Having missed the memo in their inbox telling them they were facing a first-time major-league starter, the Royals did what they rarely do and jumped all over Artie Lewicki.
Far from a highly touted prospect, the 2014 eighth-round draft pick (and a senior/signability selection at that, netting just a $60K signing bonus as leverage was nonexistent for him) pitched well in the minors, posting generally mid-3.00s ERAs and a FIP below 3.13 at every stop from 2015 to present. With a four-seam fastball sitting in the 92-94 range and a slider and occasional curve mixed in, Lewicki was a ground-ball machine in the minors.
Whit Merrifield got things started immediately against the rookie from the University of Virginia with a screaming liner to left for a single. Merrifield advanced on a slow one-out grounder to second from Melky Cabrera and stole third—his 27th steal on the year—because third base is his to do with whatever he likes. Hosmer followed the steal with a single, again to Andrew Romine in left, sending Merrifield home and putting the Royals up 1-0.
The Royals managed a pair of baserunners in the second, but the first (Mike Moustakas) was erased on a double play, and the second (Alcides Escobar) was stranded.
The third inning was the Royals’ big inning against Lewicki. Merrifield, Lorenzo Cain, and Cabrera singled, singled, and doubled respectively. The two-run double put the Royals up 3-0. Eric Hosmer stepped to the plate next. The Son of God hung majestic dong, sending it deep to left-center. 5-0, Royals.
In the bottom of the third, Alcides Escobar started things off by airmailing a rushed throw on a slow chopper to short from the homeless man’s Willie Bloomquist, Andrew Romine. Romine was charging hard out of the box and turned it into what would have been a close play at first were the throw not errant, but with Escobar depositing the ball into the Royals’ dugout Romine advanced to second on the error after getting granted a single by the official scorer.
After Junis got José Iglesias swinging and Kinsler lining out to third, Escobar was presented with his second chance to record an out from short in the inning. Alex Presley punched a grounder to short, and Escobar booted the grounder. Fortunately for the Royals, he ran through a stop sign at third, and Escobar gathered his druthers and delivered a throw home that got Romine with plenty of time to spare. While a run did not cross the plate, the third was not a banner inning for the scuffling Escobar.
The Royals left the bases loaded in the fourth, failing to plate any runs but running Artie Lewicki’s pitch count up to 67.
There was a serious scoring threat in the home half of the fourth, as Whit Merrifield put Efrén Navarro aboard with a one-out error and Jeimer Candelario stroked a two-out single to right to put runners on the corners. Facing Mikie Mahtook, Jake Junis hung a 2-1 slider and Mahtook sent the pitch screaming over the wall in left.
Over the wall, but not out of the park.
Making perhaps his best play in another sterling defensive season, Alex Gordon tracked the ball to the wall, readied himself, and leapt. Extending the full length of his arm over the padding on the wall, Gordon ripped the Mahtook would-have-been three-run shot and trotted back into the dugout, eliciting a sly grin.
Hopefully for the Tigers, Mahtook was taking notes.
Lewicki enjoyed his first 1-2-3 inning of his young major-league career in the fifth, and the Royals took the field again in the bottom of the fifth still leading 5-0. Andrew Romine, having decided that he would carry the Tigers offense come hell or high water while ignoring the fact that he’s a career .240/297/.312 hitter with a 68 wRC+ (yes, he’s a worse hitter than Alcides Escobar) led off the inning with a double directly over Cain’s head. Iglesias doubled Romine home, and after Junis induced an infield pop-fly from Ian Kinsler, Alex Presley scorched a triple into the corner in right. Nicholas—DO. NOT. CALL. HIM. NICK.—Castellanos hit a lazy fly to center, plating Presley but clearing the bases for Junis. Back to the wind-up, Junis got Efrén Navarro to ground out to first, but not before the Tigers had closed the gap to 5-3, Royals.
The sixth was the Aussie middle-reliever inning. Warwick Saupold pitched a clean top of the sixth for the Tigers, a small victory for Perthverts the world over. Not doing Melbourners any favors, Moylan walked the first two men he faced. Then Escobar muffed his second routine grounder of the day, barely recovering in time to flip for the force at second but leaving no shot at what should have been a double play. With runners at the corners with just one out, Moylan was then forced to face the fearsome Andrew Romine. The Moyl and Romine engaged in a nine-pitch battle, with The Moyl coming out on top, getting the switch-hitting Romine swinging over the top of his slider. Running on a full count to avoid the double-play, Mahtook slid into second ahead of Salvador Pérez’s throw, putting two runners in scoring position for José Iglesias.
