The Royals may not have won as many games as they would have liked, but they still gave us 74 chances to say “#HEYHEYHEYHEY” after a victory. Let’s look best at the best games the Royals had to offer in 2021.
The Royals got off to a pretty good start in April, but it seemed like the defending American League champion Rays were going to bring the Royals back to reality, taking the first two games of a series in Kansas City. When they jumped on starter Jakob Junis for four runs in the first, it looked like a sweep might be in order.
But the Royals slowly chipped away at the lead, getting home runs from Hunter Dozier (his first of the year!) and Jorge Soler to make it 4-3. But it seemed like it wouldn’t be the Royals’ night as Carlos Santana ripped a pitch in the gap only to have it speared by Brett Phillips. Salvador Perez thought he hit a home run, only to have it hit the top of the fence, causing him to be easily tagged out on the bases. Jorge Soler also missed a home run by inches and was left as a stranded runner. The Royals would take a 7-6 lead in the seventh on a two-run triple by Hanser Alberto, and a two-run home run by Carlos Santana. But Scott Barlow would cough up the lead in the eighth and gave the Rays the lead in the ninth.
The Royals used small ball to tie the game against Diego Castillo. Michael Taylor blooped a single, and pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson swiped second. Alberto sacrificed him to third, and Nicky Lopez executed a perfect sacrifice squeeze to tie the game.
That gave Salvador Perez a chance to do what he has done so many times for the Royals - win the game on a walk-off hit. In familiar fashion, he smacked a grounder past the third baseman for a game-winning hit.
By late May, a losing slump had taken the air out of the Royals’ sails, but they were still around .500 with a chance to save their season. A Sunday afternoon win on Salute to the Negro Leagues Day against the Tigers could take the series and possibly get them back on track.
Kris Bubic staked the Tigers to a 2-0 lead early on, while Tigers pitcher Casey Mize mowed down Royals hitters. The Royals didn’t manage their first hit until the fourth inning, an infield hit, and they didn’t manage their next one until the seventh. Mike Matheny was ejected in the sixth inning after arguing a foul ball call on a pitch that appeared to hit Whit Merrifield in the fingers.
The Royals managed a run in the eighth, but Kelvin Gutierrez cost themselves a chance at more when he was thrown out in a costly baserunning gaffe. But the offense woke up at just the right time. Whit Merrifield led off the bottom of the ninth with a single off Michael Fulmer, and Carlos Santana won it with one swing of the bat.
The Reds took a 5-0 lead off Kris Bubic, and they answered a Michael Taylor home run by scoring a run in the seventh to take a 6-1 lead into the late innings. Hanser Alberto led off the eighth by striking out, but he reached base on a passed ball. The next two hitters were retired, which should have ended the inning had Alberto been retired, but instead Andrew Benintendi made it pay with a two-run home run to make it 6-3 Reds.
Veteran reliever Brad Brach, who had been released by the Royals in the spring only to catch on with the Reds, walked Ryan O’Hearn to lead off the ninth, then plunked Hunter Dozier. Eugenio Suarez failed to handle a hot shot by Michael Taylor for a run-scoring error.
Nicky Lopez dropped a single into left off Heath Hembree to score two runs and tie the game. Lopez made it all the way to third after an errant throw by Reds outfielder Aristides Aquino. That’s all Salvador Perez needed. He drilled one to the warning track for a walk-off hit in a wild comeback for a 7-6 win.
With 2 Outs in the Bottom of the 9th and already with a 3 Run comeback in the inning to Tie , Salvador Perez Comes up with a HUGE WALK OFF Line drive over the head of Aristides Aquino to Win the Game for the Royals 7-6 in a crazy comeback over the Reds pic.twitter.com/Ri7BFGaGmm— MLB Walk Offs & Game Winning Plays (@MLBWalk_Offs) July 7, 2021
Royals fans have been awaiting the arrival of the pitching prospects from the 2018 draft, but the first three starts from Daniel Lynch was nothing to write home about. He was demoted after giving up 15 runs in four innings in May, and worked hard in the minors to re-establish the arsenal that earned recognition as one of the top prospects in baseball.
Lynch returned to the big leagues in late July, and made clear he did not want to leave. It took him just seven pitches to retire three hitters in the first. Salvador Perez put the Royals on the board in the first with a three-run blast off Tarik Skubal, and Jorge Soler followed that up with a home run of his own. Soler would homer again in the third to make it 5-0 Royals.
Meanwhile, Lynch was cruising. After working around some trouble in the second, he retired ten in a row. He fired strikes and didn’t walk a hitter all afternoon, leaving him with a low pitch count. That allowed him to work eight shutout innings with five strikeouts and just five hits allowed. The Tigers did manage a run in the ninth off reliever Ervin Santana, but Lynch was the story after the game with his impressive performance in the 6-1 win.
A disappointing May and June vaporized any thoughts of contention, but after a reset at the All-Star break, the Royals began to play inspired ball again. They won seven of ten after the break heading into a July 28 matchup against the first-place White Sox.
Again, we have a Kris Bubic start! But he pitched well in this one, tossing four shutout innings to start the game, and leaving after six innings and just two runs allowed. The Royals wouldn’t get their first run off Lucas Giolito until the seventh, when Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler hit back-to-back doubles, with Soler’s drive falling just short of being a home run.
Liam Hendriks is one of the game’s best closers, but Salvador Perez was one of the game’s best home run hitters this season, and something had to give. Salvy deposited a high fastball into the fountains on a majestic home run to tie the game.
That set up the tenth, where it looked like the contact play would doom the Royals. Hanser Alberto bunted the automatic runner, Andrew Benintendi, to third. But Benny took off for home on a Hunter Dozier groundout and was out. Michael Taylor picked up Dozier with a game-winning hit for the 3-2 win.
Okay, so these weren’t exactly the Chicago Cubs we were used to, but the Royals haven’t had a no-hitter in 30 years, so we’ll take any start close to a no-no. The Cubs were fresh off their July firesale and had a lineup of no-namers that was swept by the Royals in an August series at Wrigley. Kris Bubic was simply fantastic, mixing in a curve with his plus change up and fastball to keep Cubs hitters off balance all afternoon.
The Royals jumped on rookie starter Keegan Thompson right away with a single by Whit Merrifield and a double by Chicago-native Nicky Lopez. A wild pitch got Whit one to make it 1-0 Royals. Nicky made it 2-0 with an RBI single in the second.
Meanwhile, Bubic was mowing down hitters, retiring 18 of the first 19 hitters he faced. At one point, he struck out seven out of eight hitters in a row, and he finished with a career-high nine strikeouts.
Then came a rain delay without any rain. Radars showed a storm headed to the area, and umpires had the grounds crew preemptively cover the field in the seventh inning. The storm would miss Wrigleyville, and just a trace amount of precipitation would end up falling. But the 30-minute delay may have been costly to Bubic’s chances of finishing off the no-hitter. Maybe he would have given up a hit anyway, but we’ll never know. Bubic would walk Frank Schwindel to lead off the seventh before giving up his first hit, a home run to Patrick Wisdom. Mike Matheny would lift him after that, but Bubic can hold his head high for tossing six superlative innings that day.
Did I miss any? What was your favorite game of the year?
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4/21 - Salvy walk-off vs. Rays
5/23 - Santana walk-off HR vs. Tigers
7/6 - Salvy walk-off vs. Reds
7/25 - Daniel Lynch 8 shutout innings vs. Tigers
7/28 - Salvy HR ties to set up walk-off win vs. White Sox
8/21 - Bubic near no-no vs. Cubs