For a team that couldn’t hit the ocean falling out of a boat for two games and eight innings, Royals starter Danny Duffy had a feeling in the bottom of the ninth. He knew who was due up.
“You got Gordo coming up and you know something big’s going to happen,” Duffy said.
Like a charm, Alex Gordon’s home run gave the Royals a 2-1 walk-off victory over the Twins that protected Kansas City’s 1 1/2-game lead over the Tigers for first place in the American League Central.
For eight innings, Royals’ bats were feeble — for a third straight game.
After getting solo home runs for their scoring in each of the previous two games, the Royals didn’t look like they would muster that against Twins starter Ricky Nolasco in the opener of a three-game series.
Three singles through eight innings, that was the Royals tally, and those led to nothing.
But the ninth…
Alcides “Esky” Escobar opened with a flare to center field off Twins lefty reliever Glen Perkins.
Up stepped Gordon, who took a fastball for strike one.
Perkins’ next pitch, a slider, caught too much of the plate and Gordon got all of it, although initially he wasn’t certain.
“No, not at all,” Gordon said. “It barely got out. I thought the right fielder was on it, possibly off the well so I ran hard. I was so excited when it went over. I was pretty pumped for our team.”
The ball crossed the wall just beside the 387 sign in right center and was measured at 394 feet.
The Royals had posted their third walk-off victory of the season, the first by a home run. It marked the second time in Gordon’s career that he won a game in such dramatic fashion.
Afterwards, he took the Gatorade bath delivered by Salvador Perez and enjoyed every drop.
“After a walk-off home run, with fans cheering, I figured I’d give them something,” Gordon said. “It was pretty cool.”
The ending allowed the Royals to exhale a bit.
They entered the ninth inning on the verge of dropping their third straight game and wasting a solid starting pitching performance because of a stagnant offense.
Instead, it was Nolasco, in his third start since returning from the disabled list with a right elbow injury, who was in command.
“We watched a lot of video, and that was as good a game as he’s pitched all year long,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
He had said something similar about the Rangers’ Scott Baker and the Yankees Michael Pineda, the starters who handcuffed the Royals in the previous two games.
Yost said his hitters weren’t pressing.
“No, we’re done with that,” he said. “We just play baseball. It’s either you get it done or don’t get it done. No excuses.”
But Gordon could feel it a little extra burden.
“We showed a little frustration as an offense,” Gordon said. “The last three games we really haven’t done our jobs. Everyone is trying hard, and yeah there’s a little frustration in the dugout.
“But a walk-off home run helps relieve that stress, that frustration.”
The Royals put themselves in a position to win it with a two-run homer because of Duffy and excellent defense.
Duffy was nails for six innings, matching Nolasco’s zeroes.
“I felt good, I was locating for the most part,” Duffy said. “I left a couple of sinkers up.”
One, to Joe Mauer, put the Twins ahead in the seventh. Brian Dozier opened the inning by grounding a double down the left-field line. Mauer followed with a well-placed single.
But the Royals also turned two nifty double plays and got a magnificent play from Escobar in the seventh that prevented more damage in the inning. Escobar went deep in the hole to glove Kenny Vargas’ grounder and one-hopped the throw to Billy Butler in time for the out.
Butler also pitched in with his glove.
In the third, he worked like a Gold Glover, first tracking down Kurt Suzuki’s foul pop near the tarp.
The hustling catch was nifty enough, but Butler held on to the ball after tripping over second baseman Christian Colon.
Two batters later, Butler gloved a two-hopper in the hole and got the ball to Duffy smoothly enough to nip the sliding Jordan Schafer.
All of that kept the game within reach, but it looked like the Royals wouldn’t catch it, until Gordon’s swing in the ninth.
“It’s a lot of fun playing games like that,” Duffy said.
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