The Kansas City Royals entered action on Wednesday having scored 21 fewer runs than the next worst offense in baseball. Just 25 games into their season, being the worst at something like scoring runs by that much is impressive.
Heading into tonight, Mike Pelfrey—a pitcher whose mediocrity has been thoroughly and resoundingly established over a 12-year career in which he carried a 4.57 ERA that has only gotten worse (4.97 ERA since 2013) as time has passed—had been particularly terrible against the Royals. Only the Oakland A’s had punished the righty from Wichita more than the Royals. A former first-rounder pick of the Mets, the Royals have knocked around Pelfrey to the tune of a .353/.430/.487 slash line, good for a 136 tOPS+ bettered by the A’s at 140 but in only five games, compared to the nine times the Royals have faced him.
Impotent force? Meet movable object.
For much of the evening, the events on the field of play most closely resembled what one might imagine watching a infant roll a bowling ball toward a supine paraplegic whipping a long strand of spaghetti around in his mouth would be like.
Because the Royals are the Royals, Pelfrey faced the minimum in the first three innings, as the only Royal baserunner—Eric Hosmer, who reached on a lead-off single in the second—was predictably erased by a ground-ball double-play by Salvador Pérez. With two outs in the fourth, Lorenzo Cain singled, and Hosmer followed with a walk. They were stranded as Pérez realized that if he closed his eyes and swung all night, he could strand every Royal baserunner of the evening.
For their part, the White Sock offense started things off similarly meekly, managing a measly two baserunners in the first five innings, one of whom was given the gift of charity with Nate Karns misfielding a piddly Melky Cabrera grounder that traveled roughly 55 feet from home plate.
That it was Nate Karns shutting down the Chicago White Sox was a fact that left the smattering of fans in the quarter-full Kauffman Stadium wondering, “Who the hell is this guy?” The six randos in the stadium who knew replied, “Oh, he’s who Jarrod Dyson turned into,” leaving the numbed masses struck dumb wondering how Jarrod Dyson turned into a white dude until they fell back asleep to dream of better days where shockingly boring baseball was not the expectation that it’s quickly become.
The only close call for Karns came in the sixth after striking out Matt Davidson, Tim Anderson, and Yolmer Sánchez consecutively. Yes, you read this correctly. He struck out the first three batters he faced in the top of the sixth, but Pérez elected to add not blocking pitches in the dirt to his list of sins, not sliding over to block what could have been the final pitch of the sixth for transmogrified Jarrod Dyson. With a filthy knuckle-curve badly fooling the left-handed Sánchez burrowing in almost like a slider, Pérez tried to backhand the ball. It didn’t work and kicked back high and to the backstop. Karns eventually lost Melky Cabrera on a five-pitch walk but struck out José Abreu for his fourth strikeout of the inning.
Of course, had Pérez blocked the pitch and ended the inning there, perhaps Karns’s night would have been extended. Instead, he expended nine additional pitches to get out of the jam, running his count to 95.
That 95th pitch would be his last. He finished his night with seven strikeouts, one walk, one hit allowed, one runner having reached by strikeout/wild pitch, and one having reached on his own error. He used those six scoreless innings to lower his ERA from 6.05 heading into his fifth start to 4.97 coming out of it.
Finally, the tedium broke in the sixth, as the Royals offense suddenly remembered that they were facing Mike Pelfrey. Whit Merrifield grounded a one-out single up the middle, and Mike Moustakas blistered a liner to the gap in right, doubling in the first run of the game. Lorenzo Cain lined a triple into the corner in right to drive in Moustakas, and that was that for Pelfrey.
Southpaw Dan Jennings entered to face Eric Hosmer. Unfazed by the lefty-lefty matchup, Hosmer sent a screamer 410 feet to deep center. That 410 feet wasn’t far enough to leave the park, as Leury García crashed into the wall as the ball hit his glove, but it was plenty far to drive Cain in from third. Pérez finished the inning with a harmless grounder to third.
Before the White Hosiery knew what had happened, the Royals had scored a week’s worth of runs in one inning. The Royals led 3-0.
Entering his 16th contest of the 26-game-old season, Peter Moylan faced right-handers Todd Frazier and Avisail García and got them both to ground out to the left side of the infield, the latter being sent trudging back to the dugout thanks to beautiful diving grab by Moustakas saving a sure extra-base hit. Switch-hitting Leury García followed with a weakly hit grounder to first, and Moylan held the three-run lead with 12 pitches.
Alex Gordon worked a lead-off walk against Jennings, who came back out for the seventh, but Jorge Bonifacio had his third straight rough plate appearance, pulling a grounder weakly to short for a fielder’s choice that erased the lead runner. Somehow Brandon Moss lined a single to center, moving Bonifacio to third. Alcides Escobar stepped to the plate with an opportunity to drive in his fourth run of the month-old season, and he miraculously grounded one past a diving Todd Frazier at third, doubling in Bonifacio and sending Moss galloping to third.
The Escobar double spelled the end of Jennings’s night, as Renteria fingered
Glenn Chris Beck. Whit Merrifield jumped on Beck’s first offering and hit a sacrifice fly to right. Moustakas grounded out to end the inning, but the Royals’ lead had grown to an unfathomable 5-0.
Matt Strahm worked a clean eighth inning, striking out Omar Narvaez and Tim Anderson.
Hosmer reached in the home half of the eighth with a one-out single. Pérez continued his night of futility with a harmless fly to right. With Gordon batting, Beck opined that he had two turntables and a microphone but no desire to keep Hosmer at first, uncorking a wild pitch that let Hosmer advance to second without concern. Gordon scorched a liner to the corner in right, doubling in the sixth Royal run of the night and [probably] their run total for the season.
Now protecting a 6-0 lead, Matt Strahm came back out in the top of the ninth. He retired Sánchez and Cabrera with relative ease, but José Abreu smoked a two-out dong into the pen in left, putting Chicago on the board with a single run before Todd Frazier ended their miserable night with a fly out to Cain in center.
Heading into tonight’s action, the question “is anyone worse than the Royals offense?” didn’t look to have an answer in the affirmative. Tonight, Mike Pelfrey answered that question with a show of his right hand.
Good Nate Karns was on the mound tonight, and the Royals actually scored runs. From the fifth or sixth inning on (when the offense remembered who was pitching), the game almost looked like an alternate universe version of what this season could have looked like if the Royals didn’t jump out to a miserable 8-17 start.
The win pulls the Royals’ record to 9-17, a mark that still means they are comfortably in last place in the Central.