With two outs and the tying run at second, Iglesias sent a sinking liner screaming into center. Unfortunately for Iglesias, it’s Lorenzo Cain’s world, and he’s just living in it. Cain, playing shallow because he preternaturally senses these things, sprinted in and went into a foot-first slid snagging a near-game-tying single from the air for the final out of the frame.
Having spent the previous three frames in hibernation, the Royals offense looked like it wouldn’t mount much of an attack against former Royals’ farmhand Daniel Stumpf. Melky Cabrera struck out swinging, and Eric Hosmer popped up to second. Having not hung dong since July 28, Salvador Pérez went after the first Stumpf offering and sent it screaming over the wall into the Royals’ bullpen in left center. SalvaDONG.
Mike Moustakas followed with a single pushed the other way, but Brandon Moss grounded out to end the Royals’ threat. Heading to the bottom of the seventh, the Royals led 6-3.
Diagnosed a pyromaniac over the weekend, Kevin McCarthy’s eyes got big as he played with fire in the bottom of the seventh, walking lead-off man Ian Kinsler and uncorking a wild pitch after putting him aboard. McCarthy recorded two outs before walking another Tiger, Efrén Navarro. With the tying run at the dish, McCarthy got James McCann to shoot a soft grounder to short. Though far from a guaranteed out with Escobar’s dodgy play at short this afternoon, Escobar fired the ball to first for the out and the score remained 6-3, Kansas City.
Apparently unaware that Alcides Escobar will swing at anything close on the first pitch of the at-bat, Drew VerHagen grooved a fastball in the heart of the plate. Escobar hung the Royals’ 167th dong of 2017, one shy of breaking the franchise-record set in 1987. The solo dong hanging ran the score to 7-3, and VerHagen got the Tigers out of the inning without allowing any further damage on the scoreboard.
Ryan Buchter came up lame on his second pitch of the innings, but after a visit from trainer Nick Kenney, Buchter insisted he was fine and went back to work. One-Pitch Buchter pitched a clean eighth after the injury scare, getting Jeimer Candelario and Andrew Romine on little pop ups bookending a Mahtook ground out to third.
Facing their second former Royals prospect in relief, the Royals failed to do much against Blaine Hardy in the top of the ninth. Mike Moustakas managed a two-out double, his third hit of the game, but Brandon Moss struck out to send the game to the bottom of the ninth with Brandon Maurer closing things out for the second straight day.
With Kelvin Herrera still on the mend, Maurer’s appearance was of the arbitrary non-save variety. Iglesias started things off with a single poked to shallow center. Maurer shooed the runners-on-base demon away for a batter, but after a Kinsler fly-out to center, Alex Presley singled sharply to right, and Castellanos smoked a four-seamer up but down the heart of the plate, sending it screaming into the fencing over the wall in right-center.
Four run lead? Reduced by 75%. 7-6, Royals.
Hanging on by a thread but out of the world in which he was facing batters with runners on base—a situation in which Maurer has proven unable to thrive over the course of his major-league career—Maurer struck Efrén Navarro out for the second out of the inning, and everything came down to James McCann. Falling behind 3-1 before running the count full, Maurer unfurled his 30th pitch, and McCann poked a single into center. JaCoby Jones entered to run for the Tigers’ catcher. With lefty Scott Alexander warmed in the pen and presenting a better option to hold the runner at first, Ned Yost opted to stick with Maurer as he labored through another batter. Jeimer Candelario sent Maurer’s 35th pitch of the frame into center, moving Jones to second.
Yost finally, mercifully proffered his left hand and fingered Scott Alexander. With the margin of error the razor thin breadth of a single, Alexander entered to face Mikie Mahtook, who eons earlier was robbed of a home run by Alex Gordon, a play proving to be the sole reason this game was still going on after Maurer’s ninth-inning implosion. Alexander did his job, coaxing a routine grounder from the depressed wood of Mahtook, shoring up the one-run win in a one-out fireman’s save.
Every Royal in the starting lineup managed at least one hit. Every one of those hits was vital in the Royals’ cause, as this one almost slipped away.
As it stood, Junis got the win, striking out three in his five innings of work, working around seven hits to yield three runs. Alexander got the save (McCarthy and The Moyl—coming this fall to CBS—each got a hold), while Tigers’ starter Artie Lewicki took the loss.
The win runs the Royals’ record to an even 68-68. The Royals’ competitors in the Wild Card race have yet to complete their Labor Day games, so news of the potential of ground gained is left in limbo for a few more hours.