The game started so well, too.
Through four innings, Brad Keller looked like himself, again. He gave up a run in the first inning but was due more to excellent and lucky hitting by Xander Bogaerts than poor pitching by Keller. He threw his bat at a two-strike slider out of the zone and managed to get just enough on it to get it to the outfield and drive in the run.
Meanwhile, the bottom of the first seemed to go the Royals' way immediately. Whit Merrifield took a lead-off walk and immediately stole second. After Carlos Santana struck out, Merrifield took matters into his own feet once again and stole third. Boston brought the infield in and the Royals put the contact play on. Salvador Perez hit one on the ground right at Bogaerts and Whit was cut down trying to score.
Keller was handling his business, though, so it seemed like things might be OK. Carlos Santana grounded out to drive in Nicky Lopez in the bottom of the third but Salvador Perez hit into another fielder’s choice to see Whit cut down at home, again.
Things unraveled for Keller in the fifth. First, he walked the number-eight batter, Kiké Hernandez, to lead off the inning. Then Bobby Dalbec hit one to left that Hunter Dozier badly misplayed; Dozier appeared to break in at first, then did not break far enough back, then misplayed the bounce off the wall and allowed Dalbec to get a rare triple to left field. Dalbec scored on a ground out, but Keller walked Alex Verdugo before J.D. Martinez launched one into the left field seats.
The big lead did give Matheny a chance to send Jackson Kowar into the game. Things did not start well. In his first inning, all three outs were recorded only thanks to phenomenal defensive plays by his outfielders. He beaned a right-handed hitter in the shoulder with a changeup and missed so badly up-and-in to J.D. Martinez with a fastball and a curveball that they both hit the backstop before they hit the ground.
I began to write a paragraph about demoting him to the minors before what appeared to be a case of the “yips” could completely take hold. Then came the second inning. He looked like an entirely different pitcher from the one we had seen prior to this. He had command of the strike zone, worked with an upbeat tempo, and made Xander Bogaerts look foolish with a nasty changeup.
He came back out for a third inning and was not as dominant in the ninth as in the eighth; he allowed a two-run home run to Dalbec. Still, his pitches were much more under control than they had been at any point in his MLB career prior to that impressive eighth inning. Had this been his major league debut, I think most people would now be very excited for his next appearance. He lowered his ERA from 36.00 to 7.71
- Another baseball game, another awful strike zone.
- Whit Merrifield stole a total of three bases; these represented every free base in front of him all game. He now has 20; that not only leads all of MLB but is better than three entire teams.
- The Royals did not acquire even a single hit in eleven at-bats with runners in scoring position. They also failed to drive in runners with productive outs multiple times. The quality of the pitching hardly matters when the lineup provides that kind of effort.
- Adalberto Mondesi took the day off after two games and two home runs since returning from the injured list. Many people on the internet were big mad about giving him a break so soon after his return, but it’s encouraging to see the team making an effort to figure out how to keep him healthy and play in as many games as possible rather than keep banging their head against the wall with him.
Despite today’s loss, the Royals still have a chance to win the series against the Red Sox tomorrow. Mike Minor (5-4 4.63 ERA) will pitch for the Royals. They’ll be counting on him to eat a lot of innings after the bullpen usage of the past two games. The Red Sox will counter with Nathan Eovaldi (7-3 3.76 ERA.)