After nearly four hours, the Royals stole a game that they had trailed coming out of every inning until the eighth. They stole it in a big way, emphatically getting to one of the best relievers in the game, after a frustrating first seven innings. They did it in ways that are not entirely familiar to most long-time Royals fans. With offense. A lot of it.
As has been his modus operandi, Ian Kennedy wasted little time in ceding a long ball. Leading off the bottom of the first, José Pirela—making a start at first in place of Wil Myers, who was felled by the sickness—took a grooved, full-count fastball and sent it screaming over the wall in center. It was a dong. It was hung.
This was far from the last time José Pirela was heard from today, though for most Royals fans it was the first time they’d heard of him.
Kennedy struck out three of the next nine batters he faced, and no Padre reached base safely again until the bottom of the fourth.
Facing a Rule 5 pick making his first start of the season and his first start ever above A-ball, the Royals put runners on in each of the first three innings, but the leash on Miguel Diaz was understandably a short one, and after he loaded the bases with no outs in the third, San Diego manager Andy Green had to turn to his bullpen.
Diaz, the first pick in the Rule 5 draft last winter, came in throwing heat. His two-seamer was sitting in the 96-99 MPH range in the first, twice nearly hitting 100, but it seemed likely that a pitcher whose likely pitch limit was in the 60-70 range was going to run out of gas even sooner throwing this hard and not having made a start since Spring Training. Diaz traversed the first and second without allowing any damage on the scoreboard, working around an error in the first and getting a double play after walking Salvador Pérez to start his second frame.
Walking the walk-averse Pérez was the first clear sign of trouble with the Rule 5-er, and Diaz wasted no time in digging himself and his club a bigger hole in the third. Alex Gordon led off with a single, and Ian Kennedy followed with a walk. Walking the opposing pitcher nearly always precipitates a visit to the mound, and this occasion was no exception, as time to warm up a pitcher in the pen needed to be goosed. Diaz issued a second straight free pass, this one to Whit Merrifield, and his ticket to the pine was punched, left to watch as the San Diego pen, the team’s arguable strength was called upon to complete the next seven innings.
Craig Stammen entered in relief of Diaz. Thus far this season, Stammen had held opponents to an 0-for-5 mark when entering action this season with the bases juiced. Stammen kept the 0-fer streak alive, striking out Jorge Bonifacio and inducing a ground-ball double-play from Lorenzo Cain working the Padres out of a serious jam with apparent ease.
Stammen worked a clean bottom of the fourth, and Kennedy worked around a lead-off walk issued to Franchy Cordero and a subsequent two-out single from Corey Spangenberg to send the game to the bottom of the fifth with the score 1-0, San Diego.
Four innings later, such a score would seem quaint.
Starting his third inning of work, Stammen threw a fastball a few inches up out of the zone but down the heart of the plate. Somehow, Alcides Escobar took that fastball and sent it into the stands in left for his first hung dong of the season.
After Escobar tied it up at one apiece, Alex Gordon struck out swinging, but Ian Kennedy got on for the second time of the afternoon. Merrifield followed with a single of his own, but Bonifacio grounded into the third Royals’ double play of the afternoon to erase yet another scoring threat.
Intent upon self-immolation, Kennedy kicked off his second straight frame—though the first of the day with a run on the board in his support—with a four-pitch walk, this one to Allen Cordoba.
Rather than taking care of the next two batters as he did in the bottom of the fourth, Kennedy ran the count full to Erick Aybar before ceding a ground ball toward Eric Hosmer. Notice the operative, antepenultimate “toward” in that last sentence? Unless a ball is hit DIRECTLY to the absolutely rangeless Hosmer, that ball is getting through. The ball got through, though somewhere apologists are noting that Hosmer was drawn in on the grass and therefore had no chance at that one. Cordoba advanced to third on the ground-ball single to right.
Kennedy induced a harmless pop fly from pinch-hitter Luis Torrens. Defense drawn in at double-play depth, José Pirela had another chance to drive in runs. A true San Diegan (the internet says this is right) hero on another day, Pirela did not let his team down. He chopped one over a leaping Mike Moustakas, and Cordoba and Aybar raced home as Gordon had troubles corralling the ball in the corner as it took a hitter’s carom. Pirela landed at second, and the Padres led 3-1.
