Over the offseason, the Kansas City Royals acquired Mike Minor, Carlos Santana, and Andrew Benintendi to fill crucial holes in their pitching staff and lineup. And in today’s Sunday afternoon 4-3 victory over the Chicago White Sox, all three played crucial roles in a game that began tediously but got rapidly crazier as the contest drew to a close: Santana hit a game-tying home run, Benintendi drove in a pair, and Minor made a nice start on the mound.
Minor began this game looking to bounce back from his first start of the year, which was a mixed bag. Though he did manage to go six innings in that start, he gave up four runs along the way. This afternoon, Minor’s start was also a mixed bag, but it was a different mixture and a different bag that the Royals would probably prefer. That’s because, while Minor only went four innings, laboring through much of it, he managed to squeeze out of his biggest jams and only gave up one run along the way.
The most problematic inning of the game for Minor was also completely self-inflicted. Minor kicked off the bottom of the second by walking Yermin Mercedes on six pitches all over the plate. He then walked Andrew Vaughn—the Cal first baseman picked one selection after Bobby Witt, Jr. in the 2019 MLB draft—on six pitches, again with apparent confusion where the strike zone was. But after striking out Zack Collins, Minor coaxed a ground ball out of Nick Madrigal but botched both the catch part and the throw part of the catch-and-throw fielding operation, thereby loading the bases. Fortunately for Minor, he struck out Danny Mendick and got a soft lineout from Leury Garcia to end the inning.
Minor gave up his sole run in the fourth inning via three consecutive baserunners: a single to Madrigal, a walk to Mendick, and a double to Garcia. But, again, a fly out from Luis Robert ended the inning with just that minor damage. Minor’s full line: four innings, four hits, three walks, three strikeouts, and one run in 85 pitches.
However, Minor is not the story of this game. That would be, well, everything else. Let’s start with the Royals offense, which kicked off the game with a goose egg for its first three innings, stretching their scoreless innings streak to 15. A trio of singles by Kyle Isbel, Michael A. Taylor, and Whit Merrifield pushed a run across in the fifth inning. Kansas City manufactured another run in the eighth inning thanks to a Nicky Lopez walk, a Nicky Lopez steal, and an Andrew Benintendi single. But for most of the game, the Royals lineup—especially the core of the Royals lineup, from Benintendi in the two-hole through Dozier batting sixth—was simply lost at the plate. Salvador Perez and Jorge Soler, for instance, went a combined 0-9 with seven strikeouts.
That was, at least, until the top of the ninth inning, when Carlos Santana, batting fourth, met former Royal and current White Sox closer, Liam Hendrick, with a game-tying and save-blowing home run.
How did the White Sox score those extra two runs that necessitated Santana’s bomb for the Royals to stay alive? Well, because of Kansas City’s own blown save, of course. In the bottom of the eighth, reliever Jesse Hahn stepped onto the mound and did what he has done ever since making his debut as a Royal in 2019: walk a bunch of dudes. In 25.1 innings with the Royals, Hahn has a 6.75 BB/9, which is bad, and is very bad when the margin for error is so close. Indeed, Hahn walked Mercedes and then immediately gave up a home run to pinch-hitter Adam Eaton, and then gifted Greg Holland a free baserunner with another walk before slinking back to the dugout.
Holland managed to clean up the mess there, but the bullpen shenanigans did not stop. Holland came back for the bottom of the ninth and, apparently inspired by Hahn, proceeded to walk his own leadoff batter, Jose Abreu. With the White Sox only needing one run to win it, Holland squeaked out of his jam by inducing a Yoan Moncada double play and then getting Nick Williams to fly out.
The Royals, then, did what they do best in extra innings with the new runner-on-second rule: bunt like madmen. Lopez placed a textbook sacrifice bunt to move Taylor to third base, and then Benintendi and Taylor did a quasi-suicide squeeze situation that was aided by Garret Crochet attempting to spike the baseball into the depths of Hades.
Though the White Sox had a runner on second of their own, that runner only matters if they can get a hit, which Kyle Zimmer did not allow. Zimmer promptly struck out Eaton and Collins on pure filth, and then Madrigal ended the game via a simple groundout to shortstop; it was Zimmer’s first big league save. The final: 4-3. Kansas City’s record: 4-3.
Tomorrow, the Royals will return to Kauffman Stadium to play the Los Angeles Angels and kick off a long homestand where they will play every day for over a week straight. Let the pursuit of the American League Central crown begin in earnest!