After a three-run bottom of the first and a pair of quick 1-2-3 innings from Danny Duffy, the casual observer could justifiably have surmised that the Kansas City Royals were well on their way to an easy Sunday win over the Chicago Pale Hoes.
That casual observer would have been wrong.
The Royals got on the board early as Alcides Escobar led off the proceedings with a walk--noteworthy in that this was the first time the Royals' shortstop did not put the first pitch the Royals saw in play this season. [The preceding fact may or may not have been true.]
Indicating that an entrance into Bizarro World may have taken place, Ben Zobrist followed the Escobar walk with a strikeout in which zero pitches were taken for balls. The red-hot Eric Hosmer stroked a one-out double to the gap in right, pushing Escobar across the dish for the first run of the game.
With RBI-machine Kendrys Morales at the plate and Hosmer eagerly poised at second base, Chicago starter Jose Quintana offered up a 93-MPH fastball over the outer half of the plate. Morales crushed it, hanging dong to the opposite field with authority in a park that does not favor the bold who chase the oppo-dong. Eventually Quintana escaped the inning, but the Royals held a 3 - 0 lead heading to the second.
As the young back end of the Royals' rotation has been guilty of far too often, Duffy went from lights-out to unable to find the strike zone with the flip of an unseen switch. Where his off-speed offerings confounded Pail Hosers in the first two innings, the bottom third of the lineup suddenly found themselves beneficiaries of a pitcher who could not command those pitches to approach the zone.
He walked Carlos Sanchez on five pitches. He hit Tyler Flowers with a curve that considerably missed its mark. He dug himself a 3-0 hole against the struggling Gordon Beckham before fighting back to a full count only to allow an RBI-single to the homophobic infielder. Facing Adam Eaton, Duffy missed Salvador Perez's target low and inside, uncorking a wild pitch that allowed both runners to advance a station. After finally recording the first out of the top of the third with an Adam Eaton strikeout, he yielded a soft liner to center from the bat of Alexei Ramirez.
As quickly as the Royals had built a three-run lead in the first, Duffy gave those runs back to the South Side nine.
Eventually, Duffy escaped the top of the third with outs in the air from Jose Abreu and Melky Cabrera. Unfortunately, after Avisail Garcia went after Duffy's first offering and flew out harmlessly to right, Trayce Thompson and Carlos Sanchez went right back to work, singling the Royals' southpaw out of the game in a mere 3.1 innings.
While the inverse relationship between the Royals' ineffective rotation and their herculean bullpen could not have been expected to be as intrinsically interwoven into the fabric of Kansas City's wild success as it has this season, the bullpen was never not going to be a strength of this team.
Ned Yost fingered Kris Medlen to relieve the scuffling Duffy of his duties. He recorded just ten outs and took 73 pitches to accomplish the feat.
As hoped, Medlen went to work.
Given the unenviable task of inheriting a pair of fleet-footed runners on the corners, Medlen struck out Tyler Flowers on a nasty two-seamer with boring action and followed by inducing a routine fly ball to Jarrod Dyson in center.
After Adam Eaton worked a dubious full-count walk to lead off the fifth, Medlen picked him off of first--or more precisely, Eaton couldn't maintain his balance upon returning to the bag and Hosmer maintained glove contact with Eaton as he lost touch with first base. A Ramirez grounder to short and Abreu pop up to first later, Medlen walked back to the dugout, 3-3 game intact.
With the Royals' offense asleep for the better part of the second, third, and fourth innings, they finally put together another flurry of production in the fifth.
Jarrod Dyson led off the fifth with a single. As Alcides Escobar followed Dyson in the order and no outs had been recorded, even the youngest and greenest of Royals fans knows what happened next. Following the preordained sacrifice bunt, Ben Zobrist hit a single, plating Dyson with ease. Eight pitches later, Eric Hosmer and Kendrys Morales had lined out and struck out successively, but the Royals enjoyed a 4 - 3 lead heading to the top of the sixth.
Medlen returned to face Cabrera, Garcia, and Thompson and finished them off with ten quick pitches highlighted by a nice Hosmer snagged chopper at first.
Nursing just a one-run lead, the Royals drove Quintana from the game with a one-on/two-out Zobrist walk on the hurler's 108th pitch of the afternoon. Zach Duke entered and walked Eric Hosmer on a full count to load the bases, but Morales grounded out to end the threat without a Royal run.
With Kelvin Herrera entering in the eighth to protect a one-run lead, Adam Eaton led off with a double. Ramirez grounded to Escobar on the infield grass, ceding the out but advancing Eaton to third on the play. Abreu ripped a sharp grounder to Moustakas, who dived to snare the grounder, glared Eaton back to third, and rifled the throw to first preventing the game-tying run.
Of course, the lead was preserved for just one more pitch as Melky Cabrera poked a grounder through the left side of the infield. Four runs apiece.
Just as they did in the bottom of the seventh, the Royals had baserunners aplenty in the bottom of the eighth.
With Jake Petricka taking the mound in Zach Duke's stead, Alex Rios followed a Salvador Perez ground-out with a single to left. Paulo Orlando scorched a two-seamer to the gap in left-center, but it took one bounce and landed in the stands, preventing Rios from scoring on what would have been a certain RBI and robbing Orlando of the possibility of taking third on the play.
With runners at second and third, Omar Infante chopped a toothless grounder to first baseman Jose Abreu, who rightly chose to come home with the throw but delivered the throw too high for replacement catcher Geovany Soto to make the tag.
Once again the Royals held the lead, 5 - 4.
After Infante stole second, Jarrod Dyson drew a nine-pitch walk, but Escobar grounded into a double play, limiting the Royals' offensive output to just one run in consecutive frames that saw them load the bases.
Thankfully for the Royals, Ryan Madson--whose duties were needed in the ninth as Holland and Davis were unavailable--did what Herrera proved unable to do in the eighth: shut down the Pail Hosiery in order.
After a road trip that produced less-than-desirable results, the Royals came home and swept the Pail Hoes. With the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins both falling today, the Royals own an 11.5 game lead in the American League Central. Their 66-44 record marks the first time that the Royals have been 22 games over .500 since they started the 2009 season 18-11.
The worry after yet another game in which the Royals' back three-fifths of the rotation faltered is: what happens when Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez are not pitching?