Kennedy struck out Franchy Cordero, but Yangervis Solarte [ed. yes, these Padres are actually all real baseball players despite names suggesting they were made up by a video game simulator] shot a single back up the middle to drive in the third San Diego run of the inning. 4-1, Padres.
There is probably no time better than this to mention that the Padres are not a good baseball team. Sure, they’ve been ravaged by injuries, but their Opening Day starter was Jhoulys Chacín, a man with his sixth organization at the age of 29. Aside from a surprising 41.1 innings of great pitching from Trevor Cahill and a solid if unspectacular 13 starts from Clayton Richard, the Padres have next to nothing to show for their 2017. They have five players who have been worth more than 0.5 fWAR. Two are their sterling relievers Brad Hand and Brandon Maurer, two are starters Chacín and Richard (both of whom sport ERAs significantly worse than their FIPs), and the aforementioned and injured Cahill. No position player has been worth more than 0.5 fWAR for San Diego. They have managed to be worse than the San Francisco Giants, whose 2017 has been an unmitigated disaster that makes the Royals’ season look almost acceptable.
Facing the third Padres’ pitcher of the afternoon, southpaw José Torres, Lorenzo Cain did his lean and scorched a fastball deep into the stands in left. Now down two, Hosmer poked a grounder just between Spangenberg and the bag at third for a single. Lefty-masher Salvador Pérez sent a bomb to deep left on a 2-0 count but was just a little in front of the pitch and it landed foul way up in the stands. Pérez then hit a weak grounder to second but miraculously beat the turn to first on the could-have-been double-play ball. Moustakas flew out harmlessly to right fielder Hunter Renfroe, and Torres gave way to Kirby Yates with two down and one aboard in the top of the sixth. Yates got Escobar swinging, and the Royals headed to the bottom of the sixth down 4-2.
With his pitch count at 88, Kennedy came back out for his sixth inning of work. After allowing a lead-off single to Spangenberg, he struck out rookie backstop Austin Hedges for his fifth K on the afternoon. Kennedy induced a grounder to second from Allen Cordoba. Merrifield and Escobar got the lead runner at second, and upon review, Escobar’s close throw to first got Cordoba at first to end the inning.
As Mike Minor had been warming for virtually the entire sixth inning, Kennedy’s day looked to be over with the Royals down two and the pitcher’s spot in the lineup due up second. Kennedy’s line on the afternoon: six innings, six hits, two walks, one dong, and five strikeouts while allowing four runs, all earned, and in line for the loss barring a Kansas City comeback.
Alex Gordon stroked a liner to deep right and took off like a rocket out of the box, leading off the top of the seventh with a double, barely beating Hunter Renfroe’s throw from right. Brandon Moss came in to pinch-hit for Kennedy, facing the right-handed Yates. Moss ripped a grounder to second. Solarte covered it up like he was trying to shield his teammates from a grenade but recovered to get Moss at first. Gordon advanced to third on the grounder, and Merrifield followed with a single driven up the middle on an 0-2 count.
Kirby Yates—his performance more closely resembling that of the vacuums which bear his first name than that of a similarly named Hall-of-Famer—gave way to shut-down reliever Brad Hand, as Andy Green employed the double-switch and brought in Matt Szczur in Allen Cordoba’s stead.
Hand, a stone-cold killer with a steely gaze, got Bonifacio on a nasty slider way out of the zone that Bonifacio tried but failed to hold up on, getting called out upon appeal to first-base umpire Carlos Torres. With Lorenzo Cain at the dish and the count 0-2, Hand spiked a slider in the dirt. Merrifield took off for second as the ball skipped off of Hedges’s padding, but the ball kicked away in front of the plate, and Hedges—always a defense-first catcher rising through the prospect ranks—recovered quickly and got Merrifield at second to end the inning and the scoring threat.
The Royals closed the gap a bit but still trailed 4-3 with the duo of Hand and potentially Brandon Maurer staring them down.
As expected, Minor entered in relief of Kennedy. He painted the corner getting Aybar looking for out and strikeout number one. Szczur grounded out harmlessly a day after homering as a pinch-hitter. Facing the apparent engine of the San Diego offense, Minor got ahead in the count against Pirela, but Pirela chopped a grounder back at the mound, almost taking off Minor’s head as he ducked and blindly stabbed his glove in the comebacker’s general vicinity. Franchy Cordero and Mike Minor engaged in a marathon 11-pitch plate appearance that eventually resulted in a walk. Minor attempted to regain his composure, and facing an aggressive Yangervis Solarte, he sent two sliders inside, and watched as Solarte pulled both would-have-been-balls foul. Solarte then ripped a grounder through the hole on the left side of the infield. Pirela scored, and Minor’s day was done.
