Must C Catch: Alex Gordon lays out to save a run

KANSAS CITY -- One day after missing his first game of the season because of flu, left fielder Alex Gordon was back in the Royals' lineup on Friday night against the Mariners.

"He feels better, he's much stronger," manager Ned Yost said. "He ate breakfast, he had lunch, he's able to keep everything down. He's feeling much better."

Gordon missed Thursday's 2-1 streak-ending loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park. His stomach had been churning during Wednesday's game as well.

"He threw up in the middle of the game the day before," Yost said.

Right fielder Nori Aoki, slowed by a groin strain, was held out of the starting lineup on Friday night.

"It's just a slight little strain that guys can play through and deal with," he said.

Lorenzo Cain moved over to right field and Jarrod Dyson played center field. Yost figures he'll play Aoki on Saturday and rest Cain.

Royals pack The K for opener against Mariners

KC@DET: Infante, Holland on 10th straight victory

KANSAS CITY -- This doesn't happen very often -- the Royals had a sold-out ballpark on Friday night as they returned home from a 6-1 road trip, 15 wins in 20 games and, of all the unexpected things, in first place in the American League Central.

"When's the last time we came off a road trip, bam, to a sellout?" manager Ned Yost said. "Maybe at the end of last year. But it's never happened since I've been here in the middle of a season. It's a cool thing. I imagine the excitement level is really high right now."

So Kauffman Stadium was filled for the series opener against the Mariners which also had pregame celebrity sponge ball at the Little K and that Kansas City favorite, postgame fireworks.

The Royals announced a special ticket deal for the Saturday and Sunday afternoon games, Hy-Vee Infield seats for $10. They're available at royals.com, at Hy-Vee stores, the stadium box office or by calling 1-800-6ROYALS.

The same deal applies for Tuesday night's game when Clayton Kershaw, coming off his no-hitter, pitches for the Dodgers in the Interleague game. The offer expires at 6 p.m. CT on Saturday.

Yost doubts that the upswing in interest and national notoriety will have any effect on his players. Although most of them have not yet experienced postseason play, they at least had the mini-chase of a Wild Card spot late last season.

That, incidentally, was the last time there was an in-season sellout -- on Sept. 21 against Texas. The only other sellout other than Opening Day last year was on Aug. 10 against Boston.

"They're handling it fine. They were great last year at the end of the year," Yost said. "Again, we still haven't reached the halfway point. We've still got a l-o-n-g way to go. So, we just stay focused on today. We used to say in Atlanta, 'Today's the most important game of the year,' and that holds true every single day.

"It's great to be in first place. When you come into the season, your goal is to get to first place and your next goal is to stay there. There's still a lot of baseball to play, we still have to continue to play good baseball, but I like where we're at right now."

Yost and the Royals arrived home from Detroit late Thursday evening so there wasn't much chance to sample how the KC populace was reacting to the rise in the standings. Well, Yost did make one stop.

"I went to the store and the guy at the meat counter was excited," he said.

Royals' master plan leads to replay success

KC@DET: Challenge overturns safe at second in the 4th

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals are really getting the hang of this instant replay challenge thing. Going into the homestand on Friday night, they had a 13-6 record in reviews, including five straight successes.

Manager Ned Yost gives the credit to Bill Duplissea, who views the replays sent from New York. Duplissea had been the team's bullpen catcher for eight years and in 2012 added the role of Major League advance scouting coordinator.

"That's all Billy. We call and Billy's got the view of it and he tells us what he sees. And it's up to me to make my mind up," Yost said.

After 72 games, the procedure is to the point where Yost usually knows if he has grounds for a challenge before he leaves the dugout.

"I try not to delay the game," Yost said. "I don't want to run all the way out there and not have it go our way, and then run back in. So, I try to stay as close as I can to the dugout because a lot of the times, we'll have the answer before I've got to go out."

There are some cases, though, when Yost can't wait.

"If it takes too long, I've got to go out because I can't let the hitter get in the box and the pitcher get on the mound," Yost said. "Or if it's the third out and they're in the field, I've got to stop 'em right then and there. But if we're in the field, I tell my pitcher stay off the mound until I get what I need."

Yost just waits for a simple thumbs-up or thumbs-down signal from bench coach Don Wakamatsu, who'll be on the phone with Duplissea in the viewing room.

"We don't abuse it. We work it the way I think it's supposed to be worked," Yost said. "I just want to get the call right -- either way."