As a replacement for the worst qualified starting pitcher in the American League, the bar for an acceptable performance from Kris Medlen was about as low as such a bar could be.
When taking into account that this marked his first major-league start since September 27, 2013 after a second Tommy John surgery at the onset of the 2014 season, the expectations were lowered even further.
Things did not go smoothly for the former Braves' ace in the first. Manny Machado Escobarred the first pitch of the game, sending it to the gap in right-center. Pursuing at full speed, Lorenzo Cain got his glove on the ball and at first glance looked to have juggled and caught it while colliding with the wall. Machado was ruled out by the umpiring crew, but review showed that the ball left Cain's glove, hit the wall, and bounced back into his hand.
Rather than one pitch and one spectacular out, Medlen had Machado on second--much to Buck Showalter's chagrin, as Machado would likely have had a triple or better on the play were it ruled a hit in the first place--and the heart of the Orioles' order was coming up with the chance to drive in the first run of the game.
Parra grounded out, advancing Machado to third. Chasing the first pitch like Machado before him, Adam Jones smoked a 79-MPH curveball that was down and inside, crushing a 437-foot dong.
Medlen struck out Chris Davis and Steve Clevenger, looking and swinging, to end the inning, but the Orioles led 2 - 0.
The Royals did little on offense until the third inning when Eric Hosmer came up with Ben Zobrist and Lorenzo Cain on the corners after back-to-back one-out singles. Hosmer ripped a hot grounder to a drawn-in Chris Davis, hitting into a fielder's choice at second, but cutting the Orioles' lead to 2 - 1.
Unfortunately for the Royals, Baltimore answered the one-run call with a run of their own in the top of the fourth. Adam Jones led off with a single. Two batters later, Clevenger doubled him in, pushing the Oriole lead back to 3 - 1.
Medlen may have allowed three early runs, but he actually looked quite good. Jones's home run came on a solid pitch down and in, but the Orioles reached base safely just five times against Medlen. Working on a limit of just 60-70 pitches, Medlen allowed the home run, two doubles, and two singles. One double was the aforementioned Machado double. One of the singles was an infield single that only happened because Alcides Escobar delivered an off-line throw on a nice stop up the middle, pulling Hosmer off the bag to corral the ball. Throwing just 69 pitches, Medlen completed six innings of work, striking out six, and walking none with three earned runs allowed.
When Medlen completed the top of the sixth, the Royals trailed 3 - 1.
When the game was officially handed off to his relief at the onset of the seventh, the game was well in hand.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Royals saw Baltimore starter Ubaldo Jimenez for the third time. Lorenzo Cain grounded out to start the frame, but Eric Hosmer followed with a double to left. Kendrys Morales grounded out to second, advancing Eric Hosmer to third but recording the second out of the frame.
As is apparently contractually obligated, the Royals scoffed at the two outs on the scoreboard.
Mike Moustakas turned on an 0-1 fastball and scorched it off of the Crush sign below the fountains in right for his 14th hung dong of the season. Moustakas, whose sterling defense also robbed the Orioles of two hits, evened the score at three runs apiece.
Moving to the bottom of the order with two outs, the presumption that the scoring was done would have been an understandable one; however, that presumption would have been ill-founded on this Monday night.
Salvador Perez singled up the middle on a proffered full-count fastball. Wasting no time in attacking a struggling Jimenez, Rios jumped on a first-pitch slider and crushed a double to left. As the base-runner was Perez,
Dave Owen Mike Jirschele held Perez at third, putting runners at second and third for Omar Infante.
Facing out-machine Omar Infante, Jimenez got ahead in the count 0-2 on consecutive called strikes before offering a 91-MPH four-seamer to the Royals' second baseman.
Just a few days ago, Infante was mired in the second-longest hitless streak in franchise history.
Here, Infante obliterated the ball, sending it to the wall in dead center on one bounce. Perez and Rios scored easily, and Infante slid into third with a triple, only the throw to Machado was off-line and skittered off up the foul line away from home plate. Infante got back to his feet and high-tailed it home, succeeding in what he had failed to do in the ninth inning Sunday: rounding the bases on a ball he hit that never left the park.
Alcides Escobar followed Infante's little-league home run with a single, and the chess master Buck Showalter had finally seen enough (because neither Rios's double nor Infante's triple were sufficient to warrant such a move, apparently).
He turned to Brad Brach, heir to a candy empire, but Brach's offerings were too sweet for the Royals to pass up. Zobrist singled. Escobar went first-to-third on the play, but the throw came in to third, and the opportunistic Zobrist advanced to second on the throw.
With runners at second and third, Brach served up a single to Lorenzo Cain, and the Royals plated runs number six and seven of the inning. Deciding to end the frame mercifully, Eric Hosmer attempted to lay down a bunt up the third base line but placed it too close to the mound, closing out the sixth with the Royals leading 8 - 3.
The Royals' bullpen took over from there. Franklin Morales threw two perfect innings in relief, and Luke Hochevar struck out two in a perfect ninth to close out the win.
Every Royals position player reached base at least once with Omar Infante tripling twice. Cain and Zobrist each reached three separate times, and Alex Rios joined the multi-hit club with a single and a double.
It was just one game, but Medlen's start was encouraging. Facing a powerful Orioles' lineup (fourth in MLB in HR, fifth in SLG), Medlen limited the damage to three runs and allowed less than a base-runner per inning. Once the Royals work his pitch count back up to the 90-100 pitch range in another start or two, the Royals could be looking at a much stronger potential playoff rotation.
The Royals now sport a 76-48 record, making it the first time the Royals were 28 games over .500 since they went 18-11. Their 13-game lead is a lot of games, 13 in fact.