Opening Days don’t get much worse than this.
In a contrast of styles, Danny Duffy and Ervin Santana squared off against each other. Where Duffy relied on his overpowering stuff, Santana leaned on his defense to get him through. Only one of the two starters would factor in the decision. It wasn’t Danny Duffy.
Throughout the first six innings, the Royals struggled to get much going against former Royal Ervin Santana and the Twins’ defense. The Royals didn’t put a man on second base until the seventh. Santana was far from overpowering, but he induced a few pop-ups and was bailed out by his defense who turned three early would-have-been hits into outs.
Two of these gifts were courtesy of Byron Buxton, who seemed to be working as an avenger for every major-leaguer who was robbed of a hit by a Kansas City outfielder over the past four years. Buxton dived to rip a screaming liner from Alex Gordon out of the air to close out the top of the third. Then in the top of the fifth, Buxton misread a Paulo Orlando fly ball, started back before slipping in an attempt to reverse course, and miraculously closed in a hurry to dive and save Santana from another hit. Grouped with Brian Dozier’s nice scoop on a bunt-single attempt from Raúl Mondesí, Santana seemed to be tipping his cap at least once an inning.
Santana needed a sterling defense behind him because he was not striking out any Royals. He did not record a strikeout until the seventh inning. For his part, Danny Duffy was actually the beast that he was all 2016. Working a solid six innings, Duffy sent eight Twins down shaking their heads in disbelief. He walked three, but aside from one mistake, Duffy was outstanding.
After three innings of scoreless baseball, Mike Moustakas stepped into the box to face his former teammate leading off the fourth. After falling behind 0-2, Moustakas worked the count back to 2-2. With a proffered 93.4 MPH fastball from Santana, Moustakas hung dong in a most majestic fashion, depositing a ball into the stands in right.
Unfortunately for Danny Duffy and the Royals, the 1-0 Royals lead was short-lived.
Miguel Sanó matched Moustakas’s feat in the bottom of the fourth, obliterating a fastball down the middle and sending it into the second deck in left with an exit velocity of 113.8 MPH per Statcast.
The 1-1 stalemate felt like it might never end until the top of the seventh, when Lorenzo Cain worked a lead-off walk and stole second as Eric Hosmer struck out on a slider that was not close. With a real threat to break the tied game looming, Santana sent Salvador Pérez and Brandon Moss down swinging, neither offering at strikes to get sent trudging impotently back to the dugout.
Then the bottom of the seventh happened.
2016 relief wunderkind Matt Strahm entered and promptly ceded a seeing-eye ground-ball single to Jorge Polanco. Paul Molitor called upon Max Kepler to bunt Polanco over to second. Fortunately for Molitor and the Twins, Kepler beat the throw to first (upon review), and the Twins had runners at first and second with no outs. Eddie Rosario bunted straight to Moustakas, who turned and got the runner at first. With first open, Ned Yost made the call for the brand new no-pitch intentional walk with Royal-killer Brian Dozier coming to the plate.
At this point, the game was still tied at 1-1, but the bases were juiced with no outs.
Strahm then four-pitch walked designated hitter Robbie Grossman, plating the go-ahead run and seeming to signal on day one that this is not your daddy’s Royals bullpen.
Yost fingered ground-ball specialist Peter Moylan with Byron Buxton coming to the plate. Moylan pulled the string on Buxton and got him swinging. With the left-handed Joe Mauer up next, Yost fingered newcomer Travis Wood.
With the bases permanently loaded, Wood dug himself a 3-1 hole against Mauer, who can no longer do anything against lefties.
3-1? Bases—checks—yeah, they’re still loaded.
How about another ball?
Make that two bases-loaded walks from a Royal reliever in the inning.
Don’t worry, though, it’s not over. Miguel Sanó, you get a walk too!
After WALKING TWO STRAIGHT TWINS WITH THE BASES LOADED, Wood stayed in to maintain the lefty-on-lefty matchup, and Jason Castro roped a single to left to drive in two more. With a 6-1 deficit, the mess was officially Wood’s in which to languish. Jorge Polanco singled in someone [does the ‘who’ even matter at this point?] to make it 7-1 before Kepler felt pity for the Royals and struck out to end the inning. Kepler was the 11th Twin to step to the plate in the seventh. What had been a 1-1 game, was suddenly a 7-1 embarrassment.
With a clearly insurmountable six-run deficit, Paulo Orlando, Alcides Escobar, and Raúl Mondesí went through the motions of meaningless at-bats against Matt Belisle in the top of the eighth.
The eighth inning saw Mike Minor enter to make his first major-league appearance since 2014. He induced a ground-out to kick things off before taking a Dozier comebacker off his pitching hand. The deflection allowed Dozier to reach first, but he got Grossman swinging on a change and induced a Buxton pop-foul behind the plate to escape the inning relatively unscathed and encourage those looking for a silver lining in an otherwise dismal afternoon for the bullpen.
The Royals came to bat again in the ninth, but Moustakas erased Gordon’s leadoff “single” with a grounder into the teeth of the Twins infield defense. Cain grounded out to end the game, and the Royals trod back to the clubhouse with an off-day looming before they can try to wash the fetid taste of an ugly loss out of their mouths.
The Royals now have not won since September 29, 2016. There are children living in this world who can hold up their own heads who have never lived in a world in which the Royals won. Will they ever win again?