You could be forgiven if, when this game started, the last thing you expected was a pitcher’s duel. That, as they say, is why they play the game. The Royals sent their struggling ace Brad Keller to the mound, lugging his 6.39 ERA behind him. Opposite him, Cleveland sent Triston McKenzie and his 6.38 ERA to the mound. So, of course, the pair combined to allow five hits in fourteen and two-thirds innings.
McKenzie had what was most certainly the best start of his young major league career. He struck out nine and walked one while allowing only a single hit - a groundball that sped past the shortstop off the bat of Michael A Taylor. McKenzie set a career mark for innings pitched and came in one shy of his career mark for strikeouts in a game.
Brad Keller still had easily his best start of 2021. He pitched seven and two-thirds innings and only got in trouble twice. In the second inning, he walked the first two batters he faced - leading many to wonder if the brilliant first inning was simply a fluke - before allowing an RBI single to Bradley Zimmer. That was the last time a runner would reach base until the seventh inning. His slider, in particular, was really working. He ended up striking out nine on the night.
The Royals finally got to Cleveland when manager Terry Francona went to his bullpen. Emmanuel Clase came out throwing 100 MPH fastballs and nasty sliders. Jorge Soler caught one of the fastballs out over the middle and put it in the first row in left-center.
Keller was asked to go back to the mound in the eighth inning despite having thrown 96 pitches. He allowed a flyball to the number nine hitter that Andrew Benintendi and Taylor allowed to drop between them. Daniel Johnson advanced to second on a poor throw back to the infield by Taylor. He advanced to third on a single by Cesar Hernandez. That’s when things got weird.
Amed Rosario hit a groundball to a drawn-in Nicky Lopez. Lopez tried to look Johnson back to third, but he decided to go home. Nicky threw home, and Salvador Perez started chasing him back toward third. He elected not to throw to Hunter Dozier, and Johnson slid safely back into third base. Hernandez then attempted to slide into third. Salvy tagged Johnson, who was safe at third; then he tagged Hernandez, who was out attempting to advance to a base currently possessed by another runner. Then Johnson took his hand off the bag, and Salvy tagged him again. A head’s up play by Perez turned the situation into a 6-2 fielder’s choice with two runners out at third.
The Royals had an opportunity to take their first lead in the top of the ninth. Andrew Benintendi led off the inning with a double, but the Royals could not get him around as Salvy and Ryan O’Hearn both struck out around a Carlos Santana flyout.
When Keller was pulled in the eighth, Mike Matheny called upon Jake Brentz against Franmil Reyes, and he struck him out looking. That earned Brentz an opportunity to start the ninth inning. He promptly gave up the go-ahead home run to Bobby Bradley.
- Brad Keller turned in the longest start of the year for the Royals. This was the first time a Royals starting pitcher had earned an out in the eighth inning, and Keller got two, even if it was in the weirdest possible way. If you’re wondering why the bullpen is struggling, that ain’t helping.
- According to the broadcast’s description of the rules, even if Johnson hadn’t gotten back to third first, Hernandez would have been out had Salvy tagged him first because the base would have belonged to Johnson.
- Terry Francona got tossed for arguing the call in the eighth inning. The simplest explanation is that he was so fed up with the awful baserunning that he decided he wanted the rest of the night off because, while the play was irregular, it seemed to be called correctly on what was ultimately a pretty clear play once you understood the rules involved.
- McKenzie may have struggled in his short career, but he’s always pitched the Royals well. This was his fifth appearance and fourth start against the boys in blue, and he’s now allowed only four runs in 26.2 innings.
- Salvador Perez earned a golden sombrero tonight and has struck out a total of seven times against Cleveland in the series without yet reaching base.
Some will call this a frustrating or disappointing game that the team should have found a way to win. It’s true that the team squandered some opportunities and more than a little good fortune. However, it was an impressive-as-hell start from Brad Keller and hopefully a sign that he truly has figured out what he’s been doing wrong all year. He lowered his ERA all the way down to 5.97; it’s pretty hard to drop your ERA by that much this late in the season. At this point, it doesn’t matter what the Royals do this year. Keller regaining his form as a top-end starting pitcher for future seasons is more important.
If the Royals want to avoid a series loss going into the break, they’ll have to start by winning tomorrow evening. Mike Minor (6-7 5.36 ERA) will face off against Cal Quantrill (0-2 4.20 ERA.)