My favorite late-inning Royals game to play is “How will the bullpen blow it this time?”
I never know how it will turn out, but it’s always an entertaining watch. Even when nothing happens—even when the bullpen does that thing they’re supposed to do where they don’t give up runs and don’t allow a lead to go away or get larger—I’m on pins and needles the whole time. The suspense is, frankly, one of the most interesting parts of any Royals game.
But dadgum Jason Hammel, he decided not to even let it be an issue tonight. Hammel secured his season’s first win with a solid seven innings, scattering nine hits and giving up just one earned as the Royals toppled the Cardinals in a 5-1 effort on the road.
‘Twas old friend Jose Martinez who got the scoring started, in the game and for the Cardinals, in the first. After a two-out single, Martinez moved to third on a Marcell Ozuna single. Then he won a staring contest with Salvador Perez, charging to the plate after Perez threw to third trying to chase him back to the bag. Mike Moustakas mishandled the throw and Martinez opened the game with a steal of home.
It didn’t last long; in the second inning Alex Gordon, fresh off a 4-for-43 stretch since May 9, clubbed his season’s fourth homer. Cardinals centerfielder Tyler O’Neill ran out of room in a hurry, as the 107.1 mph exit velocity was his fifth-highest of the season—the last one to break 107 was a 422-foot moonshot off Mike Fiers back on May 3.
Perhaps Tuesday saw Gordon bring an end to his recent funk—he finished 3-for-4.
Two innings later, Gordon was involved again, in more of a tertiary role. After a one-out Whit Merrifield walk, Gordon’s single moved him into scoring position. Given how quickly Ozuna was able to track that ball in left, it’s possible that Gordon moving Whit into scoring position is the only way Alcides Escobar’s double was able to bring him around to score.
Perez atoned for his first inning… well, not quite a gaffe, but perhaps avoidable semi-mistake? Anyway, he did two good and fun things in this ball game. First, his strike-em-out, throw-em-out end the fourth showcased the full Salvy experience: first, he backhanded a low slider, while on the way out of his crouch, to secure the strikeout on Luke Weaver—that’s not an easy play, with a lesser catcher that ball’s headed to the backstop. Then he HUMMED a bullet to Ryan Goins covering to get Yairo Munoz with a quickness.
In the seventh, Salvy extended the Royals lead by depositing a Weaver curveball into the left field bullpen. And really, it was nice just for Cardinals fans to get a chance to see a quality catcher for once. Good for them, ya know? Guys of Salvy’s caliber who can field and hit and do all the stuff you expect of catchers can be hard to find.
Pretty fortunate that Cardinals fans get to watch the best catcher in the state of Missouri tonight. pic.twitter.com/kPsm0Tc55l
— Mike Engel (@michaelengel) May 23, 2018
The ninth inning brought forth a bittersweet moment. Former Kansas City closer Greg Holland, late of Colorado but now in St. Louis, came on for the Cardinals; however, Steve Physioc and Rex Hudler were hardly finished fawning over Holland before the wheels came off. Abraham Almonte singled. Escobar singled. Pinch-hitting Hunter Dozier walked.
Sacks full. Nobody out. Former Cardinal Jon Jay at the dish, and he responded with a two-run knock to score Almonte and Esky. Holland out of the game. Cue the sad trombone sound.
(John Brebbia then got pop outs from Goins, Moustakas and Salvy. Shoulda been more, which would be the title of the retrospective for this season if I thought writing it would be a worthwhile endeavor.)
Kelvin Herrera yielded singles to Kolten Wong and Munoz to get the ninth off to a worrisome start, but a groundball double play put those fears aside, and he struck out pinch-hitter Jedd Gyorko to end the night. Game, good guys.
(Late addendum: Postgame, Hammel was EXTREMELY critical of the shift, aka Ned Yost’s newfound toy. I thought it was an odd time to gripe about it, after a win and Hammel’s first good outing in nearly a month. I’m just a hack with a computer, so what I think is pretty inconsequential. Worth nothing though.)
The Bright Spot: Brad Keller pitched a scoreless inning. Gordon and Esky collected three hits. After giving up 11 homers in the previous three games, they allowed no big flies to the Red Birds.
The Nadir: Munoz, who I didn’t know was a real boy prior to this series, went 4-for-4. He was 2-for-20 in his first two weeks in the big leagues. Royals pitching is good for what ails you.
The Next Step: Getaway day, with a 12:15 p.m. (CT) start, features easily the best starting pitching matchup, with Jakob Junis and Michael Wacha set to square off. Full disclosure: for the last two years, my fantasy team has been named Wacha Wacha Cain; don’t you dare judge me.