In the first stateside skirmish between the World Champion Kansas City Royals and Vladimir Putin's squadron out of St. Petersburg, the Devil Rays, the forces for freedom came out on top.
For the hometown Royals on this day memorializing fallen veterans, there were a few early nail-biting moments, but they were nearly all self-created.
Ian Kennedy ran into big issues with his control in both the first and fifth innings, where he walked two and three batters respectively. He needed 29 pitches to get through the first and 35 pitches to get through the fifth. He loaded the bases in each frame, doing so while only one Soviet reached by putting a ball in play.
That he escaped two bases-loaded jams in those innings spoke more to dumb luck than anything else. Both high-leverage situations were created entirely by Kennedy. Both could have ended disastrously, but instead no runs came across the plate.
In fact the only run charged to Kennedy came in the fourth and was of the unearned variety. Logan Morrison put a charge into a first-pitch fastball, lining to right field. Thanks to Paulo Orlando playing it immediately off the wall, a hit that could have gone for extra bases was cut to just a single. With Steven Souza batting, Morrison broke for second. Drew Butera popped to his feet and delivered a throw just to the third base side of the bag. The throw was in the dirt, but Whit Merrifield probably should have fielded it cleanly even if Morrison would have taken the bag safely. Morrison advanced to third on the error charged to Butera. A one-out infield grounder later, the Devil Rays scored their first run of the night, bringing the game to a 1-1 tie.
Though it seemed as though his night might be over at 98 pitches with Joakim Soria warming in the pen during the home half of the fifth, Kennedy came back out for the sixth. Somehow he finished the frame in just nine pitches, coming out with the "quality start" while walking five, striking out six, and allowing three hits.
As for the Royals' scoring, Kendrys Morales started things off by getting aboard with a one-out walk in the second. Paulo Orlando, whose dance with the BABIP Fairy seems like it will never end, doubled to center to move the stone-footed Morales to third, and Cheslor Cuthbert punched a one-out ground-out to second to score Morales from third.
After the Rays tied things up in the fourth, the Royals got their one-run lead back in the bottom of the fifth, when Jarrod Dyson blooped a should-have-been single into shallow left center. With Dyson blazing out of the box and a momentary miscue by left fielder Brandon Guyer, Dyson had a double. Dyson broke for third on a 3-1 pitch to Drew Butera, and Hank Conger airmailed a throw into left field, allowing Dyson to trot home. The old Dyson adage "That's what speed do" seems to apply here.
Soria pitched a clean seventh and turned things over to Kelvin Herrera. Normally this would spell the end of the game, as Herrera has been as close to shut down as a reliever can be this season, usurping Wade Davis as the unstoppable force in the pen.
Herrera allowed a one-out single to Steve Pearce that found its way past Cuthbert at third. He took a Morrison comebacker off the leg but flipped it to Hosmer for the second out of the inning. St. Petersburg put on the hit-and-run with Souza at the plate, and with Cuthbert coming to the bag to cover for a throw at third, the ball went past where Cuthbert would have had an easy play on the ball. The run scored, and the Devil Rays knotted the game up at two runs apiece.
Herrera struck out Corey Dickerson to end the inning, but the damage was done. Herrera allowed two modest ground-ball singles that could just have easily been outs, but with the Russians in town, something nefarious seemed to be afoot. Still, the Devil Rays had only tied the game, and if there's anything that has been established about the Royals, it's that they've got Devil Magic on their side.
After Drew Butera made Rays' reliever Erasmo Ramirez labor through nine pitches before retiring him, Alcides Escobar smoked a one-out grounder back up the middle for a single. With Conger catching and therefore attempting to throw out a runner on the basepaths - something he had only done three times in his previous 60 chances - Escobar broke for second on his first opportunity. Whit Merrifield hacked and sent a grounder through the right side that Escobar had to hurdle en route to third.
With runners on the corners, Lorenzo Cain fought off six pitches before going the other way past the drawn-in second baseman Taylor Motter. Escobar raced home to put the Royals back up by a run, 3-2. With Ramirez still hurling for the Soviet squad, Hosmer summoned all of his might and hung dong in the most messianic of ways, depositing a fastball for freedom into the fountains in deep right-center.
Having built a 6-2 lead, the Royals put two more aboard against rookie reliever Ryan Garton, thanks in part to an error by defensive replacement Brad Miller at short, but their threat ended without any more runs scored.
Having secured a four-run lead, the Royals turned to Chien-Ming Wang to close out the ninth. Wang struck Desmond Jennings out on three pitches, got Conger on a deep fly ball out to the warning track in center, and got Guyer to ground out to third to end the night.
Though it was just one game, the blow to Putin's Russia as they tried to score a symbolic win on Memorial Day cannot be understated. The St. Petersburg Devil Rays did the unthinkable, coming back on the Royals' bullpen, but it did not matter as the Royals piled on in the eighth inning. The Russians will have to go back to their makeshift field ops base to redraw a plan that might work against the World Champion Kansas City Royals.
With the huge win for freedom, the Royals also extended their lead in the American League Central to 1.5 games as both Chicago and Cleveland lost today.