The Royals made their money last year by keeping games close into the late innings, and then riding a dominant bullpen and a great late-game offense to a high winning percentage. On Friday night, it was exactly that, even with a slight hiccup thrown into the middle, that lifted the Royals to a 4-3 win over the Twins to open a three-game series.
After wiggling out of a two-on, one-out jam in the first inning, Yordano Ventura surrendered an RBI double to Kurt Suzuki in the second. Suzuki was thrown out at third base while attempting to advance, but his hit scored Eduardo Escobar, who reached on Ventura's second walk.
In the bottom half of the second, the Royals put together a two-out rally that would make the 2015 team proud. with none on and two out, Salvador Perez singled and moved to third on Omar Infante's double. With two in scoring position, Raymond Fuentes came through with his first base hit of the season, a line drive single into right field to plate both runs.
The 2-1 Royals advantage held for several innings. Twins starter Ervin Santana settled in to complete a quality start. Ventura worked through the next three innings without issue. However, he ran into trouble in the top of the sixth. With his pitch count approaching 90, it was clear that he was on a short leash, but Ned Yost still allowed Ventura to face Joe Mauer and Miguel Sano. They both worked walks, and Ventura was pulled after 98 pitches.
Luke Hochevar was called upon to extinguish the fire, but after getting the first two men he faced out, he gave up a game-tying RBI single to Escobar.
Yordano Ventura's final line: just two hits in 5.0 innings, as well as six strikeouts, but a career-high tying six walks played into both of Minnesota's runs.
With the game entering the late innings, the Royals had to feel good about their chances. Last year, no team fared better in games that were tied entering the seventh inning than Kansas City. A clutch offense and a dominant bullpen will do that to a team, and Friday night was the 2016 squad's first chance to execute that gameplan.
The team did manage to follow that blueprint for a victory, but it was a bit more up-and-down than a lot of the 2015 contests were. Kelvin Herrera pitched the seventh inning, working around a one-out double by Brian Dozier to keep the game tied at two. In Kansas City's half of the seventh, Kendrys Morales struck out with the bases loaded to end a major scoring threat for the Royals.
In the eighth, Joakim Soria served up the first homer of Byung Ho Park's MLB career. The towering blast sailed into the left-center fountains, breaking the tie and giving Minnesota a 3-2 advantage. Soria avoided further damage after stranding Kurt Suzuki at third after he tripled later in the inning.
Immediately, Kansas City fought back when Alex Gordon opened the home half of the eighth with a single. Salvador Perez followed that up with... a triple, his first since September 2014, to tie the score just minutes after Minnesota had seized control of the contest. Then, Omar Infante whacked a sacrifice fly to deep left-center to re-give Kansas City a 4-3 lead.
As everyone expected, after two games, Reymond Fuentes and Omar Infante are tied for the team lead in RBIs.
Wade Davis looked as if he might throw another twist into an already wild game, as he got Brian Dozier 0-2 before ultimately walking him. Dozier then stole second base with nobody out, but that's when the Royals' closer locked down. He struck out Danny Santana for the first out. He threw out the head runner after Dozier got caught in a rundown on Joe Mauer's comebacker. Then, to end the game, he struck out Eddie Rosario. After all, it is called "The Wade Davis Experience."
Despite giving up the homer, Soria (1-0) earned the win, his first in a Royal uniform since July 23, 2011. Kevin Jepsen (0-1) took the loss for the Twins. Davis earned his second save in two chances.
This is what makes the Royals so dangerous. After one of their best relievers gave up a tie-breaking home run, Kansas City needed just 10 pitches to score two runs and re-take the lead.
With the win, Kansas City still hasn't had a losing record since July 22, 2014. That is the longest streak in baseball.
Random stat: the Twins worked eight walks against Royals pitching. Kansas City is fortunate that Minnesota managed just six hits.
Tomorrow: the series continues on Saturday when Ian Kennedy makes his Royals debut. He will be opposed by soft-tossing lefty Tommy Milone, who is also making his first start of the 2016 season.