I know the Cleveland Indians played Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez and a bunch of dudes they found hanging around the team hotel prior to the game, but still—the Royals played them to a draw for nine innings, with what’s likely to be a great many of the guys who will be counted on to populate the lineup next year. Let’s call that progress.
The last month-plus of Royals baseball has been particularly encouraging, for a variety of reasons. There have been many solid developments among the starting pitchers, there has been timely hitting, there has been excellent defense, there has been speed (my God, has there been speed) and there is plenty of promise for the future.
And on this night, there was a walk-off hit from Salvador Perez—on the 12th anniversary of his signing with the organization, no less—and the 14th victory in 17 games at Kauffman Stadium. That’s high-quality #RoyalsDevilMagic that is.
The thing about this particular 100-loss debacle is how much fun September has been. Ryan O’Hearn, Adalberto Mondesi, Brad Keller, Alex Gordon and more have been downright enjoyable to observe on a regular basis, and even if only parts are sustainable going forward, it’s put an optimistic coda on a year that seemed destined to disappoint since the day Lorenzo Cain’s signature dried on a contract in Milwaukee.
[Miss you, LoCain.]
Things started poorly. Lindor led off with a single, went to second when Ryan O’Hearn dropped Glenn Sparkman’s pickoff attempt (not O’Hearn’s finest night at the bag) and moved to third on a balk. Ramirez lifted a sac fly into left to score Lindor three batters into the game.
The Indians would not score again, although had Brett Phillips not made a leaping grab of a Melky Cabrera liner to end the first that might not have been the case.
They’d try, of course. The Royals certainly gave them ample opportunities, like a second inning that saw Yandy Diaz lead off with a double, Brandon Guyer hit a one-out single to move him to third… and then two flyouts calmly ended the threat?
Or back-to-back one-out singles by Josh Donaldson and Cabrera which went nowhere in the sixth.
Or Melky doubling in the eighth with two down and Rajai Davis on first, only the speedy Davis didn’t score on that play and then Adalberto Mondesi made a play that, quite frankly, shouldn’t have been possibly on a back-hand pick and throw from deep in the hole at short. That kid is special and I don’t care how much his plate discipline could stand to improve.
It didn’t take much plate discipline to do what he did in the third inning. With two outs and on a 2-0 count, BERTO cranked a homer into the right field bullpen to tie it up and lock the game into a seemingly endless series of pitching changes and close-but-not-quite run-producing chances. Theatrics at the end of the night aside, large swaths of this game were unspeakably boring.
The Royals were in the drivers seat come the fifth, which Brian Goodwin led off with a double, followed by a curveball to the noggin of a ducking Cam Gallagher. Phillips failed to lay down a bunt and popped out to Yan Gomes behind the plate, while Whit Merrifield and Mondesi both lined out to center to end a great chance for the Royals, with Greg Allen making a terrific catch on a low Mondesi liner to keep the Royals off the board.
Let’s see… [attaches pince-nez to nose] no threats, no great defense, let’s go to extras! Business picked up as soon as we got to free baseball. Jason Hammel entered to pitch the 10th for the Royals and, after a solid Merrifield play to retire Lindor at first, almost immediately found himself in trouble thanks to a one-out single-and-steal by Allen and a walk to Ramirez. Things got worse when the duo stole third and second.
They got exponentially better when Hammel struck out Brandon Barnes to end the inning.
In order to get to Salvy’s walk-off, first you get past a Jorge Bonifacio ground out and Merrifield flyout. Then you’ve got BERTO walking and swiping second, then taking third on Alex Gordon’s walk. Salvy roped his single into left and the Royals were winners to open the series.
Your Unusually Happy (Although Appearing with More Frequency of Late) Tweet of the Game
In the twilight of a long, sad Royals season, Sal Perez walks off the division champs. There is nothing not to like about Salvy. #Royals #MLB
— Mike Gillespie (@MikeGillespieJD) September 28, 2018
The Bright Spot: Whit and BERTO running. Sparkman throwing a career-best five innings of competent ball. Manufacturing runs in a way to make Whitey Herzog proud. Five scoreless relief innings. A real cavalcade of happiness tonight.
The Nadir: Phillips is hitting .189 and that popped-up bunt was brutal.
The Next Step: Mike Clevinger, who has been good all season, will face Ian Kennedy, who has been good for two straight starts, in the final Friday night contest at Kauffman this season. 7:15 p.m. (CT) for those interested.