It’s long felt like the Royals struggle with rookie and/or random journeyman pitchers for some inexplicable reason, and tonight was no exception. Cody Morris made his big league debut last Friday and got smacked around by Seattle, allowing three runs and seven baserunners in just two innings. He was nails tonight, but it was all for naught as Kansas City rallied in the ninth to walk off the Guardians 2-1.
Both teams managed three baserunners in their first inning, yet neither scored. The Guardians loaded the bases with two outs off Zack Greinke, but he got an easy lineout to Kyle Isbel in left to strand the runners. Bobby Witt Jr. walked with one out in the bottom of the frame, but was gunned down trying to swipe second on an excellent throw from Luke Maile. That caught stealing hurt badly as Salvador Perez and Nick Pratto followed with consecutive singles. No runs scored as Michael Massey grounded out to end the frame.
Each pitcher settled in after that, racking up outs on balls in play. Cleveland drew first blood in the fourth when Oscar Gonzalez led off the inning with a rocket of a double to the right-center field gap, Andrés Giménez advanced him to third with a groundout, and Owen Miller brought him home with a very shallow pop-up that dropped in front of Drew Waters in center. The infield was playing in, so it’s possible Massey or Nicky Lopez would have had a play on it if they were positioned straight up.
Morris was dealing through four innings, but he’s not exactly stretched out given he’d thrown only 23.1 total innings this season prior to tonight. He was pulled after four, having thrown 61 pitches. Time for the parade of relievers. Sam Hentges tossed a 1-2-3 fifth. Enyel De Los Santos got the first two outs of the sixth before allowing a single to Perez. James Karinchak was brought in to face Pratto. Party P drew a walk, but Massey followed with a pop-up to end the inning. Tin foil hat time: Karinchak was awesome in 2020 and the beginning of 2021. Then the sticky stuff crackdown happened, and he was terrible the rest of the year. He’s been back to dominating this year. When you watch him pitch, you may notice he is incredibly fidgety on the mound. He also touches his hair. A lot. As in, between every pitch he touches his hair and then touches the rosin bag. Maybe it’s a routine thing, or maybe he’s found a sneaky way to get sticky.
Anyway, Greinke once again put together a very solid start at Kauffman Stadium and gave way to the bullpen in the seventh. Collin Snider threw a scoreless seventh. He’s been on a nice run of late, having thrown six scoreless innings in seven appearances since his two month stint in the minors. The Royals got their best scoring opportunity yet in the seventh. Facing Karinchack to lead off the inning, Nate Eaton battled back from 1-2 (which included some ugly swings on curveballs in the dirt) to draw a walk, then stole second with Isbel batting. He went down on strikes, but Karinchack then walked Waters on four pitches. Enter Trevor Stephan, who has had a sneakily excellent season. He snuffed the rally, coaxing an easy flyout from Lopez and punching out MJ Melendez on a nasty splitter down and away.
After an eventful but scoreless top of the eighth, Kansas City once again got the leadoff man on when Witt hit a grounder that clanked off the third base bag. José Ramírez was somehow able to glove it, but he had no chance to make the play at first. After a Perez flyout, Witt stole second and Pratto walked anyway to give the Royals runners on first and second with one out. Just like the last inning.
Bryan Shaw was brought in to relieve Stephan. Shaw entered the game with a 5.22 ERA and 5.05 FIP. Yet here he was, coming in to pitch a high-leverage situation. The gambit paid off. Shaw struck out Massey. Ryan O’Hearn came in to pinch-hit for Eaton and I have no comment on whether or not this was a good strategic decision. I’ll let you guess what happened next.
Kansas City had their chance against lesser relievers. In the ninth, they had to face the American League’s best, Emmanuel Clase, with the bottom of the order coming up. But baseball is a funny game. Clase just didn’t have it tonight. Ten of his first eleven pitches were balls as he walked Isbel to lead off the inning, followed by a four-pitch walk to Waters and a 2-0 count to Lopez. After a bunt attempt foul, Lopez successfully put one down. Ramírez got Waters at second, but the tying run moved to third. Melendez finally got the Royals on the board with a grounder up the middle that scored Isbel and moved the winning run to third. Cleveland chose to intentionally walk Witt to face Perez. Salvy made them pay, sending a flyball to center field that allowed Lopez to tag up and slide into home for the walk-off 2-1 win.
The win improves the Royals to 56-82, while Cleveland blows a chance to gain additional ground in the AL Central. This was Clase’s first blown save since May 9th. Kansas City will have the day off tomorrow before welcoming the Detroit Tigers to town for a three-game weekend set.
Zack Greinke - 6 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0 HR
Cody Morris - 4 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 K, 0 HR
Salvador Perez - 2-4, RBI
Oscar Gonzalez - 2-3, 2 2B, BB, R