Enter Travis Wood. Cue disaster montage. Cover eyes, and—wait, what? Grounder to third. One pitch, one out. Inning over. Royals trail 5-3.
Bailed out of a 1-2 hole by the Merrifield out on the basepaths in the previous frame, Lorenzo Cain started the eighth against Brad Hand with a clean slate. He ripped a grounder deep into the hole at short. Lorenzo Cain is a fast man. He beat the throw with ease. Brad Hand, who remember is actually good at throwing baseballs, left one up in the zone to Eric Hosmer, and Hosmer sent it the other way just into the first row of seats in left.
Salvador Pérez? Majestic. Hung. Dong.
Just the third and fourth home runs allowed by Hand this season, they came back-to-back and put the game in the Royals’ hands.
6-5, Kansas City.
Moustakas pulled a double to the warning track in the right field corner, and Hand’s day was done.
Jose “Exxon” Valdez entered, promptly gave up a sharply hit Alcides Escobar grounder that was deflected by Spangenberg, and followed by grazing Gordon’s shin, loading the bases for pinch-hitter Cheslor Cuthbert. Cuthbert struck out looking because this is Cuthbert v.2017 that gets like five at-bats a week, but this was just the first out of the inning for Kansas City. Merrifield sent a routine fly to Franchy Cordero in deep center, but Cordero seemed more concerned with the throw that would follow the catch than the catch itself, and it glanced off the tip of his glove despite being a completely routine play. Two Royals scored, one that would have been unearned had no other Royals managed a hit in the inning, and Exxon Valdez plunked Bonifacio to reload the bases.
Lorenzo Cain? Lean back. Again.
The Royals entered the top of the eighth down 5-3. Nine runs, ten batters, and one out later, they led by seven.
Hosmer struck out looking for the second out of the inning, and Salvador Pérez nubbed a grounder that he thought to be a foul ball off the plate but was ruled fair and fielded by Hedges roughly two feet in front of the plate from whence Pérez was tagged out.
Spotted a seven-run lead, Ned Yost turned to Joakim Soria. Spangenberg led off with a grounder hit in Hosmer’s general vicinity. Of course, it was a single. Soria followed with a wicked slow-curve that buckled Austin Hedges’s knees for a called strike three and a strikeout of Chase d’Arnaud after an 11-pitch war of attrition. With two outs (and a baker’s half-dozen runs of a cushion), Spangenberg took second on defensive indifference. Aybar shot a ground-ball single under a diving Escobar at short, and Spangenberg scored to bring the Padres to within six runs. Matt Szczur walked, and the plug was pulled on Soria’s inning of work, one out shy of its intended completion—the second straight key Royal reliever to fail to complete their inning of work.
Peter Moylan, pitching for the third straight day, came in to face giant killer José Pirela. A pitch later, the mighty Pirela had been slain, metaphorically, of course. Moylan did what Moylan does (to righties), and Moustakas fielded a harmless grounder with ease and threw across the diamond to Hosmer. Three outs to victory.
After a one-two-three top of the ninth and nearly four hours into an endless contest, Ned Yost turned to embattled closer Kelvin Herrera to protect the six run lead. Herrera coaxed a lazy fly to left from the sublimely named Franchy Cordero, got a deep fly to left center ably fielded by Cain, and struck out Hunter Renfroe to end the game.
As one would expect when a team scores a dozen runs, there were many stars on the Royals offense today, but Lorenzo Cain, with his five driven in on two majestic dong hangings, stood out above the rest. With Hosmer, Pérez, and Escobar also hanging dong, it was a banner day for dong-loving Royals fans. Every Royals’ starter got on base at least once, with only Bonifacio (a HBP) and Moustakas reaching just one time. Cain, Merrifield, and Gordon each reached thrice, as the Royals put one back in the win column, snapping their two-game losing streak in a big way.
Their record is now 27-34, keeping them out of the cellar in the Central for at least another day. The Royals have a chance to close out a series win tomorrow at 3:40 CDT with rookie Jake Junis taking the mound to face rookie right-hander Dinelson Lamet.