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No longer looking to future, Royals relying on influx of September call-ups for pennant push

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. - In the span of just a few hours on a hot Tuesday afternoon, Terrance Gore drove from Arkansas to Kansas City, moved into a locker deep within Kauffman Stadium, slid into a starched white Royals jersey and took some bunting practice on the field.

By nightfall, he was standing on second base in the middle of a pennant race.

These are heady times for the Royals, a franchise that hasn't been to the post-season in nearly 30 years. They were clinging to a 1 1/2-game lead over Detroit in the AL Central as they took Thursday off and prepared for a road trip that takes them through the wild card-contending Yankees before a crucial three-game series against the Tigers at Comerica Park.

They're also heady times for a bunch of wide-eyed players like Gore, annual September call-ups who have arrived in Kansas City as rosters were expanded for the final month of the regular season.

For as long as all but the hardiest of Royals fans can remember, this was the time of the year when the youngsters got a chance to show what they could do in the future. They'd get tossed into the lineup for meaningless games with the club far out of contention, playing in front of oceans of empty seats while trying to impress their manager and front office.

This year, they've been called upon to help the Royals win a division title.

"In years past, I'd bring these guys up and give them a look, you know? See them in the field," manager Ned Yost said. "But most of these guys are going to stay in their role."

Indeed, each of them has a very specific skillset that Yost is counting on:

— Gore is a demon on the base paths, capable of going first to third in a flash. He'll be used primarily as a pinch runner, as he was in Tuesday's game against Texas.

"All I do is run. Steal bases. And look where I am now," he said. "I'm just going to get out there and run, do my best. Use my God-given ability and see what happens."

— Brandon Finnegan was pitching in the College World Series for TCU earlier this year. Now, the first-round draft pick's powerful left arm will be counted upon to get left-handed hitters out.

"I relieved a little bit in college. It's nothing new," said the mop-haired Finnegan, who projects as a starter in the long-term. "Then again, it's not a for-sure thing that I'm going to get to play, but if my number is called, I'm ready."

— Massive outfielder Carlos Peguero slugged 30 homers for Triple-A Omaha, including 15 in the month of August. He's expected to bring that same power to some pinch hitting.

"Any time you come here, to join a new baseball team, you have to set in your mind to be ready to help," Peguero said. "We're in a good position right now. All I want to do is help."

All the extra players give Yost flexibility.

When it comes to the bullpen, the skipper can mix and match depending on the batter, a luxury that he hasn't always had this season. That has already proven useful when his star trio of Kelvin Herrera, Wade Davis and All-Star closer Greg Holland were overworked and unavailable.

When it comes to position players, Yost is able to substitute more freely. He may have been reticent to use backup catcher Erik Kratz as a pinch hitter lest something happened to starter Sal Perez, but Francisco Pena's arrival gives the Royals another serviceable backstop.

These aren't players without pedigree, either.

Liam Hendriks, who will work out of the bullpen, allowed one run in seven innings in a spot start against Minnesota last month. Fellow right-hander Aaron Crow is a former All-Star who earned a save Tuesday night. Johnny Giavotella is capable of playing several infield positions, and he provides another bat with pop after hitting .308 for Omaha this season.

"We brought Lane Adams, who wouldn't have been here in years past, Terrance Gore, to fill a need, you know? To run the bases," Yost said. "All of these guys, the pitchers we've brought in for depth, all of these guys have specific functions."

Specific goals, too. It's a near certainty that none of them will make a post-season roster. But they all want to help the Royals get there for the first time since 1985.

"It means a lot to be in this with these guys," Finnegan said. "I mean, it's crazy, but it's a great experience to be able to make."

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