With two teams a combined 11 games under .500 in May after starting the season with postseason aspirations, a game with four lead changes usually isn’t the stuff of excitement that Royals’ postseason games of recent history were. This game was no exception and saw the Royals slip further from contention on the day that they lost their staff ace Danny Duffy for six-to-eight weeks with an oblique injury.
Fueled early almost entirely by Whit Merrifield, the Royals jumped out to a 3-0 lead heading into the top of the fifth.
Merrifield—who in the thirteen games leading up to tonight’s tilt slashed .370/.408/.522 with a .401 wOBA and 156 wRC+ with two hung dongs, a double, and 14 singles in 49 PA—continued his torrid streak putting the Royals on the board in the third with a solo shot yanked into the stands up the left field line on a 2-1 fastball well inside.
The Royals loaded the bases thanks in large part to a bobbled transfer at second leading to an error upon review that kept Alex Gordon safely at second and Alcides Escobar safe at first on the error. Unfortunately, Lorenzo Cain of all people grounded into a double play to end the Royals’ threat that inning.
The Royals plated another two runs in the bottom of the fourth after Salvador Pérez was hit by a pitch, and Whit Merrifield drove him in with a triple courtesy at least in part of J.D. Martinez and some slight misadventures at the wall in right. Soler stroked a grounder through the left side of the infield, and Merrifield scored again, making it 3-0, Kansas City.
Then the top of the fifth happened.
Jason Hammel, who looked decent if less than great in four scoreless innings, quickly dug himself a big hole in the fifth. Alex Presley—who was slashing a meager .213/.278/.303 in Toledo up until Sunday, when he was called up because Tyler Collins was struggling so much that Detroit needed to fill that roster spot with a guy sporting a 64 wRC+ in the International League—worked the count full before drawing a leadoff walk. José Iglesias (slashing a woeful .211/.238/.352) singled because when you can put two such undeserving baserunners on board you kind of have to, and then Hammel uncorked a wild pitch.
Andrew Romine struck out in a tedious six-pitch at-bat, but Hammel walked Alex Avila on five pitches to load the bases.
This is where Ned Yost should have been trudging out to the mound to get Hammel out of there. Instead, a coaching visit without the hook.
Hammel stood dumbstruck on the mound and unfurled four straight balls to Miguel Cabrera to plate the first Detroit run of the night. As is his way, Ned Yost grabbed the shepherd’s crook two batters too late and got the Luke Hochevar clone out of there.
Yost turned to the Royals’ best reliever on the season, Mike Minor, but Minor was not able to escape the jam unscathed. Facing Victor Martinez, Minor served up a fastball a few inches off the plate and inside to the switch-hitter. Victor Martinez pulled the ball to left for a double, plating two Tigers and knotting the game up at three runs apiece.
Still with just one out, Minor was tasked to take care of the red-hot J.D. Martinez, who has spent the last two weeks making up for lost time after missing the first six weeks of the season with a foot injury. J.D. Martinez was having none of that and crushed a 3-1 slider low and inside for a three-run shot that looked to put the game out of reach.
Minor eventually got out of the inning, but the Royals trailed 6-3. Their best reliever on the year had just blown the lead, and added on two earned runs of his own after walking into a bases-loaded situation. Six run innings are not good.
The Royals loaded the bases AGAIN in the sixth, this time down three runs. Salvador Pérez again got things started with a screamer right back up the middle that nearly took a chunk of Shane Greene with him to center field. With the stone-footed catcher at first, Bonifacio flew out to right, but Merrifield punched the second chad on the cycle punch card leaving just the “Single” spot unchecked. Pérez in front of him on the basepaths, this meant there were two Royals in scoring position. Greene followed with a Jorge Soler walk to load the bases, and that was the end of Greene’s night.
Brad Ausmus fingered the southpaw and former Royal farmhand Blaine Hardy to face Alex Gordon. Hardy, intent upon making Ausmus look good, walked Alex Gordon after spotting him three balls and no strikes before working the count full only to lose the struggling left fielder. Gordon trotted up the line to first, and Pérez came shuffling home, and the bases remained juiced for Alcides Escobar. Escobar sent a fly ball to deep center, playable but deep enough to drive in Merrifield for the fifth Royal run of the evening. Soler and Gordon still standing at second and first, Mike Moustakas flew out harmlessly to left to end the threat, but the Royals had cut the Detroit lead to one run at 6-5.
Having entered in relief in the sixth and working around a one-out Iglesias single, Seth Maness came back out in the seventh. He took care of Miguel Cabrera, coaxing a harmless grounder to second out of the future Hall-of-Famer, but Victor Martinez lined a single to left, and Maness’s evening was done. Yost fingered the Aussie Peter Moylan, and two pitches later the threat was over, as the ground-ball machine induced a double play ball from J.D. Martinez.
The recently deposed closer of the Tigers Francisco Rodríguez came out to protect the one-run lead for Detroit and immediately put Lorenzo Cain aboard with a walk. Eyes big, salivary glands in Pavlovian overdrive, Eric Hosmer stepped into the box and destroyed a middle-away 88-MPH fastball, sending it screaming into the night for a go-ahead dong.
Joakim Soria, who spent the first two months of this season trying to put memories of 2016 behind him (and everyone else), entered the game to try to take care of the 6-7-8 hitters in the top of the eighth.
Traumatic memories of 2016 were quickly recalled. Justin Upton singled to lead things off, and then Soria walked the scuffling Nicholas “Don’t Call Me ‘Nick’” Castellanos on five pitches. Alex Presley, who you may remember is not actually good at baseball, then stroked a single to right to tie the game at 7-7.
With Iglesias batting, Soria uncorked a wild pitch that probably could have been corralled but instead skipped to the backstop. Pérez’s throw to Soria at the plate was just a little late, and suddenly the Tigers had an 8-7 lead. Iglesias singled, moving Presley to third, and Soria walked Andrew Romine. When it rains, it pours down putrescent sewage on everyone.
With no outs, two runs scored, and the bases juiced, Ned Yost mercifully turned to someone else. This someone else was Matt Strahm. Three pitches later, Alex Avila walked back to the dugout shaking his head, struck out. Unfortunately, Strahm still had to face Miguel Cabrera. Cabrera singled. He is a surefire, first-ballot Hall-of-Famer. These things happen. Two more Tigers runs scored. 10-7, Detroit. Strahm teased a double-play grounder out of Victor Martinez to get out of the inning, but the Royals lead was gone.
New set-up man Alex Wilson followed up with a 1-2-3 inning in which he took care of Jorge Soler, Alex Gordon, and Alcides Escobar on 11 pitches.
Kevin McCarthy, just called up for the first time this season after a September call-up last year, pitched the top of the ninth with the Royals trailing by three. He induced a harmless pop fly to shallow right from J.D. Martinez, struck out Justin Upton on four straight strikes, and got Alex Presley to fly out to right for a neat, clean ninth.
Justin “Other” Wilson came out for the ninth, and walked Mike Moustakas, his second walk of the night. Needing baserunners, Lorenzo Cain flew out to center, and Eric Hosmer went after the first pitch he saw, sending the ball harmlessly to Justin Upton in left. Moustakas took second on defensive indifference with Pérez at the plate and Merrifield on deck, a single shy of the cycle. Unfortunately for everyone in that sentence and the Royals’ second-longest franchise cycle-less streak dating back to 1990, Pérez lined out to center to end the game.
And maybe the season.
Sometimes it feels that way at least.