The Kansas City Royals have lacked a defining win yet. Mostly, this is because they have been a putrid mess most of this year, losing so hard and so early as to dissuade its fans from watching them.
But tonight’s 7-6 win against the St. Petersburg Devil Rays was one—a gritty, come-from-behind victory that involved timely offense, good defense, and a shutdown bullpen. If the Royals turn this year around, we’ll look back to tonight as a defining moment in the season. Even if they don’t, it represents one of the Royals’ most fun games in this young season.
Chris Young started the game in place of the injured Ian Kennedy, which is not great because Young is not good at baseball anymore. This is very sad. Watching the 6’ 10” Young pitch well, with his upper-80s fastball and slider, is like watching a gazelle climb a tree and succeeding. Watching Young pitch poorly is like watching a horde of wildebeest trample over a proud lion king.
Today, a horde of wildebeest trampled over a proud lion king. Young, whose ERA since the start of 2015 is a tick below 6, rather predictably did not perform well. After somehow getting two straight outs, the Devil Rays cracked five consecutive hits, with an intentional walk and a few stolen bases sprinkled in like a frenzied Chopped contestant trying to garnish with potato chips. One of those hits was a two-run homer by Logan Morrison.
After the first inning, Young trotted out for second inning, and then a third, but there were mercifully no more runs scored against the friendly giant. Young’s final line: three innings pitched, two strikeouts, four walks, seven hits, and four runs. Later this year, the Royals will need some 25-man and 40-man roster spots opened, as Brian Flynn and Hunter Dozier return from the 60-day disabled list. Young is unlikely to survive that particular carnage with his job intact.
Back to the game: for most of the year, those four runs would have proved the Royals death knell. But the Royals carried Esky Magic from last night to tonight. They scored a run after another Kevin Kiermaier misplay, Jorge Bonifacio credited with a ‘triple’ on what should have been a simple single. Then, Bonifacio scored on a Matt Andriese balk. Rays manager Kevin Cash should have known better than to poke the Balk Bear, but he did so anyway. The Balk Bear chewed him up and spit him out, and Cash was promptly ejected. Do not do a balk, please.
Though Travis Wood, Young’s replacement, did his best to let the Devil Rays grab an insurmountable lead, the two runs he coughed up were ultimately inconsequential. For the Royals were supplied by the indomitable Esky Magic. Down 5-1, the Royals clawed their way back, scoring at least one run in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings. Of particular note were Salvador Perez’ two-run shot in the sixth, Hosmer’s opposite-field single in the seventh, and Alex Gordon’s single to center in the eighth. On that hit, Kiermaier bungled the ball in center field, his third error against the Royals in this short series. One must wonder if Kiermaier is actually a CIA double-agent, working feverishly against the oppressive Russians. Thanks to that, and Gordon’s timely hit, the Royals tied the game up at 6-6 at the end of the inning.
Relieving Wood was Moylan and Mike Minor. Moylan did his thing—getting a righty out on two pitches—and then Minor settled in to do some work. Minor has been quietly excellent this year. Used in lower-stress situations than Kelvin Herrera, Joakim Soria, Moylan, and even Wood, Minor has nonetheless impressed with mid-90s heat and some nice secondary pitches. Tonight, Minor pitched 2.2 innings, striking out four and only allowing one baserunner, a measly single. Including tonight, Minor has put up a 2.50 ERA, a 1.81 FIP, and a sparkling K/BB ratio of 4.5.
Following Minor was Soria, who turned in a positively nasty tenth inning. Soria has been lights-out this year, with his highest-ever strikeout rate and career-best FIP in 15 games so far. Unfortunately, the Royals weren’t exactly supportive of their excellent supporting bullpen. That would almost prove to be their undoing.
Almost is the key word in this scenario. In the top of the 12th inning, Mike Moustakas pummeled a hanging Diego Moreno changeup for his team-leading eighth home run of the year, a solo shot that gave the Royals their first lead of the game. Though the Royals loaded the bases, they were unable to score any additional insurance runs. Thankfully, they did not need them. Kelvin Herrera quickly dissected the Rays lineup with a trio of strikeouts.
The Royals endured a number of awful performances in tonight’s game, such as Young’s stinker of a start, Hosmer’s embarrassing pickoff from first, Perez bopping a first-pitch grounder for a double play in extras, and Escobar’s magnificently magical (yet still awful) 0-5 night in the leadoff spot. But it did not matter. Kansas City did more good than bad, and you usually win when that happens. They did.