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Royals showing late-game heroics

Typically, even at this early point in the season, Kansas City Royals fans are already getting sour looks on their faces: Picture Dennis Leonard after accidentally swallowing his chewing tobacco. The very best the Royals could do last season was three consecutive wins. Granted, Kansas City strung together that victory trifecta on six different occasions, but three straight was the point at which Royals momentum peaked on the way to a 67-95 finish. It was as if this payroll-challenged outfit had not a salary cap, but a consecutive wins cap.

This year's Royals, however, have changed their walk-up music.

It takes a Marty Pattin-bulldog mentality to begin a season like this. Tuesday's walk-off win over the White Sox made the Royals just the third team in the past 20 seasons to have its first four wins come in the last at-bat and the first AL team to do so since the 1989 Royals. That win, following Sunday's 12-9 win over the Angels that ended on Matt Treanor's three-run homer in the 13th inning, gave the Royals consecutive wins in games lasting longer than 11 innings for the first time since April of 1969.

Yes, K.C. blew a ninth-inning lead Wednesday afternoon against Chicago. But the Royals tied it in the bottom of the ninth and had the winning run on third base with one out in the 11th. Jeff Francoeur struck out and Alcides Escobar grounded out to strand that winning run. The result wasn't there but at this point it's more about the mentality -- the Royals were a base hit away from five straight last at-bat wins.

Joakim Soria blew the save Wednesday, but he failed to convert only three save opportunities last season and is among the game's best closers. This season, for the first time in quite a while, there may be more in that Royals bullpen than just their All-Star closer. Kansas City's last three wins have all been recorded by rookie relief pitchers.

Saturday's victory went to Aaron Crow, the Royals' first-round draft pick in 2009, who signed with K.C. one year after the Nationals couldn't sign him after drafting him in the first round in 2008. Tim Collins, meanwhile, wasn't drafted at all. Collins is 5-foot-7 and perhaps 170 pounds. He can light up a radar gun near 97 mph and throw a curveball that buckles major league knees. He'd previously been with the Blue Jays and Braves and earned a place in the Royals bullpen this spring after arriving in camp as a non-roster invitee. Collins' path to the Kansas City bullpen could not have been more different than Crow's, but after three innings of two-hit relief Sunday, Collins had earned his first major league victory. Tuesday's rookie reliever winner was Jeremy Jeffress, who was the Brewers' first-round pick in 2006 and came to the Royals as part of the haul received from Milwaukee in the Zack Greinke trade.

The offense has been there, too. Alex Gordon, the University of Nebraska hero who hit just .232 and .215 the previous two seasons, may be one more slumping season away from officially becoming a hometown bust, but is 11-for-21 with five RBIs in his past four games. He's hitting .379 overall, with five doubles, a homer and a 1.075 OPS. Gordon, Melky Cabrera, Francoeur, Billy Butler and Chris Getz are all batting north of .290. Treanor's weekend included two brilliant defensive blocks of home plate for outs and the walk-off home run that beat the Angels.

From here the Royals play three games at Detroit and two at Minnesota. Then it's back home for eight games against the Mariners and Indians. There's a fair chance given their energetic start and remaining April schedule, that Kansas City could still be a first-place team entering May.

Steve Berthiaume is a SportsCenter anchor and host of Baseball Tonight. He'll be a regular contributor to the SweetSpot blog. Follow him on Twitter at @SBerthiaumeESPN.