Was Tuesday’s Reds-Royals game A.) a low-key pitcher’s duel or B.) a bitterly boring battle between two terrible offenses already playing out the string in mid-June?
Look, if you came here looking for 900 words on how AMAZING a 5-1 extra-inning affair between two teams who have combined for as many wins as the Red Sox have by themselves, you’re in the wrong place. In fact, I don’t think that place exists and if it does, it’s filled with bad people who want you to hate yourself. If someone asks you to go that place, you say no and you pepper spray the person who asked and you call the cops on them for public indecency.
Earlier today, I covered the Royals inability to generate strikeouts, swings-and-misses or anything good pitching teams do. Ian Kennedy responded with eight shutout innings, thereby shoving it in my face, but only five strikeouts and a whopping eight swings-and-misses, thereby proving my point anyway. What a world, where Ian Kennedy and I can both be right.
Kennedy’s counterpart was Sal Romano, and Romano was just as good as Kennedy. Usually, that’s nothing to write home about but on a night when Kennedy goes eight scoreless, it’s an actual compliment. Romano matched him stride for stride, with only Hunter Dozier’s fifth-inning home run standing between Romano and an almost-certain victory.
Romano went eight innings as well, tying his career-long outing and also providing Cincinnati with the longest outing by a Reds starter this season. The Royals offense: Giving bad pitching staffs some high points all season!
Dozier’s homer was unique on this night, not only because it provided an actual run—throw a parade, you scored a run against the Reds!—but also because it was one of few balls in play that even looked like it could get in for a hit. Just 14 of the 56 of balls put in play had a hit probability higher than 50 percent, and only 11 were hit harder than 100 mph, although four of them came in the Reds 10th inning.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.
The first three half-innings featured double plays, otherwise perhaps the pedestrian strikeout totals posted by both Kennedy and Romano would’ve weighed a little more heavily. The Reds even forced a bases-loaded situation with one down in the second; Scooter Gennett led off with a single, followed by walks to Eugenio Suarez and Adam Duvall sandwiched around a Jesse Winker line out. Jose Peraza flew out to Abraham Almonte in center field and Almonte, finally having his fill of the “Royals should’ve kept the other Almonte” social media deluge, UNLEASHED THE FURY with a perfect strike to home plate to nail a tagging Gennett and get the Royals out of the inning.
After Dozier homered to lead off the fifth, nothing happened until the ninth. And I mean NOTHING… Whit Merrifield was the only runner to reach second base, following his leadoff single in the sixth. 1-0 game, Kelvin Herrera coming in for the Royals… Uncle Huddy was no doubt ready to throw it to Joel and the gang for some postgame win talk for once!
Tucker Barnhart scuttled those plans with a leadoff homer in the ninth inning. After three two-seamers and two sliders worked the count to 2-2, Herrera hung a changeup that Barnhart thwacked into the bullpen. Opponents were hitting .357 on Herrera’s change this year; that number will go up, and why he elected to go there with a game on the line is a bit of a mystery, although if his reasoning is, “Ehh, it was Tucker Barnhart, I thought I had some wiggle room,” I’ll totally buy that. Herrera has been fantastic this season; the bell was going to toll for him at some point anyway.
After Salvador Perez was nicked by a two-seamer to lead off the Royals ninth, Alex Gordon ripped a screamer with one down that looked like trouble, but Winker tracked it down and Dozier struck out swinging. To extras!
Normally, extra innings are a more high-leverage affair, but Kevin McCarthy made sure that wouldn’t be a problem. He had some help, of the bad (Jose Peraza singled on a tapper, then advanced to second on a Mike Moustakas throwing error) and the good (Salvador Perez gunning down Peraza at third on Billy Hamilton’s sacrifice attempt) variety.
Scott Schebler singled, moving Hamilton to third, at which point things got dumb. Barnhart grounded back to McCarthy, who thought he had Hamilton dead to rights after the speedster broke for the plate. Instead, Hamilton got into—and out of—a rundown to load the sacks for Joey Votto.
Don’t do this for Joey Votto. The Canadian slugger tripled—he’s faster than he looks, that’s the 19th of his career—to clear the bases, then scored after Gennett was intentionally walked and Suarez whistled a single into left. A 1-1 game was 5-1 by the time the Royals got to bat again.
Ryan Goins, Alcides Escobar and Almonte were due up for the Royals in the 10th. So… yep. Yep yep yep.
The Bright Spot: Kennedy. His first eight-inning outing since last April went for nothing. I feel bad for him, and I want you to know I have NEVER said that about Ian Kennedy. He’s been paid $37 million for 4.0 bWAR since 2016; it takes a lot for me to feel bad for someone after that.
The Nadir: Merrifield had two hits. So did the rest of the lineup. Against Sal Romano, he of the career 5.21 ERA and 5.46 FIP.
The Next Step: Jason Hammel finally gets to face not the A’s, and hopefully he’ll keep pitching effectively (three runs or fewer in three of the last four starts) while the Royals get him some runs. UNLIKE WHAT THEY DID FOR KENNEDY.