The first of three tilts against their sworn enemies in the Battle for Grass Creek presented the Kansas City Royals with a chance for the club to make a statement. A statement they made.
Spending little time concerned for the well-being of the Seattle Mariners—a team against whom their blood feud is well-documented—the Royals built on a clean top of the first from starter Jakob Junis and pounced on the unsuspecting M’s southpaw Marco Gonzales. With a game time temperature of just 42 degrees and dropping, Gonzales had no idea that the Royals could actually hit balls in cold weather. Sure, It was news to the Royals, too, but the Royals invoked the element of surprise, sending each of their nine hitters to bat in the first en route to a 3-0 lead.
With Junis toeing the rubber, a 3-0 lead would often be enough. In fact, tonight it was. But Grass Creek was on the line. These are not the times to ease off the gas.
Compounding the higher stakes, the Royals needed to overcome their early-season issue on the blown-lead front. Grass Creek is a battleground, and the Ghosts of Leads Blown can haunt as long as a team allows them to chase them.
Furthermore, any cessation of maximum effort is perceived as weakness to the denizens of the Wyoming burg. Every in-game development is scrutinized to degrees otherwise unrealized in sport.
The Royals bats fell quiet in the second, but Yost’s men put two aboard to start the third. After getting “designated hitter” Cam Gallagher to strike out for the first out of the frame, Scott Servais turned to the pen and fingered Casey Lawrence. Gonzales’s night was done with just 2.1 innings to his credit. Alcides Escobar grounded out but drove in the suddenly hot Jorge Soler to take the Royals’ run total to four.
With Servais needing innings from his pen and Royals starter Jakob Junis in shutdown mode, Casey Lawrence was called upon to finish the fourth no matter what. This meant that the Royals were able to add five runs in another frame in which every Royal batted. Whit Merrifield led off with a single and stole second. Cheslor Cuthbert and Soler each walked. Cam Gallagher and Drew Butera each doubled because why wouldn’t they? Those doubles were sandwiched around an Escobar single. When the home half of the fifth was done, the Royals held a 9-0 lead, and Junis was still twirling a no-no.
While not exactly sharp, Royals righty Jakob Junis did take a no-hitter into the seventh. After inducing a weak comebacker to the mound for the first out of the frame, Junis yielded a screaming grounder right back up the middle to Dan Vogelbach. The ball went in and out of the glove of a diving Alcides Escobar, shifted over to behind the bag at second. The decidedly slow Vogelbach thundered to first safely, becoming the sixth Mariner to reach base but the first to do so by way of a hit.
Junis allowed just the one hit through seven innings, but his control wasn’t exactly the stuff of legend. He hit Vogelbach in the second and Robinson Canó in the fourth with sliders, and he plunked Guillermo Heredia in the fifth with a four-seamer that sailed inside to lead things off. He mixed in a walk in the third (the inimitable David Freitas) and the fourth (Mitch Haniger), meaning he only pitched clean frames in the first and sixth. Still, he managed the tightrope walk until that Vogelbach single in the seventh.
With his pitch count at 90 on a COLD night and the hope of a no-hitter put down by a Vogelbach grounder up the middle, Junis’s night ended with the last out of the seventh. He finished with just three strikeouts, two walks, three hit batsmen, one measly single, and no runs allowed.
Protecting a nine-run lead, Ned Yost turned to the much-maligned Brandon Maurer. He struck out Freitas to kick off the frame but yielded a single up the middle to Dee Gordon.
Even with a nine-run lead, Maurer’s ceding of a baserunner induced fits of panic in the most reactionary of Royal faithful, as Maurer and baserunners are things which do not mix without serious risk of explosion. Maurer pleaded to the Baseball Gods, wishing for anything other than a total eclipse of his heart. His prayers were answered as Jean Segura grounded into the double play of the Brandy Man’s dreams.
With two innings left to cover before getting out of the game with their lives but without even a shred of their dignity, Scott Servais turned to Taylor Motter to pitch the eighth.
For those unaware, Motter is not a pitcher.
When a position player is called upon to pitch in a game that has yet to reach the ninth inning, things have not gone according to plan. When the opponent your pitching staff is facing is the 2018 Kansas City Royals—a squad who had amassed a mere 16 runs through their first seven games—and your pen is so shredded that the eighth has to be pitched by a utility infielder, the day has gone disastrously.
Motter yielded a dong of Moose-like proportions to the Royals’ third baseman and then loaded the bases, but got out of the inning only increasing the Royals margin of victory by a run, running the score to 10-0, Royals.
While hardly a deathblow to the Mariners’ hopes in Grass Creek, the 10-0 victory for the Kansas City Royals in the opening salvo of the season’s battle was an exclamation point. Contention probably isn’t in the works, but hold onto your butts, Seattle. Grass Creek is not just there for the taking.