On May 5, the Royals danced on the field after Alex Gordon’s bases-loaded RBI single in the 10th inning beat the Chicago White Sox 6-5. Billy Butler’s two-run single in the ninth tied the score, and the Royals, in their 11th comeback victory of the season, improved to 17-10. It was the team’s best record after 27 games since 2009.
“We just continue to fight,” Butler said after the game.
“We just have a lot of guys that are not worried to be down,” Gordon said.
The next day, the Royals looked to complete a three-game sweep and maintain pace with the American League Central-leading Detroit Tigers. Gordon was hot, the pitching was coming through, and the Royals had more than held their own against some of baseball’s best, the Braves and Red Sox.
But the Royals lost and a season-changing slide started. The ugly stretch produced 19 losses in 23 games. When the Royals lost at St. Louis on May 29, their record was 21-29 and the team stood 7 1/2 games out of first.
The Royals, we know, reversed fortune. The 2013 season was mostly a joyride, with the Royals posting winning records in every month except one. What happened?
The skid started May 6. The Royals took a 1-0 lead into the ninth against the White Sox and James Shields was cruising. He had struck out nine, surrendered two hits and had thrown 102 pitches. Instead, Ned Yost pulled Shields and went with Greg Holland in the ninth. Holland would go on to set the team record for saves, but he had gotten off to a slow start with a blown save and 3.27 ERA. Holland surrendered four hits and gave up the tying run. Kelvin Herrera then gave up a game-winning homer to Jordan Danks in the 11th and the Royals lost 2-1.
The 2-1 loss to the White Sox that started the skid was the first of 16 games during the 19 losses that the Royals scored three or fewer runs. They lost three games 2-1, one 3-2 and two 4-3 plus two other one-run games. The team averaged 3.4 runs and hit .249 with 12 homers over the 23 games.
Falling into the deepest funks were Mike Moustakas (.159 over the stretch) and Jeff Francoeur (.151). Also, Eric Hosmer hit a respectable .264 but hit only one home run and drove in four runs.
Hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David, hired to replace Kevin Seitzer before the season and produce more power strokes from cornerstone players Hosmer and Moustakas, were reassigned on May 30. The call went out to Royals legend George Brett, who took the elevator down from the front office, and in his introductory news conference challenged his young hitters.
“Get rid of the (baby) bottles, let’s go,” Brett said.
Francoeur lasted another month before he was released.
The end, finally
Coincidence or not, the Royals righted the ship with a bizarre victory at St. Louis on May 30. Hours after Brett was introduced as the team’s interim hitting coach, the Royals lugged a 2-1 deficit into the ninth inning but rallied for three runs. The inning wasn’t over when rain started, hard enough to wash out the game. But the game wasn’t called, the teams endured a 4-hour, 32-minute delay, resumed play at 3:04 a.m., and the Royals closed out the 4-2 victory.
The sleep-deprived Royals lost the next night at Texas, but a few days later started a six-game winning streak. By mid-June they were back to .500 and the franchise headed toward its most successful season in two decades. But it stopped short of the playoffs because of a 23-game stretch in May when everything, it seemed, went wrong.
| Blair Kerkhoff, email@example.com