Jakob Junis vs. Chris Sale may not be a traditional matchup between front line starters, but fortunately Junis didn’t let a little thing like narrative slow him down.
The righty didn’t factor into Tuesday night’s decision. It wasn’t his best start of the season and I’d wager he didn’t quite have his best stuff, or at least the sort of stuff that might overpower the mighty Boston Red Sox. He scattered seven hits over six innings, striking out five—not the kind of numbers you’ll one day be bragging about staying home to see.
But when he departed ahead of the seventh inning, he did so in a tie game against one of the league’s best teams and most imposing No. 1 starters. And even if the numbers don’t leap off the page at you, it’s another encouraging start for the 25-year old as he continues his ascent in the rotation.
While we’ve seen Junis work and keep hitters off-balance better than he did in this game—at times becoming a bit predictable early in counts—on this night he made a habit of getting out of trouble, extricating himself from a couple of significant jams:
- Rafael Devers hit a one-out double in the second. Junis induced a Jackie Bradley Jr. flyout and a three-pitch Christian Vazquez strikeout.
- Single (Andrew Benitendi), walk (J.D. Martinez) single (Mitch Moreland) loads the bases for Boston in the third. Junis sits down Xander Bogaerts, only one of the hottest pitchers in the league, on a slider for strike three.
Sure, there was that messy thing in the sixth where Mitch Moreland homered and Bradley drove in Rafael Devers after the latter’s two-out double, which tied the game and ensured that Junis would not get a win for his work. Whatever, man; more established pitcher’s than Jakob Junis have had their heads caved in by Boston this season, so he should be proud of himself.
Luck played a factor Tuesday, as it usually does when a 7-21 team defeats a 21-7 team. In the fourth, Salvador Perez reached on a Devers error, and then the sacks were loaded via Abraham Almonte walk and Lucas Duda getting hit by a pitch. With one out, Alcides Escobar provided the sac fly to score Perez and open the scoring.
(And that’s not to mention FOUR errors committed by the Red Sox. That’s not how a supposed contender plays, gents.)
In the sixth, Ned Yost deployed some old-fashioned small ball. Jon Jay led off the sixth with a single, followed by Lucas Duda two batters later; he was forced out at second on an Esky ground out, setting up runners on the corners with two away for Alex Gordon. Instead of leaving things up to Gordon, Ned put on the delayed steal, with Esky getting caught in a pickle that allowed Jay to score before giving himself up to end the frame.
Once Junis departed in the seventh, the bullpen did that predictable thing where it gave up a run at the worst possible time. The problem didn’t come when Tim Hill served up the one-out double to Benitendi; the problem came once he was replaced by Brad Keller, who uncorked two wild pitches, first two Hanley Ramirez and then to Martinez, the latter allowing Benitendi to score from third as the Red Sox took the lead.
Typical Royals. Play tough, fight the good fight, lose in the end.
Not so fast. For on this night, our friend Alex Gordon had other ideas. Down a run in the ninth, against one of the game’s best closers in Craig Kimbrel, Gordon got a belt-high heater and turned it around, launching it into the New England night to tie the game. For reasons defying logic, Kevin McCarthy pitched the home ninth, but it worked out and extras were forced.
The Royals threatened in the 10th, with back-to-back one-out singles by Perez and Jay before Almonte struck out and Duda grounded out to end the frame. Boston was seemingly bum-fuzzled by McCarthy, who tossed three excellent innings in relief—that should by him all of three appearances worth of trust, if my metric is correct.
In the 12th, Drew Butera led off with a double, so you know the good stuff’s coming. Ryan Goins, perhaps in a first during his Royals tenure, did something good, moving Butera to third and reaching himself on a bunt attempt. Runners on the corners, nobody out, of course all the Royals managed was a run via Jay’s sac fly, but it enabled them to take the lead. Until Herrera was taken deep by Eduardo Nunez in the home half to extend the game.
If the Baby Blue Bombers were rattled, it didn’t show. In the 13th, Gordon and Whit Merrifield provided one-out singles, setting the table for a huge Jorge Soler homer to give the Royals a three-run lead. It’s not hyperbole to say that was Soler’s most important moment thus far as a Royal, and a (potential?) harbinger of things to come; Soler’s launch angle was actually down from last season (14.0 degrees on average) but this one was lifted at 37 degrees and got over the Green Monster in a hurry.
Because these are still the 2018 Royals and nice things are hard to come by, the bottom of the 13th didn’t pass without incident. Burch Smith, being entrusted with a save (now THERE’S a sentence I hope we don’t have more of) allowed a Moreland single and then hit Bogaerts, getting a Devers force out at second to set up runners in the corners.
That earned him the shower and Brian Flynn the opportunity to come fix this mess. Although Flynn allowed both inherited runners to score—via Bradley groundout and a Vazquez single—he got Nunez to fly out, to the deepest part of the park, to end the game. And all exhaled.
The Bright Spot: Junis tango’d with Sale (seven innings, five hits, six strikeouts). Jay had four hits. Alex Gordon is a seeing-eye single away from hitting .260. Take your pick.
The Nadir: The bullpen (note to editor: please copy-paste this as needed for the season’s remainder)
The Next Step: A Danny Duffy-Drew Pomeranz duel in the series finale is set for high noon, Wednesday. Both are… probably not quite where they’d like to be to this point in the season. Good thing the bullpens weren’t overly taxed tonight!