With Cleveland, Detroit, Seattle, and Houston all losing ahead of them, the World Champion Kansas City Royals went into the rubber match with the Boston Red Sox with the chance to gain ground on the bulk of the teams closest to them in the playoff chase. Heading into the top of the sixth, it looked like the Royals were not going to capitalize on the opportunity. After that crazy frame, it seemed highly unlikely that the Royals wouldn’t.
After stranding two in the first, the Royals jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second, taking advantage of Eduardo Rodriguez’s absent command. On the first pitch of the second, Salvador Perez jumped all over a fastball in, rocketing it over the Green Monster. Alex Gordon punched Rodriguez’s next offering through the hole on the right side of the infield. Alcides Escobar sat through a plate appearance as the Boston southpaw struggled to find the zone, earning his biennial walk. After a Raul Mondesi sacrifice bunt moved them into scoring position, Paulo Orlando sent a sacrifice fly to center to plate Gordon. Cheslor Cuthbert bailed Rodriguez out, striking out despite jumping up in the count 2-0 and never seeing a strike thrown in the at-bat.
For his part, Yordano Ventura got around early struggles thanks in large part to induced double plays in each of the first three frames. Ventura’s velocity was at peak levels, routinely throwing 98 and 99 MPH early on, but to say he was missing his spots would be an understatement. Perez’s targets were so far from where Ventura’s pitches ended up that the casual viewer might have wondered if Perez was playing a game with the Red Sox. That no one knew where Ventura’s fastball was going didn’t seem to matter much, as his misses fit the effectively wild bill.
Well, it didn’t matter much until the bottom of the fourth, when Yordano Ventura grooved a 96-MPH fastball to David Ortiz who hung a violent dong to the deepest part of the ballpark. The leadoff Ortiz shot cut the Royals’ lead to 2-1.
In the next at-bat, Mookie Betts grounded a foul ball into the dirt in front of Perez. The ball came up and glanced off Perez’s chest protector, hitting him in the jaw under the mask. Head trainer Nick Kenney came out and took a look at Perez, and after a few tension-filled minutes, Perez declared himself well enough to continue playing.
In the fifth, the defense let Ventura down. Leading off, Chris Young (the outfielder) chopped one to third. Cheslor Cuthbert had the ball glance off his glove on what would have been a close play, putting Young on first as the grounder skittered off into foul territory. Sandy Leon followed with a fly ball to the deep center, which Paulo Orlando trotted back for only to not watch the ball into his glove. The error put runners at second and third with no outs. Ventura walked Jackie Bradley Jr. to load the bases. Brock Holt sent a soft chopper to Hosmer, who was playing in and would have had a play at the plate if the ball had been hit harder. Instead the second Red Sox run crossed the plate while Ventura got his first out of the inning.
A Bogaerts single later, the Red Sox led 4-2, and Ventura was on his way to the dugout with Matt Strahm entering to face Ortiz. Strahm induced a grounder that was turned for the Royals’ fourth double play of the game, but the defense had dug the Royals a two-run hole.
After three quiet innings, the Royals offense got back to work against Eduardo Rodriguez, as Hosmer led off the sixth with a walk and Kendrys Morales yanked a ground-rule double into the corner in right to put the pair in scoring position for Salvador Perez. Perez swung aggressively at the southpaw’s offerings, fouling off anything Rodriguez put near the plate before working from an 0-2 count to a full count. On the eighth pitch of the at-bat, Perez watched as Rodriguez missed up and in to load the bases up for Alex Gordon. Gordon didn’t repeat his heroics from a week ago, popping out to shallow left and leaving each Royal in place.
Reliever Matt Barnes entered with one out but the bases juiced. Alcides Escobar hit a sky high chopper off the plate for an infield single, plating Hosmer to cut the Boston lead to 4-3. In the unlikeliest development of the night, Raul Mondesi tore a screamer to the deepest part of the park, shooting a 420-foot triple off the wall that sent him screaming around the basepaths, missing a grand slam by about a foot, putting the Royals up 6-4.
Barnes followed up the triple by hitting Paulo Orlando in the forearm. Cuthbert squibbed a weak grounder back to Barnes, but any ball getting put into play was going to send Mondesi racing home. Rather than take the out at first, Barnes tried to get the run at the plate with a barehanded toss. Mondesi evaded the tag, and Cuthbert reached on the a fielder’s choice.
In the longest inning in the history of the world, Lorenzo Cain laced a single off the Monster, pushing Orlando across the plate. Cain’s single drove Barnes from the game, failing to record an out. Robbie Ross Jr. - a Junior because every single Red Sox player was named after his father apparently - entered with the Royals up 8-4, runners at first and second. Hosmer, batting for the second time in the then 30-minute long top of the sixth, ripped a single high off the Monster. Lorenzo Cain was off to the races from the moment the ball was struck. Never slowing to stop at third despite Mike Jirschele holding up the stop sign, Cain raced home, taking advantage of the throw from Young coming to second, beating the throw home and putting the eighth Royal run on the board in the frame.
Morales chopped a single to left to continue the onslaught. Feeling beneficent, Perez chopped a grounder to third for the second out of the inning. Gordon, the 13th Royal to come to the plate in the inning, grounded out to Brock Holt at second to finally end the inning, but the Royals had come from down two to lead 10-4 heading to the bottom of the sixth thanks to their biggest inning of the season.
Strahm made quick work of the Sox in the bottom of the sixth, striking out Mookie Betts on appeal and getting two routine grounders to send the Royals back to the plate. Ross followed with a one-two-three inning of his own.
Having thrown just 23 pitches and in line for the win if the Royals held the lead, Strahm came back out to start the seventh. He coaxed an infield fly from Chris Young before walking Sandy Leon after working the count full. He got another infield fly ball from Bradley and a routine grounder to second to close out the seventh.
Peter Moylan came in in the eighth and induced grounders like the good sidearmer he is, working around a Mookie Betts infield single that Hosmer saved from being a Cheslor Cuthbert throwing error. The now shutdown reliever Joakim Soria made quick work of the trio of Travis Shaw and Chris Young before Sandy Leon reached on a flare to left that Gordon nearly caught for the third out of the frame. Dealing with a suddenly questionable strike zone, Soria walked Bradley to put a second runner aboard, but Soria rediscovered his form and struck out Brock Holt for his second K of the frame, shoring up the 10-4 win.
The red hot Royals have now won 17 of their last 21. The win keeps them three games back from the Orioles but closed the gap on the other Wild Card spot that the Red Sox currently hold to 3.5 games. They are tied with Seattle and Houston now and trail the Tigers by just a game. What seemed impossible on August 5 is unexpectedly a reality. The Royals are in the hunt and just took two straight series on the road against other playoff contenders. They head home tonight to face the New York Yankees in a three-game series. The Yankees are breathing down the Royals’ necks, but somehow it feels like that won’t matter to these Royals. Hell, it almost feels like the 5.5 game lead that Cleveland holds in the A.L. Central may not matter.