This was always going to be Bobby Witt Jr.’s day. Just like Alex Gordon getting a standing ovation after striking out in his first career at-bat, this was always going to be Bobby’s day, regardless of his performance.
And as fans chanted his name after three hitless performances, Bobby played the late-inning hero with a go-ahead double in the 8th inning that proved to be a game-winning double. His first hit was a game-winner, and on a dreary Opening Day in front of just under 30,000 fans, the Royals beat the Guardians 3-1.
It was a cold, windy, and at times rainy Opening Day and both starters took advantage of the nasty hitting weather and looked strong considering their short spring.
2009 American League Cy Young Zack Greinke started his outing off by giving up a lead-off single to Myles Straw, but showed off his defensive skills by starting a 1-4-3 double play on an Amed Rosario comebacker.
After giving up that leadoff single, Greinke retired the next eight Guardians before Straw singled again to lead off the top of the 4th. After Straw stole second, Nicky Lopez saved a run with an incredible diving catch on a 107 MPH Rosario line drive before Jose Ramirez eventually drove him in on an RBI double, giving Cleveland a 1-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the Royals' bats started quietly. Minus a Michael A. Taylor line out, Kansas City struggled to make solid contact against 2020 American League Cy Young Shane Bieber. Through four innings, Bieber allowed just two Royals base runners, one of which came via error, and struck out three.
Despite being outdueled through the first half of the game, Greinke had allowed just four Guardian base runners through five innings. And the Royals were able to get Greinke back in the game in the 5th. Hunter Dozier found himself on 2nd base to lead off the inning after Rosario dropped a fly ball that got caught in a brutal crosswind.
Bieber looked to be on his way to escaping trouble after getting the next two Royals without Dozier advancing, but an RBI double to the left-center alley from Lopez tied the game at 1-1. With the go-ahead runner at 2nd, Terry Francona opted to go to Bryan Shaw, who was able to strand Lopez at 2nd with a Merrifield strikeout.
Bieber matched his Spring Training innings total with 4.2 IP, giving up just one run and striking out four Royals in the process. Greinke returned to the mound for the 6th, but left the 6th with two outs and runners on the corners.
Lefty Jake Brentz replaced him, walked the bases loaded, and then struck out Yu Chang to get out of trouble. Greinke finished his afternoon allowing just one run in 5.2 IP.
Brentz and Josh Staumont flirted with trouble in the 6th and 7th innings but kept the game tied with the help of Scott Barlow heading into the bottom of the 8th. Taylor led off with a walk and reach second on a Lopez sacrifice bunt. After Merrifield struck out for the 2nd out of the inning, the buzz of the crowd steadily grew as Witt Jr. strolled to the plate.
Kauffman Stadium chanted his name as he uncorked on an 85-MPH Triston McKenzie offering up around his chin and sent it into the left-field corner, driving in Taylor, and putting the Royals up 2-1. He then moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on Andrew Benintendi’s RBI single, giving the Royals a 3-1 lead heading into the 9th inning.
Barlow got himself into some trouble in his 2nd inning of work, putting runners on the corner with two outs, but struck out Straw looking to end the game and give the Royals a thrilling win on a cold, wet Kansas City day.
Up Next: Royals v. Guardians, Saturday, April 9, 3:10 PM CDT, Kauffman Stadium. RHP Brad Keller (0-0, -.— ERA) v. RHP Zach Plesac (0-0, -.— ERA).