One year ago today, the Kansas City Royals had lost four straight games, including a home sweep to the hands of the dubious Houston Astros. It headed to Toronto for a series against the then-AL best Blue Jays, one day removed from changing hitting coaches. Jose Reyes committed an error on what would have been a game-ending groundout, allowing the Royals to tie the game and eventually win it in extras. Dayton Moore has referred to the improbable Toronto rally as the saving point in the 2014 Royals season, and we all know what happened from there.
After coming into today with another four-game losing streak, the Royals showed the resiliency they've shown for the last calendar year in an 8-4 victory over the Chicago Cubs.
On the first pitch of the game, Alcides Escobar whacked a 95 mph fastball into the left-field bleachers for his second career leadoff home run. If you were wearing a blindfold, you would have thought the game was being played at Kauffman Stadium from the loud roar of the crowd that followed the bomb. Ryan Lefebrve would later say that it was the most Royals fans he ever recalled seeing for a road game. Thousands of Kansas City faithful made the trip to the Windy City to see the Royals play a rare game at Wrigley Field (the franchise's first since 2001), and it took exactly one pitch for the team to match their biggest lead from the Yankees series.
In the second inning, Alex Gordon jolted a solo homer that also landed in the right-field bleachers. His sixth big fly of the year was promptly thrown back by a Cubs fan who had caught it, but as Lefebrve would say, "you can't throw the run back."
So many times this year it feels like right when an opponent scores, Kansas City answers right back in the next inning. After the Cubs' Kris Bryant cut the deficit in half with a two-out RBI double in the third, Salvador Perez hit the third Royals home run of the day in the next frame. His sixth bomb of the year came on a sweeping breaking ball that dove down out of the zone, and Perez golfed it into the same bleachers that landed the first two homers. Two innings later, Eric Hosmer doubled home Lorenzo Cain to stretch the lead to 4-1.
Edinson Volquez rolled through the Cubs lineup for the first five innings, allowing only one run despite being taxed for a lot of pitches. He ran out of gas in the sixth, allowing a leadoff single and then falling behind Jorge Soler 3-0. Volquez hung a fastball, Soler didn't miss, and the Cubs cut the lead to 4-3 on one swing. Volquez' final line wound up not looking as good as it could've had he retired one more hitter. He allowed six hits, one walk, and three runs. He also struck out a season-high nine batters, and his 109 pitches thrown are his most since August 29, 2014. He had a strong strike rate, firing 72 of his 109 offerings for strikes.
After six innings, the Royals had a one-run lead, and the Cubs would have to plate a run off the vaunted "HDH" trio of relievers to tie the game. It took two hitters to do just that, as Addison Russell pounded a Kelvin Herrera changeup for a game-tying solo home run. It was the fifth home run of the game and just the second long ball surrendered by Herrera since May 2013.
Once again, however, the Royals proved resilient by immediately answering back. Mike Moustakas gritted out an impressive plate appearance by drawing a leadoff walk. Against flamethrower Pedro Strop, Lorenzo Cain rocked a double into right-center field, and the hustling Moustakas galloped home from first to score the go-ahead run. Following an intentional walk and two strikeouts, Omar Infante benefitted from two Dexter Flower misplays - in the same play. Infante struck a liner into center field right at Fowler, but the Cubs' outfielder dropped the ball. He then proceeded to fall down, and as the ball rolled past him, both Cain and Hosmer scored to give Kansas City some insurance. Escobar added an RBI single in the 9th to extend the lead to 8-4.
Wade Davis blew through the eighth inning in Wade Davis-like fashion, striking out all three hitters that he faced. Davis has now thrown 30 straight scoreless innings including the 2014 postseason. Greg Holland handled the ninth inning, despite it not being a save situation. He struck out two of the three men he opposed in a 1-2-3 inning. It was reminiscent of last year; Herrera, Davis, and Holland retired the last seven Cubs with six strikeouts. In all, Kansas City pitchers whiffed a season-best 15 batters. Herrera (1-1) earned his first win of 2015.
The Royals scored three runs in the eighth inning on just one hit. It's that style of play that got the team to game 7 of the World Series last year, and after trying to match the Yankees by swinging for the fences all week, Kansas City got back to playing its natural style on Friday. The Royals averaged fewer than seven hits per contest in the Bronx. They banged out 11 in the series opener against the Cubs, including five extra-base hits, which exceeded the three-game total of four in New York.
Kansas City is 29-18 on the season. It'll go for the series tomorrow when Yordano Ventura (3-4, 4.64 ERA) opposes Tsuyoshi Wada (0-0, 2.70).
More random stats:
1. Wade Davis' season: 21 innings, 13 baseunners, 22 strikeouts, 0 runs. WHIP of 0.62. ERA of 0.00.
2. The Royals have secured a winning May for the first time ever. At least, that's what it feels like. They can do no worse than 14-12.
3. Kansas City is 5-1 in interleague games this year. It has a 20-6 mark since the beginning of 2014, including a 9-2 record in road games.
4. On May 29 last year, the Royals had zero players with six home runs. This year, they have four.
Well done, Royals fans. You travel well. And well done, Royals.