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Whit Merrifield plays the hero, crushes walkoff home run to defeat Baltimore 5-4

Great win!

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Kansas City Royals
Whit walkoff!
Gary Rohman-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Royals tried to lose tonight’s game against the Baltimore Orioles. But due to some ninth inning heroics by one Whit Merrifield, they did not. On an 0-2 count, Merrifield crushed his first career walkoff home run to left-center field to win the game 5-4, securing their third walkoff victory of 2018.

When Orioles starting pitcher Dylan Bundy faced the Royals in May, it was a complete and fiery disaster for the talented Oklahoman. It was the sort of start where you could uncharitably call it one of the worst starts in the history of Major League Baseball, which is quite a feat considering how many games get played every year. Bundy did not record an out, allowing seven players to reach and all seven to score, four of whom cracked home runs.

Fortunately for Bundy, his start tonight was a damn sight better than his last one. His breaking and offspeed pitches were sharp and had good movement, coaxing many swings and misses; Bundy struck out eight Royals, all coming in his first five innings. And while he did misplace a few notable pitches, the Royals merely fouled them off, and so Bundy avoided the big inning.

Kansas City did manage to tag Bundy for a few runs. In the fourth inning, Brett Phillips crushed a hanging changeup for a solo home run. Two innings later, the Royals chased Bundy from the game after a Ryan O’Hearn leadoff walk, consecutive hits by Brian Goodwin and Rosell Herrera, and a fielding error by Bundy himself. Miguel Castro closed out the inning without further damage, but it was too late: the Royals had grabbed a 3-2 lead.

Baltimore had scored both runs off Royals rookie starter Heath Fillmyer, who turned in the best start of his young career. Fillmyer allowed one of those runs but avoided significant damage in the second inning, squirming out of a bases loaded, no-out jam by inducing a sac fly and a ground ball double play. And in the fourth inning, Tim Beckham clobbered a fastball to center field for a solo homer. But other than that, Fillmyer was quietly excellent. He stayed down with his pitches, mostly limiting the Orioles’ hits to singles, and struck out six while walking only one. Fillmyer was efficient, too, churning through seven innings of two-run ball with exactly 100 pitches thrown.

Even a year ago, bringing a 3-2 lead into the eighth inning was a relatively safe affair. Not so for the 2018 Royals, adrift in a sea of managerial incompetence and terrible players. Jason Hammel represents the intersection of those two factors: Hammel has been thoroughly awful this year both as a starter and out of the pen, and at almost 36 years of age has absolutely no business being on any MLB team especially during expanded September rosters and super especially for a rebuilding team looking at youngsters.

You might have guessed what happened. Hammel promptly gave up a leadoff home run to Trey Mancini to tie the game, then allowed a hard-hit single from Adam Jones that was only so because he tripped and a double to Beckham that scored Jones. Hammel didn’t give anything else up, but with Baltimore owning a 4-3 lead it hardly mattered. The damage was done.

Phillips led off the ninth inning with a four-pitch walk, and with Cam Gallagher at the plate the Royals again made an unforced error. Despite Mychal Givens’ clear issues with finding the strike zone, Gallagher placed a sacrifice bunt to freely give away one perfectly good out. Whether Gallagher’s fault or Ned Yost’s, it was a dumb decision. And like Hammel’s appearance, it was completely avoidable.

But Merrifield wanted to win. And so he did. After getting behind in the count 0-2, Merrifield crushed a home run off Givens that landed in the outstretched glove of an excited fan, scoring Phillips and scoring Merrifield his first MLB walkoff homer.

The Royals are 44-91. Powered by a younger and more athletic lineup than they began the year with, they have now won six of their last seven games and have won three consecutive series for the first time this season. Kansas City will face Baltimore once more tomorrow, and will travel to Cleveland to play the first place Indians for a three-game set followed by an off day.