Winners of just three of their previous eleven games, the World Champion Kansas City Royals entered action with the first-place Cleveland baseball team donning a racist caricature on their hats and sleeves trailing said team by eight games. With their rotation on a bit of a roll but their offense reeling and in serious need of some iron to treat its critical case of anemia, the Royals faced a daunting foe in the form of Corey Kluber.
Tasked to try to keep the Royals in the game facing a first-place team with an offense supporting him that has not done much lately, Edinson Volquez got the start for the Royals.
After striking out the first two Cleveland batters he faced and tricking the world into thinking he could breeze through the lineup of the first-place Clevelanders, Edinson Volquez threw wunderkind Francisco Lindor a two-seamer that was in off the plate but belt high. Lindor turned quickly and violently on the pitch and smoked it just inside the foul pole. With a single stroke of the bat, Cleveland jumped out to a 1-0 lead.
For the vast majority of this game, it felt like that Lindor home run was enough to put down these Royals and send them nine games back in the standings.
The Royals’ answer to the Lindordong - coincidentally the name mythical creature that will torment children in Season Two of Stranger Things - did not come in the first as Alcides Escobar and Salvador Perez struck out around a Hosmer screaming lineout to center and a Kendrys Morales two-out walk. They also failed to answer in the bottom of the second. After a smooth top of the second from Volquez, Cheslor Cuthbert reached thanks to a Tyler Naquin misread on a bloop “single” to shallow right-center, but Paulo Orlando ripped a grounder right into to expectant mitt of the sure-handed Lindor, who started the double-play with ease.
With a one-run deficit feeling like it might be insurmountable for the run-starved Royals, Tyler Naquin singled to lead off the third. Then, deeming one on and no out a situation that was not quite sticky enough, Volquez walked Cleveland’s number nine hitter, the just-promoted-today Roberto Perez on four pitches. In a seven-pitch war of attrition with lead-off batter Carlos Santana, Volquez eventually coaxed a routine fly ball to shallow left center that Gordon was able to park under and hold the runners with the fear of his golden arm looming in the shadows. Jason Kipnis followed with a similarly lazy fly directly to Alex Gordon. Again, no one advanced. Lindor poked a grounder to short, and Volquez and the Royals were out of the jam unscathed but not for a lack of trying.
With one out in the home half of the third, Jarrod Dyson smoked a liner over a drawn-in Lonnie Chisenhall in right and raced to third standing up. After “lead-off hitter” Alcides Escobar struck out swinging on a pitch roughly six miles off the plate, Eric Hosmer drew a walk after being pitched way inside, seeing little to suggest that he was going to see a pitch to hit. Kluber bounced a two-seamer off Morales’s back foot to load the bases for Salvador Perez. With a chance to put the Royals up and up big, Perez took a rip at a high heater and chopped it into the grass for a slow roller to Juan Uribe at third, who bare-handed it and threw the stone-footed Perez out at first by a step on a ball that at least five Royals would have beaten out for an infield single, but the 2016 Royals are not the 2015 Royals, and these things don’t break for these Royals.
A bases-loaded jam successfully avoided by the Klubot, it felt like the Royals may not get another chance like this one.
As certainty set in that the Royals would not - nay, could not take advantage of opportunities granted them by Kluber, Volquez issued a one-out walk to Jose Ramirez and then induced a blooper to no man’s land in shallow left center. Ramirez aptly read that the ball was going to drop and took third on the Chisenhall blooper. Juan Uribe chopped a grounder to Cuthbert, who took the only out he could at first as Ramirez crossed the plate for the second Cleveland run of the night. Naquin grounded out to end the inning, but the Royals found themselves down 2-0.
With opportunities squandered and a Klubot on the mound, scoring two runs was an impossible feat.
None on and one out, Cheslor Cuthbert scorched one over Chisenhall’s head, eerily recalling the Dyson triple from an inning earlier in its placement. Perhaps emboldened by his fleet-footed teammate, Cuthbert tested the Cleveland defense and tried to stretch his double into a triple. Kipnis’s relay throw was on target, and even upon [a potentially inconclusive] review, Cuthbert was out at third. The Royals limped out of the fourth still wanting for a run.
Volquez worked around a one-out walk in the top of the fifth, and with two outs in the bottom of the inning Escobar and Hosmer singled to put two aboard for Kendrys Morales. But a shroud of doom and gloom hung thickly over Kauffman Stadium, and when pulling the bat off his shoulder came into the mix, Morales either inflicted self-harm, swung feebly over sliders in the dirt, or was rendered unable to hold up on a pitch that wasn’t particularly close to being a strike.
Another Royals’ threat went to die, and hope seemed to rush out of the stadium.
Firmly in what has generally been his danger zone this season, Edinson Volquez faced the heart of Cleveland’s order a third time with his pitch count on the wrong side of 80. He took care of Lindor with his fourth strikeout of the night, but Napoli roped a double to the gap in right-center. Fortunately for the Royals, Volquez got Jose Ramirez to fly out harmlessly to Gordon in left and got Chisenhall swinging for his fifth strikeout on his 96th pitch of the night.
