Quite a day in the Royals Universe.
Let’s start with the Walkoff.
Up until Friday, the Royals were one of two teams without a walkoff. (I was going to write walkoff victory, but that’s redundant, isn’t it?) Sunday, they doubled their season total.
It was a crisp, clean game. Old friend Erv Santana was dealing. He was locating his fastball and his slider had teeth. Through 7.2 innings, Drew Butera and Alex Gordon had the only hits off of him. Somehow, both hits plated a run. For the first tally, Butera singled up the middle with two outs to bring home nearly All-Star Omar Infante who walked on four pitches. Karma demanded Infante score. The guy has a 1.5 percent walk rate.
Infante advanced to second on a Jerrod Dyson sacrifice. I know that with the offense operating on fumes, there’s this desire to manufacture runs. I’ll just never understand why you bunt with a guy like Dyson who has exceptional speed. He’s extremely difficult to double up, so why give up that out? If he hits into a fielder’s choice, you’ve basically swapped him with the man on first. I’d rather have Dyson on the bases than any other Royal. Whatever. It worked because the next batter, Butera, dribbled a single up the middle.
The Royals next hit came in the fifth, when Gordon yanked a slider that barely cleared the right field wall. I saw somewhere it was 363 feet. Ummm… If it’s truly 330 down the line, there is absolutely no way that ball travelled that far. Picking nits here, but that was one of the shortest home runs I’ve ever seen. And the beauty is, it doesn’t matter in the least. They all count equal. And in this case, it was a tie game.
Danny Duffy did a nice job for the Royals. He struggled a bit with command where it didn’t seem like his slider was especially sharp. However, he battled and turned in his best start since his return to the rotation. He retired the Twins in order only once, but was able to get the big outs when he needed them. (Thanks mainly to Torii Hunter who grounded in to a pair of double plays.) Back to back doubles in the second and a home run were the only damage the Twins could muster.
A couple of nice positives to glean from this Duffy start: One, his velocity got stronger as he progressed through the game. You know how Duffy has a tendency to get amped up at times, which probably works against him as a starter. We kind of saw that in his first start back from the DL, where he was firing at 97 and 98 mph in the first. He faded quickly. On Sunday, he was around 95 before he really turned it on at the end.
The second positive
It all led up to the ninth. The Twins threatened with a runner on second with two outs against Greg Holland. At this point, it felt like this was the key moment. If Holland could get Nunez, it just felt like the Royals would prevail. If the Twins took the lead, it would be curtains for the Royals. Thankfully, Holland got a groundout to roll the game to the bottom of the ninth.
With Santana out of the game, a tie game and the Twins on the road, Paul Molitor couldn’t bring in his closer. It’s written somewhere in the Book Of The Closer, or something. That’s the dumbest unwritten rule ever. And all managers adhere to it. Why on earth would you save your (presumably) best reliever for a situation that may never arise? Man, that “save” stat is a killer. I digress. Thanks for the closer dogma.
Blane Boyer walks Cain which brings up Hosmer. Molitor goes to his bullpen for a left-hander, Aaron Thompson. Hosmer, as we all know, is in an incredible slump. Entering Sunday, he has just three extra base hits since the start of June. Not one of those was pulled. The guy has been a ground ball machine of late. It’s been brutal.
Thompson throw his first two pitches down and away. Which is where Hosmer has been swinging and missing of late. With the count 1-1, Thompson comes inside with a fastball. Hosmer is looking for it and yanks a shot down the right field line. With Cain on base, he’s flying and thankfully, was sent home by third base coach Mike Jirschle. Ballgame.
The game was played on July 5, but damn if that didn’t feel like a massive game. The Royals have been scuffling at the plate, yet managed to split the four game series with Minnesota, both in walkoff fashion. Technically, the Royals never held the lead in the entire series. They were out hit and outscored. Yet they managed a split. That feels pretty good.
What also feels pretty good is the fact the Big Blue Machine will be well represented in Cincinnati. Sal Perez, Alcides Escobar, Lorenzo Cain and Alex Gordon will all be starters a week from Tuesday in the All-Star Game. It’s the first time in franchise history the Royals have put four starters on the team and it matches the number of starters they’ve had over the last 25 years combined.
It’s a helluva accomplishment and a great acknowledgement that the Royals are still one of the best stories in baseball. I fully expect Mike Moustakas and Wade Davis to join the starting four to give the Royals a total of six players in the game. While the All-Star Game doesn’t hold crazy allure for me, we’re not that far removed from Aaron Crow sitting in the bullpen in the game, so it’s still a moment I can get behind and enjoy. It’s kind of cool if you think about it. Cain and Gordon are getting selected because they are all-around great players. Sal has become the standard-bearer of American League catchers. This could be his position for the next several years. Escobar becomes the first post-Jeter shortstop to get the nod. Kind of cool he’s the go-to vote when a legend drops off the ballot.
It just feels like another step in the rejuvenation of the franchise. It’s not quite on the same level as last September and October, but it’s pretty cool it’s still rolling along.
All hail the Big Blue Machine.