The list of names reads like a syllabus to an introductory class on Royals history. There’s one George Brett, and then another. There’s Frank White twice, too. There is first baseman John Mayberry and shortstop Fred Patek, members of the Royals of Fame, all of them.
And then there was Whit Merrifield on Monday night at Kauffman Stadium. He came one single away from joining them.
In a 10-7 loss to the Detroit Tigers, Merrifield finished with a homer, triple and a double, finishing a single away from the seventh cycle in club history.
“I got the opportunity,” Merrifield said. “That’s all you can ask for.”
Merrifield came up in the seventh inning with an opportunity for his fourth hit of the night. As he dug in against Tigers reliever Francisco Rodriguez, the fans inside Kauffman Stadium recognized the moment, coming to their feet. In the batter’s box, Merrifield heard the noise, internalizing it for a moment. Later, he said he would take the feeling with him.
Rodriguez would miss with a first-pitch curveball before evening the count with a changeup for a strike. When Rodriguez missed with another fastball, Merrifield was ready for another changeup. He got it … and he missed, hitting a fly ball to right field.
“I knew he likes his changeup,” Merrifield said. “I got a changeup up. I put the barrel on it. I just got under it. I would have liked to have had it back. But it is what it is.”
Before his final at-bat, first-base coach Rusty Kuntz had joked with Merrifield. Hit a home run and miss first, he said. The ploy would have resulted in a single. Royals manager Ned Yost, meanwhile, racked his brain, wondering if he’d ever had a player hit for the cycle. He couldn’t remember it happening, he said.
“I was really rooting for him,” he said. “He just had a great night.”
As the Royals dropped to 21-29, Merrifield extended his hitting streak to 14 games, raising his batting average to .289. He clubbed his sixth homer in 34 games. For perspective: In 2016, Royals second basemen combined for just four homers in 162 games. By the end of the night, Merrifield’s OPS (on-base plus slugging) had settled at .829, its highest point since April 22, his first week back in the majors after opening the year at Class AAA Omaha.
He didn’t finish off the cycle bid. But he gave himself a chance.
“Just that ovation I got, that’s something I’ll take with me for a while,” Merrifield said. “That was really cool. It was special.”