Before tonight’s game, a 4-3 victory by the Kansas City Royals over the Arizona Diamondbacks, Manager Ned Yost was loose—and a little sentimental. He lackadaisically maneuvered through the few questions the reporter scrum had for him. He told a few stories, mentioning his memory of Alcides Escobar’s former oral predicament in his Milwaukee days before braces. Yost raised up his hands, fingers askew, to enunciate what Escobar’s teeth used to look like. He smiled.
It was a window into what these players and coaches have gone through together. The players have grown up together, as fantastic stories in the Kansas City Star by Vahe Gregorian and Sam Mellinger about Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer, respectively, have told.
Tonight was a baseball game, but it was more often a retrospective of what the Royals have done as a team, no, as a family. Before the game, a video blared on the scoreboard recognizing the third anniversary of the Wild Card Game, a game so infamous in Kansas City it needs no other signifiers. Jeff Montgomery and Joel Goldberg pontificated about Eric Hosmer’s career on the Fox Sports Kansas City pregame show. The team honored Mike Moustakas’ record-breaking 38 home runs just before first pitch, handing him an award and surprising him by bringing out his father with whom Moustakas co-threw the first pitch.
In the fifth inning, Manager Ned Yost pulled Eric Hosmer, inserting Cheslor Cuthbert in his place at first base. An inning later, Yost pulled Mike Moustakas, inserting Ramon Torres at third base, Lorenzo Cain, inserting Paulo Orlando as pinch-runner and at center field, and Alcides Escobar, inserting Raul Mondesi at shortstop. Each substitution coaxed rapturous applause from the announced 32,727 fans in attendance.
Tomorrow will be more of the same, of course. But you’ll forgive Kansas City and the Royals for dragging out a celebration of the Second Golden Age Royals.
As for the game itself? Pitching for the Royals was Jake Junis. Against a very good Diamondbacks team, Junis had no chance, especially when handed a crumbling lineup that started bleeding its best players halfway through the game.
But Junis sure gave it a good go. In six innings tonight, Junis gave up two runs, striking out five and walking a pair. He gave up five hits, one of which would have been an out would Hosmer still have been in the game. All-in-all, Junis’ performance dropped his season ERA down to 4.30.
This year, Junis has been something of a revelation. One of General Manager Dayton Moore’s weaknesses is an organizational inability to develop serviceable homegrown starting pitchers. It’s why the Royals gave four years and $32 million to Jason Vargas, and it’s why in a post-World Series world they re-signed Chris Young and signed Jason Hammel and Ian Kennedy: no Kansas City minor leaguer was better-equipped to succeed.
Junis, though, has succeeded. Since being sent to the minors for a tune-up for most of July, Junis has looked particularly good, tossing 57.1 innings for a 3.61 ERA and giving up only a .665 OPS against before tonight’s start.
Kansas City’s offense was provided almost entirely through one swing of the bat. Before Orlando took his spot on the bases, Cain knocked a single. Ramon Torres also singled. The Royals could have had another body on the basepaths, but Whit Merrifield was caught attempting to steal third base, and so Orlando and Torres stood alone.
Jorge Bonifacio, who made a nice play in right field earlier in the game by notching his fifth outfield assist this year, proceeded to crush a home run of the three-point variety. That homer placed Kansas City ahead, 4-2.
Some other things happened. The most interesting of those was the Hot Dog race, when mustard performed Kareem Hunt’s post-touchdown sleeping pose as a celebration. Joakim Soria gave up a run but not the lead.
It’s just not likely most of us will remember this game, or what happened in it. In the end, it’s as meaningless a win as can be: nobody was hurt, and the outcome impacted neither the Diamondbacks’ nor Royals’ postseason chances.
Halfway through the game, I stepped out of the press box to take a walk through the stadium. I saw Hosmer jerseys, Moose, jerseys, Perez jerseys, Escobar jerseys. There weren’t many Mike Sweeney, Carlos Beltran, David DeJesus, or Zack Greinke jerseys.
That’s a testament to this group: they’ve wormed their way into the lives of the fans in a way that, for decades, Royals players never really did.
We’ve got one more game with this group. Then...who knows.