All year, hit-by-pitches have hurt the Royals in every way. This time, being beaned helped them earn a series win against their biggest rival.
Using a leadoff hit-by-pitch, Kansas City scored the go-ahead run late and managed to hang on by the fragments of their fingernails to steal a 2-1 victory in Detroit. In front of a national TV audience, the game took over five hours to complete including delays, but there will be nothing but smiles on the early-morning team flight down to Texas.
Alex Gordon led off the 10th by being nicked for the eighth time this season, and he advanced to second base when Angel Nesbitt unloaded a wild pitch. Salvador Perez, who was celebrating his 25th birthday, advanced Gordon to third with a groundout, and then Omar Infante lifted a sacrifice fly to deep center to break the tie.
The fun was only beginning in Detroit. This game featured everything.
Greg Holland, converter of 25 consecutive saves entering Sunday night, trotted into a quiet Comerica Park with a 2-1 lead. He yielded a leadoff single to Andrew Romine. Then he walked Anthony Gose. Then he walked Ian Kinsler, loading the bases with nobody out. Detroit's winning probability swelled to 75%, and the #3 spot in the Detroit lineup was due up.
Only it wasn't Miguel Cabrera. Hernan Perez, pinch hitting in Cabrera's spot after he was lifted for a pinch runner the previous inning, chopped a ground ball to third base. Christian Colon fired home for the force, and Salvador Perez gunned a throw to first to complete the 5-2-3 double play. Following another walk to Victor Martinez to re-load the bases, Holland fanned Yoenis Cespedes to end the game and nail down his sixth save.
Oh yeah, and all of that happened after a rain delay that lasted nearly two hours, and eight innings of nail-biting baseball preceded that.
The game left the majority of Royals fans passed out on the floor and gasping for air, but when all is said and done, it stands as a major victory for Kansas City. It climbed to a season-best nine games over .500 at 20-11, and its 1.5 game lead over the Tigers also matches the highest it's been in 2015. After struggling so mightily against the Tigers last year, the Royals are now 4-3 against Detroit this season.
It was a terrific pitching duel between Chris Young and Shane Greene, which is certainly what ESPN had in mind when they booked this game for Sunday Night Baseball at the beginning of the season. Together, they combined for 14 innings and yielded just eight baserunners. They pitched to contact, recording 36 of their 42 outs on balls in play. The pace was brisk, and the drama was low. For the first time in a long time, the Royals were involved in a game that was low-leverage for its near entirety.
Making his second start of the year, Chris Young was terrific once again. After throwing five hitless innings against the Tigers back on May 1, Young stifled Detroit once again on Sunday, hurling six innings of three-hit ball. He allowed just one unearned run and struck out three. Impressively, he didn't walk a batter. Young's ERA on the season fell to just 0.78, and his WHIP of 0.52 is even more staggering. In 23 innings this year, Young has allowed just 12 baserunners. He's likely to start at least one more game for the Royals; his temporary spot in the rotation comes up again on Friday when Kansas City hosts the Yankees at Kauffman Stadium.
Greene was just as fantastic as Young, yielding four hits in eight innings. He didn't walk any batters while striking out three. Aside from a two-pitch stint in the second frame, he was near flawless throughout his 96-pitch outing. He ultimately earned a no decision, but after allowing 20 runs in his last three starts that spanned just 11 innings, it was definitely a match-up that many expected the Royals to exploit.
Kansas City drew first blood when Kendrys Morales and Alex Gordon opened the second inning with consecutive doubles. That would be the only two baserunners the Royals would earn until the seventh inning as Greene began a run of retiring 15 straight hitters, 13 of which were ground ball outs. Eric Hosmer broke the chain with a lead-off single in the seventh but was unable to advance. With two outs in the eighth, Jarrod Dyson lined a triple to the deepest part of Comerica Park, but like Hosmer, he was stranded when the inning ended in a popup.
Detroit tied the game in the third inning when Anthony Gose reached with a bunt single, but for the second time in three nights, a Kansas City defender made a dubious fielding decision while handling a bunt. Instead of smartly putting the baseball in his pocket, Omar Infante decided to wing the throw behind his back, and the toss sailed about 10 feet over the head of Eric Hosmer. Gose took off for second base, and sure enough on the very next pitch, Ian Kinsler singled him in to tie the game.
The game remained without a change in score for hours. Ryan Madson and Wade Davis worked hitless seventh and eighth innings to keep the score tied. For Davis, it was his 22nd consecutive scoreless appearance. Including playoffs, he's currently riding a 24 inning scoreless streak. In other words, he continues to be a robot.
Detroit closer Joakim Soria worked a ninth inning that was unfathomably frustrating for Royals fans. Lorenzo Cain led off with a walk. Ned Yost opted not to send one of the fastest players in the majors a single time for the rest of the inning. Eric Hosmer swung at what should have been ball four and flew out, and Kendrys Morales, despite being shifted on so extremely that he could have driven a semi through the left side of the infield, opted to hack at Soria curveballs. The result was an inning-ending double play.
That's when the sky poured down on Comerica Park, and when play finally resumed, Jason Frasor (1-0) worked through a heart-pounding bottom of the ninth frame. With fans griping about how Yost was opting not to use closer Greg Holland, the Tigers used a walk and a single to put two on with nobody out. Frasor then induced consecutive popups to bring up Nick Castellanos, who walked to load the bases. James McCann stepped to the plate and fouled off pitch after pitch before ultimately flying out to Cain.
Just in case we hadn't had enough fun for the night, that's when the 10th inning began.
Jason Frasor and Greg Holland threw 61 pitches. Just 31 were strikes. They allowed seven baserunners, and none of them scored. #Royals— Ryan Landreth (@ryan_landreth) May 11, 2015
One thing is very clear: the Royals and Tigers are going to be neck-and-neck for the entire season. Unlike last year, these games aren't blowouts. These are two even teams that each have about a 50% chance of taking the AL Central title. Every series between them will be just as intense as this one, and that's exactly the way it should be.
That being said, the Royals made a bold statement this weekend that if they stay healthy (and not suspended), they're the team to beat.
Two weeks ago, we were beginning a stretch of 13 games against exclusively the Indians and Tigers. The Royals were facing multiple suspensions and a handful of injuries. Kansas City responded by going an impressive 8-5, leapfrogging the Tigers into first place along the way. After 19 straight games against AL Central opponents, the Royals will finally get to play some rarer foes. They'll also do it by bringing in the best record in the American League.
Up next: Kansas City heads to Arlington for a four-game set with the Texas Rangers. At 13-18, the Rangers have the third-worst winning percentage in the American League, so the Royals should be unhappy with anything less than at least a split. Danny Duffy (2-1, 4.55 ERA) is coming off a disastrous start where he recorded just three outs, so he'll look to rebound while taking on Colby Lewis (2-2, 2.61). Also, the Royals will return to Fox Sports Kansas City after two consecutive national TV games.
One more stat, via BlitzAce71 in the comments: The Royals' 20-11 start is the second best 31-game start in franchise history (tying 2003 and 1973). Only 1976's 21-10 start was better.