Sunday's tidy 6-1 victory over the first-place Tampa Bay Rays didn't totally erase the sting of a 2-5 homestand, but it sent the Royals winging on to Oakland with positive vibes about what can happen when they put it all together.
"It's good to get out of here with a win," Hillman said. "It wasn't the homestand we wanted, but the split with Tampa helps."
Hillman would love to make carbon copies of his team's performance in the finale and use them for the rest of the season. Starter Kyle Davies worked five shutout innings before running into trouble with a 3-0 lead in the sixth. In that frame, the first three Rays reached, and before Davies knew it, the Rays had one run in and the tying runs in scoring position.
But reliever Ron Mahay, a consistent force in the bullpen all year, came romping to the rescue and refused to let Davies' strong five innings go to waste. With men at second and third and nobody out, Mahay fanned Carlos Pena and got Willy Aybar on an infield popup. Pinch-hitter Jonny Gomes flied out and the Royals had no problems the rest of the way.
Given what happened in the sixth, Davies offered to buy Mahay dinner.
"I told him wherever he wants to go, I'll buy him food," Davies said. "He did a great job of getting out of that jam."
Mahay appreciated that gesture, but said he was merely handling his role.
"That's my job, to come in and hopefully get whoever is out there out of that inning," Mahay said.
The pitching staff had ample support from the Nos. 2-4 hitters against Tampa Bay starter Andy Sonnanstine. With club RBI leader Jose Guillen out of the lineup because of a sore left groin, the trio of Mike Aviles, David DeJesus and Billy Butler came up big.
Aviles went 2-for-4 with a homer, DeJesus had a pair of doubles and Butler continued his recent power surge with an RBI double to right-center in the fourth and a three-run homer off the left-field foul pole that made it 6-1 in the seventh.
Butler's three-run shot was the Royals' first homer with men on base since July 19 at Chicago.
"I'm comfortable up there," Butler said. "The key to hitting is getting good pitches that stay in the zone."
In the 22-year-old Butler, Hilllman sees glimpses of a young hitter who can cause a myriad of problems for opposing pitchers.
"Billy will have to use the whole field, that's just the way his swing is," Hillman said. "He'll have to use that right-center gap and it's very impressive to see him do that, with the command and control of a Sonnanstine. Billy was really patient and waited to get a pitch he could do something with going the other way. "
After Butler's homer gave the Royals a five-run lead, Carlos Pena -- who has thrived on Royals pitching -- was hit by a Leo Nunez pitch in the eighth. Jason Hammel threw high and tight to Esteban German and Joakim Soria hit Eric Hinske and received a warning in the ninth.
But everybody went away peacefully as the Rays and Royals ended their regular season series.
"That's a first-place club with tough hitters," Mahay said.
True enough, but on Sunday, the toughest hitters at Kauffman Stadium were Aviles, DeJesus and Butler.
Robert Falkoff is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.