gait and looked normal."
Moustakas stayed at second and, on a 2-2 pitch from right-handed reliever Yoervis Medina, a line drive single to left field by Salvador Perez ignited the voices of 13,688 fans and the feet of Moustakas. He slid home headfirst to put the Royals ahead.
"He can do it," Perez said. "You saw the double he hit -- the ball was right there for the center fielder and he made it to second base."
It was Perez who also joined with Alex Gordon to launch solo home runs against Mariners starter Erasmo Ramirez to give the Royals a 2-0 lead.
Gordon lined the first pitch thrown by Ramirez into the right-field bullpen. It was his 16th home run this season and a franchise record 12th game-opening blast. David DeJesus and Willie Wilson shared the old mark of 11. Perez hammered his homer to left field, his 10th this year, in the fourth inning.
"The home run he scorched -- you don't see a lot of line drive homers like that. That was pretty impressive," Yost said.
Ramirez was nicked for a third run in the fifth inning when Emilio Bonifacio, who replaced ailing Chris Getz in the third inning, singled to center, stole second and scored on Billy Butler's single.
Royals starter Bruce Chen held the Mariners scoreless for five innings before giving up a leadoff single to Franklin Gutierrez and a two-run homer to Kyle Seager. He retired the next three batters and was through after six innings and a modest 85 pitches.
"We've got enough pitching down there and Bruce gave us six good innings," Yost said. "Turn it over to the fireballers down there. They're the No. 1 bullpen in the American League for a reason."
The Mariners tied the score in the seventh on two singles off Kelvin Herrera and a soft groundout against Tim Collins. Then, Collins faced an eighth-inning crisis when Raul Ibanez got an infield single and Justin Smoak doubled just past Moustakas at third.
"I was pretty upset with myself that I didn't catch it because that's a big play, that's a big situation," Moustakas said. "Timmy did what he could to get a ground ball and he did a great job and I just didn't catch it. Silver lining, Hoch comes in and finishes it off like he can."
Yep, Hochevar relieved Collins and struck out Mike Zunino and got Endy Chavez to fly out.
"Hoch was key," Yost said. "That was huge, coming in second and third with one out and getting us out of that inning with the score tied."
When Moustakas and Perez applied their eighth-inning magic, it meant that Holland could arrive to do his thing. He struck out both Almonte and Nick Franklin. Brad Miller tried a two-out bunt and popped back to Holland. Game over.
So the Royals celebrated and headed for the clubhouse where they're finding a new September atmosphere. Things are different in 2013.
"Absolutely, there's something on the line. There's an opportunity to get to the postseason," Hochevar said. "The heart we're showing here of late makes it exciting and is giving you something to push for. Hopefully, we can continue and catch some breaks as well."
It's getting to be an anthem of optimism.
"We're right in the midst of this and people have been keeping us on the back burners and that is how we like it," Moustakas said. "We'll just sneak up on everybody and keep playing baseball the way we know how especially with this team. We've got that never-quit, never-say-die attitude."
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.