In a game whose script seemed ripped straight out of 2015, the Kansas City Royals roared back from down 2-0 against the Detroit Tigers in the seventh and eighth innings thanks to timely hitting, elite speed, and a shutdown bullpen. By the time the ninth inning closed, the Royals had won 3-2.
One of the largest problems of the 2019 Royals, the reason that it has been markedly unlike 2015, has been the rotation. Jake Junis was definitely part of the problem; before coming into today, Junis sported a 5.63 ERA and was averaging under 5.2 innings per start. This was a marked decline from his previous career numbers.
But today, Junis turned in a campaign reminiscent of the best of his previous two seasons. While his curveball control was a little off—he missed a few times pretty radically from where Martin Maldonado was set up—it was nevertheless pretty filthy. And with control of his other pitches, Junis was able to cruise through the Tigers lineup without a whole lot of resistance. Over seven innings of work, Junis struck out five against not a single walk.
Unfortunately, two of the hits against Junis were of the four-bag variety. Junis lazily hung a 91 MPH fastball to both Nick Castellanos and Brandon Dixon. Both hit them out of the part for solo home runs. Still, Junis’ two runs over seven full innings is a really nice start, and certainly should have been enough to keep the Royals in the game.
You’ve probably seen enough Royals games at this point to know what happened: the Royals weren’t in the game, at least for six innings. Tigers starter Spencer Turnbull wasn’t overpowering, not exactly, but he was really sharp and induced a ton of soft contact and weak grounders. Twice, the Royals struck with a pair of hits against Turnbull, putting runners on second base and third base. Twice, Turnbull got the final out of the inning. Overall, the Royals stranded six runners over Turnbull’s six innings of work, striking out five times. None of their hits were extra base hits.
That all changed when Ryan O’Hearn obliterated a baseball—brobliterated, if you’re the Royals social media manager—against Blaine Hardy. If you’re thinking to yourself “Wait, isn’t Hardy a lefty and, wait, isn’t O’Hearn terrible against lefties” you aren’t the only one. I thought it to myself in disbelief as I watched the pitch sail into the fountains. You should watch it, too. It was glorious.
But while the Royals weren’t able to get the big hits off Turnbull, they did against Hardy, then in the eighth against Daniel Stumpf and Victor Alcantra. Facing Stumpf, Mondesi hit a simple ground ball through the left side of an infield that he somehow stretched into a double because he’s a blazing fast madman. It was his third hit of the night. Ron Gardenhire then promptly yanked Stumpf to put in the righty Alcantra to face the righty Jorge Soler.
It did not work.
Soler ripped a double down the left field line to score Mondesi. 2-2, all. Ned Yost pinch ran Terrance Gore for Soler, who barely stole third base, nearly falling off the bag due to an aggressive slide. Then, Cheslor Cuthbert, who had walked twice earlier in the night, popped a fly ball into the no-man’s land between right field and first base by the foul line. It dropped between three Tigers to score Gore and make a 3-2 Royals lead.
Ian Kennedy stepped to the mound in the ninth inning to try and secure the save. And save he did, striking out the first two batters in the process. It was weird for a number of reasons, not the least of which this:
Before tonight, the Royals have not won a game this year trailing into the eighth inning.
This game brought back shades of 2015. Remember then? When wins like tonight happened all the time? That was fun. Anyway, the Royals are 21-45 now. Who says they can’t win 15 of the next 20? And then win 15 of the 20 after that???