Today’s game was very much a back and forth affair. This is important to the Royals because there haven’t been many of those recently - certainly not any where they won. Only one game of their previous 15 both required the Royals to battle back and ended in victory for the Boys in Blue.
Neither Ian Kennedy nor Ervin Santana were on top of their game. Or perhaps I should say that Ian Kennedy was as good as could have possibly been expected, it just wasn’t very good. For Santana’s part he would look pretty good at times and other times he would have a lot of trouble finding the strike zone. This contributed to him throwing 110 pitches in only 6.2 innings and allowing the Royals to face the Twins bullpen sooner than they would have if he had been more efficient.
The Royals did score first. In the top of the fourth inning Lorenzo Cain led off with a single, Melky Cabrera followed with an infield single to set up the possibility of a big inning. Eric Hosmer then hit a grounder into right to score Cain. Unfortunately, Perez grounded into a double play and Paulo Orlando grounded out following a Mike Moustakas walk to end the threat with only a single run scoring.
Kennedy stopped fooling Twins hitters in the bottom of the inning. He allowed a single to Mauer followed by two deep flyouts. He got lucky that both flies were caught and then incredibly lucky that Mauer misjudged the second one; he was halfway between second and third when Cain brought it down which allowed Cain to relay it to Alcides Escobar and then to Hosmer to double him off.
That trend continued into the fifth inning. Kennedy allowed a lead-off triple to Byron Buxton that just missed being a home run, a hot shot grounder that was scooped by Moustakas for an out, and finally a 2-run home run to Eduardo Escobar to give the Twins the lead. He did managed to escape the inning, but the damage was done.
The Royals roared right back, though. Cain led off the sixth inning with another single and Melky delivered a high and tight fastball into the right field concourse to match Escobar’s blast and recover the lead.
On to the bottom of the sixth and Ian Kennedy wasn’t done surrendering leads. Cain helped by dropping a ball hit by Mauer in center and then Eddie Rosario hit a double down the right field line with two outs. Kennedy got Byron Buxton to shatter his bat but the ball doinked into the LoCain triangle to score them both, anyway - thanks in part to Orlando playing deeper than many would have preferred. Scott Alexander was called upon to play fireman and get out of the inning. Again, the damage was already done.
Still the Royal offense persevered. With two outs in the top of the seventh Infinisky squeaked a seeing eye single into center. This is when the pitch count finally ended Santana’s day. Alan Busenitz (booz-nitz) was called upon to shut down the Royals. Whit Merrifield battled him for a walk to bring up a highly motivated Lorenzo Cain. Cain battled Busenitz for several pitches, including a 2-2 check swing that got Paul Molitor run from the game for arguing. Two pitches later Lorenzo Cain belted it into deep center and just got it over Buxton’s head for a 2-RBI triple to give the Royals the final lead. He was thrown out when he ran through a stop sign in an attempt to turn it into an inside-the-park home run.
Mike Minor pitched a scoreless, if eventful, eighth inning. After walking Eddie Rosario the electronic zones showed that he struck out Byron Buxton on a pitch that was called ball three - this was not the first time the Umpire’s eye and/or Salvy’s poor framing skills cost the Royals a strike or even a third strike. The next pitch was outside the zone but many thought Buxton swung at it. The first base umpire was not among them and Buxton was allowed to take his base. Pinch hitter Mitch Garver destroyed a pitch to center field but Cain made a terrific catch to end the inning.
Brandon Maurer, as the only reliever left in the Royals’ ailing pen with closing experience, was tasked with closing out the game. He allowed a deep fly to left from Escobar that Alex Gordon, defensive replacement, overran to put a runner on second with no one out. Maurer quickly got a strike out and two pop outs to mercifully end the game.
The Royals won the series despite scoring 15 runs fewer than their opponent. Imagine how things might look if they had started an actual major league pitcher, last night. They are back to 3.5 games back in the Wild Card Race and not quite dead, yet. They start a three game series against the tumbling Tigers tomorrow night. Jake Junis will go for the Royals and the Tigers have declared their intention to enable the MLB debut of right-hander Artie Lewicki against the Royals so prepare for a pitcher’s duel.