2018 has not been kind to the Royals. They entered the All Star break more than 40 games under .500. They only won four series in the entire first half. In fact, they had yet to sweep a series entering the start of second half of play!
They needed exactly one weekend to change that total, as behind a wild play from their backup catcher, the Royals bolted past the Twins, 5-3, on Sunday afternoon. It took until July 22nd, but they finally snagged their first sweep of 2018.
Drew Butera hit an inside-the-park home run! That’s not even a typo, he hit an inside-the-park home run!
In the eighth inning with the score deadlocked at 2-2, Drew Butera came up with two men on and two men out. He lined what appeared to be the go-ahead RBI single to center field, but Twins CF Jake Cave went for the diving catch, and he... missed. Badly. The ball rolled all the way to the wall, allowing Butera to come all the way around the bases and score. It officially goes down as his second home run of the year, and it earned him a curtain call. Hilarious, spectacular, head-scratching, and unbelievable all at the same time.
It was the first inside-the-park homer for a catcher since 1991. Really!
As for the rest of the game, Brad Keller, the brightest spot of the 2018 season, continued to be fabulous on Sunday afternoon. Keller notched a career-high eight strikeouts in 7.0+ innings of great work, holding the Twins to three runs on three hits on 99 pitches. He essentially cruised through seven innings and then hit a bit of a wall in the eighth, but that was after he had been sitting for a bit while the Royals did their thing in the bottom of the seventh. For a guy that just turned 23 years old, Keller’s work is very encouraging, and he really does look like a potential upper-level starter for the years to come.
The Twins did their damage against Keller in the fourth inning, when they strung together a walk, a double, a single, and a run-scoring fielder’s choice to take a 2-0 lead. In the other six of the first seven first frames, Keller shut the Twins down 1-2-3.
In the fifth inning, as Billy Butler joined the FSKC booth and watched on, the Royals tied up the contest. Lucas Duda reached on an error and Rosell Herrera walked, and Alex Gordon lined an opposite-field double into the corner to plate both men. That tied the game 2-2, but the Royals were unable to plate Gordon, stranding him on third base to end the inning.
Max Kepler hit a solo homer in the eighth inning, Minnesota’s first baserunner against Keller since the fourth frame, to bring the Twins a bit closer. It ended Keller’s ridiculous streak of 63.1 consecutive innings without allowing a home run, which had been the third-longest run in Royals history (Kelvin Herrera and Yordano Ventura).
After Keller walked Ehire Adrianza to end his day, Tim Hill came on and retired the next three hitters to escape the threat and keep Kansas City’s lead at two. In the ninth inning, Wily Peralta managed to make easy work of Minnesota, earning the save.
Jake Odorizzi matched Keller and put forth a nearly identical line. He allowed just two hits in 6.0 innings, allowing two runs and striking out eight batters. The former Royals farmhand had struggled in his other career appearances against the team that developed him, but Sunday afternoon was his best outing against Kansas City.
It was a great series for the Royals. The whole thing felt very 2015-y. You had the Friday night game when their offense carried them, the Saturday night game when the bullpen slammed the door, and the Sunday afternoon come-from-behind victory that featured some weird, fluky play that broke in their favor. More of that, please.
Tomorrow: the Tigers come in to Kauffman Stadium for the second time this season. Heath Fillmyer will oppose Francisco Liriano in a 7:10 pm (not 7:15, 7:10) first-pitch.