The Royals did nothing with their half of the sixth. Since the Royals were already trailing and 96 pitches from Volquez was apparently not enough, he came back out to start seventh. Though not without its labors - including running two separate counts full after jumping ahead 1-2 - Volquez worked through the bottom third of the Cleveland batting order without allowing a runner as Luke Hochevar warmed in the pen.
With his pitch count at 112, Edinson Volquez’s night was clearly over. He struck out six, allowed four hits, and walked three. Of course, one of those hits was that first inning Lindordong, and one of the walks came around to score, so while a start in which just two runs were allowed should generally put a starting pitcher in line for a win, both of the runs he allowed were of his own making.
Kluber sent down the powerless duo of Paulo Orlando and Whit Merrifield but somehow put Jarrod Dyson aboard with a two-out walk. With Alcides Escobar actually taking the first pitch - a minor miracle - Dyson took off for second.
The likely success of Dyson stealing second put preemptive smiles upon the faces of every Royals fan watching both at home and at the K. But remember, this is 2016. It seemed as though the Devil had turned his crimson back on the Royals, damning their magic for likely lack of a suitable sacrifice. Roberto Perez popped to his feet and unleashed a throw to second. Defying the laws of physics and baseball and the entire United States legal code, the tag was applied to Dyson a fraction of a second before his hand made contact with the base. Dyson was out, though not without a heavy dose of incredulity at his having been caught.
Luke Hochevar faced the minimum in the top of the eighth and turned things over to a Kansas City offense that could only kindly have been referred to as anemic to this point.
With his calf overdue for a greasing, the Klubot gestured without emotion to his right leg after coming out prepared to pitch in the bottom of the eighth. A chink in his armor exposed, the Klubot gave way, opening a door for the beleaguered Royals.
Brian Shaw entered in Kluber’s stead and promptly stabbed at an Escobar grounder but failed to get it in his glove. Escobar sped to first, and Hosmer lined a single back up the middle to put the tying run aboard. With each of Morales’s feet ailing after fouling a ball off the top of his lead foot in the fifth, Ned Yost called Christian Colon’s number to bunt the runners up a station. With Colon squaring to bunt, Shaw missed away on the first two pitches. Needing to get one across, Shaw left one in the center of the plate. Colon offered the bunt for a third time and then withdrew the offer. He eased back and stroked one to deep center. With Naquin drawn in and completely tricked, Colon raced around the bases as Escobar and Hosmer scored with ease. Unfortunately, the Royals’ aggression on the basepaths was rewarded with the third out that they ran into, this one reminiscent of the Cuthbert one from fourth.
Perez popped out to short for the second out, but Gordon watched as Shaw proved unable to throw a single strike in four pitches. Gordon broke for second on a 2-2 offering to Cheslor Cuthbert and cruised in without a throw from Roberto Perez as Cuthbert held up on ball three. Shaw lost Cuthbert for his second consecutive walk, and his night was over after wresting the decision from Corey Kluber and leaving two Royals’ baserunners aboard in his wake.
Jeff Manship came in to attempt to clean up Brian Shaw’s mess. Orlando hooked a liner into left, and with two outs Gordon was off on contact. Jose Ramirez charged and fielded the ball off the bounce. He rifled the throw home, but Gordon nimbly slid around the tag at home. 3-2, Royals. Orlando advanced to second on the throw, putting Royals at second and third with two down. Manship followed the go-ahead Orlando single by losing Whit Merrifield with the count full, loading the bases for Jarrod Dyson.
Remember that stuff earlier about the Devil turning his back on Kansas City? Check your livestock Kansas City because something big got sacrificed.
With the bases juiced, Jarrod Dyson stepped to the plate. If there was a less likely person to deliver the Royals’ first grand slam of the season, it was Jarrod Dyson, who is many things but powerful ain’t one of ‘em. So what happened?
Jarrod Dyson turned on a Manship heater down but over the middle of the plate and sent it a few rows deep just inside the foul pole in right.
In the history of this franchise, there may not have been a less likely grand slam than this one. In recent Royals’ history, ridiculous comebacks have become commonplace, but a Jarrod Dyson grand slam - read that again, a Jarrod Dyson grand slam - has to jump to the top of the list as the weirdest of the weird.
Escobar ended the inning for the Royals, grounding out to third, but the Royals suddenly, nonsensically led 7-2.
With a five-run lead, Ned Yost decided that the Royals had enough of a cushion to let Chris Young pitch. Two outs but three baserunners and a run later, Ned Yost fingered Wade Davis to record the one-out save. Wade Davis did what Wade Davis does and closed out the win.
What felt certain to be a nine-game deficit in the American League Central in the middle of the eighth inning was just six outs later a seven-game deficit as the Royals laid in wait in the weeds, striking when the mighty Klubot exited the game. The Jekyll and Hyde home/road act that the Royals have been playing at looked to be carrying over from the road into this homestand, but a huge seven-run eighth put a notch back in the win column emphatically.