It was suggested in today’s Gamethread that if the Royals were going to win they would probably have to do so in a shootout. The prophecy turned out to be prophetic, though it didn’t always look like it would be that way.
Through the first three innings the Orioles led 1-0, and both pitchers were looking effective, if not stunning. The only run scored to that point came courtesy of a very badly located fastball pitched by Chris Young. Drew Butera’s target was low and away but the pitch was high and in. Even though it was not anywhere near where it was aimed it seemed like it should be a good pitch to the long-limbed, loopy-swinging Chris Davis. Davis has enough strength and managed to get enough barrel on it that even though the launch trajectory of 44 degrees had more in common with your average pop-out than a home run it cleared the fence.
The fourth inning changed everything, though. Young found himself immediately in trouble by walking the lead-off hitter and then allowing a single. He got a pair of outs and it looked like he might be able to escape but Ryan Flaherty laced a double into the right-center gap to score a pair. Caleb Joseph immediately followed that with a bomb into left to give the Orioles a 5-0 lead.
The Royals offense hadn’t been entirely inactive, though. Kevin Gausman had not allowed a run after three innings but he had allowed runners every inning and never threw fewer than 20 pitches in an inning. Like Young, he was in trouble from the start of his fourth inning.
Brandon Moss walked to lead off before Whit Merrifield lined a single to center. Alex Gordon had a strong at-bat, hitting hard foul balls down both lines before finally giving in and chopping one to first, advancing the runners. Drew Butera came through to get the Royals on the board with an RBI single; Alcides Escobar followed with one of his own. Then Mike Moustakas, who had already almost hit home runs to left field then center field, belted a 3-1 low-in fastball into the Orioles’ bullpen to tie the game. That was also the Royals first 3-run home run of the season. The Royals loaded the bases again after Moose cleared them and chased Gausman from the gamebut failed to score any more, that inning.
The next inning was a fresh opportunity, though. Alex Gordon led off and took a bean ball off his left forearm. Drew Butera singled again and then Escobar attempted to bunt the runners over. Esky Magic struck once more, however, turning a gold glove fielder into a blithering idiot. Manny Machado charged the ball and then decided to try to get the runner at second. When a runner is on second and a bunt seems likely defense will usually run a wheel play. If you’re unfamiliar with it, the first and third baseman will charge the ball, the shortstop will head to third in case they can get the lead runner and the second baseman will go to first. If you’re doing the math at home you might be wondering who is covering second in that scenario. The answer is no one. The ball flew free into center field and allowed Gordon to score, Butera to advance to third, and Escobar to go to second. The Royals had their first lead and Moustakas settled for an RBI groundout to extend it for the Royals’ first multi-run lead of the series.
Leading off the sixth Jorge Soler showed why the Royals traded for him with a line drive home run over three walls in center field. It was only an 18 degree launch angle but still went 464 feet, even longer than Eric Hosmer’s then-baseball-leading blast from last weekend. On a line. Soler Power is for real, folks. At least when he can get his bat on it.
The Royals’ bullpen worked itself into some trouble in the seventh inning. Al Alburquerque was attempting to pitch into his second inning but allowed the first two hitters he faced to reach. Mike Minor came in to face Chris Davis but gave up an RBI single. He did retire Mark Trumbo on a popout. The Orioles pinch-hit Trey Mancini for Hyun Soo Kim - who still does not have a single hit against a left-handed pitcher in his major league career, dating back to the start of last season. The Royals countered by summoning Peter Moylan who allowed a single to load the bases. He got Joey Rickard to hit a groundball that scored another run and closed the gap to 8-7 but was grateful for the out. He then walked the left-handed Ryan Flaherty but retired the right-handed Joseph to end the inning.
Drew Butera led off the seventh inning with his third hit of the day and second home run of the season; he’s starting to put to rest the idea that he’s a completely incompetent hitter with a strong 2016 campaign and good start to 2017. The Royals’ lead once more was extended to greater than one.
Joakim Soria pitched a scoreless eighth inning which featured a flyball into right that defensive replacement Jorge Bonifacio lost in the sun but was caught by Lorenzo Cain - who had earlier lost his own flyball only to be rescued by Gordon. Lost flyballs were very much a theme on the day. Drew Butera lost one later in the same inning in foul territory but was saved by the suddenly fleet-footed Joakim Soria racing from the mound to the third-base wall near home to make the catch. Mike Moustakas also lost one in the first inning that turned into a single. There are probably even more that I’m forgetting. Between the bright daytime sun and the wind - gusting mostly out to left-center, but occasionally swirling in other directions - it really was not a fun day for catching flyballs.
Kelvin Herrera decided to make things interesting in the ninth. He got the first out before giving up a pair of singles and a double to bring the score within one. With runners at second and third and only one out he struck out Seth Smith and then retired Jonathan Schoop on a flyball that was only about 10 feet short of a 3-run home run. Ultimately Herrera collected his eighth save. It was Herrera’s eighth save on the season.
The Royals become the first team with three players to hit 450+ foot bombs (Hosmer, Moss, Soler), set a new season high for runs scored, set a new season high for largest comeback of the year, and continue to enjoy the Esky Magic which has helped them win 6 of their last 7. Apparently the lead soprano has not yet sung her final aria of this season. They have tomorrow off but start another three game set against an AL East leading team missing their closer on Tuesday when the Yankees, minus noted, alleged domestic abuser Aroldis Chapman, come to town.