In what might have been their biggest series in two and a half decades, the Royals managed to take two of three games from the Indians this week, creeping ever closer in a truly wild American League Wild Card race.
Their reward? A weekend series against Texas that's arguably even bigger.
Following a Thursday off-day -- its last of the season -- the stretch drive hits overdrive as Kansas City opens a three-game series against the Rangers, who pulled into a tie with the Rays atop the Wild Card standings with a win Thursday at Tropicana Field.
"You have to have intensity," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "You have to have energy this time of year. This is the best time of the year when you're in it. It's the worst time of the year when you're not. This is what these guys were born to do."
The Royals sit three games behind Texas, which had lost 11 of 13 before Thursday's victory. While the Rangers have fallen out of the AL West race, their postseason hopes remain very much alive.
"We just want a chance in the playoffs. It doesn't matter how we get there," manager Ron Washington said. "You'd like to win the division and play more games. The one-game format comes down to who plays the best that day. But at least you get a chance. I don't think you can question a chance to make the playoffs."
Texas and Kansas City both are part of a jumbled Wild Card picture, which has Cleveland a half-game out, Baltimore two back and New York 3 1/2 out.
"This is why they're here is to be in a pennant race," Yost said said of his club. "They've matured, they've grown. They've gained experience. There's a lot that goes with it, but the energy is not lacking in this clubhouse or on this team."
Coming off a 72-win season, the Royals need two victories to guarantee their first finish over .500 since 2003. And their first playoff berth since 1985 remains up for grabs, of course.
"Their young talent they've put together is finally figuring it out and they've added some pitching," Washington said. "That's what they've been missing. They've got some starting pitching. They always had arms in the bullpen, and now their starting pitching is taking them deep in the game. Now Ned Yost can mix and match with his bullpen. They have a lot of upside, a lot of upside."
Right-hander Ervin Santana gets the start for Kansas City, sporting a career-best 3.23 ERA this season. His 22 quality starts are also tied for a career-high -- the most recent was 6 2/3 scoreless innings in Detroit last Saturday.
But the Rangers have proved to be a tough test for Santana in the past. He's 13-11 with a 5.79 ERA in 28 starts against Texas.
Opposite Santana will be left-hander Martin Perez, who lost his past two starts after a string of six consecutive wins. The 22-year-old said he enjoys pitching in a pennant race.
"It's good. I like to compete," he said. "In September, it's a big month for us. When you like to compete, it's easier when the games are big. There is no pressure. I just do what I have to do and throw strikes."
Rangers: Soria returning to KC
Joakim Soria racked up 160 saves in a Royals uniform and made two All-Star teams from 2007-11, before he missed last year due to Tommy John surgery, then signed with the Rangers in the offseason. This series will be his first trip back to Kansas City.
"I don't think about it that much," Soria said. "I'm thinking about helping this team. Of course it's a pleasure to go to Kansas City. They gave me a chance to be a Major League pitcher. I'm grateful for that. But right now, that's not what I'm focused on."
Soria, who signed a two-year deal with Texas, didn't make it back to game action until July 7, but has done well since. He owns a 3.10 ERA over 22 games and has given up a run in only one of his last 10 appearances.
Royals: Dwyer gets callup
Left-hander Chris Dwyer led Omaha to a Triple-A title on Tuesday night, then -- during the postgame celebration -- was told he'd be called up to the big league club.
Not a bad night for the Royals' No. 11 prospect, who went 10-11 with a 3.55 ERA in 29 outings with the Storm Chasers.
"The manager [Mike Jirschele] told me I was going to Kansas City, so I said, 'That's awesome,' and hopped an early flight here," Dwyer said.
• Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre has only 12 hits in 54 at-bats against Santana, but five are home runs.
• The Rangers haven't dropped a season series against Kansas City since 2007, and they've taken two of three so far this year.