Eric Hosmer loves this city. He loves the weather, of course, because everybody loves the weather here. It was 67 degrees on Saturday afternoon. It will be something close on Sunday, too.
“The weather doesn’t get any better,” Hosmer said.
He also loves the memories. Cherishes them like keepsakes. The night he launched himself into baseball lore with a Most Valuable Player performance in the 2016 All-Star Game. He gave his dad a truck that night. The night he homered for Team USA here in the World Baseball Classic this spring. That team won gold.
Saturday afternoon at Petco Field will not compete with those moments. But Hosmer, the Royals’ first baseman, may yet remember this game, too, the day he hammered a game-tying, two-run homer in the top of the eighth inning, opening the floodgates in a 12-6 victory over the San Diego Padres.
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The blast was vintage Hosmer, an opposite-field shot on a fastball, the baseball carrying just over the fence in left field. As he trotted down the first-base line, he locked his eyes on the baseball, just to make sure.
“I’ve had some great moments here,” Hosmer said. “I don’t know what the cause of that is, but I definitely enjoy whenever this San Diego trip is on the schedule.”
Hosmer’s homer was just the first warning shot. The Royals (27-34) struck for nine runs in the eighth, their largest inning in 11 years, the sequence capped by the second career grand slam from Lorenzo Cain. The blitzkrieg erased a two-run deficit and evened the series at a game apiece.
Cain finished 3 for 5 with two homers and five RBIs, adding a solo shot in the sixth. Salvador Perez went back-to-back with Hosmer, recording his 100th career homer and evoking images from last year’s All-Star Game, when both players went deep in the same inning. Shortstop Alcides Escobar tallied his first home run of the year in the fifth, a solo shot that tied the game at 1-1.
The five homers represented the most by the Royals since they hit five against the Minnesota Twins on July 23rd, 2003. They came just one short of the club record of six. One day after Royals manager Ned Yost burned through the bullpen in a 6-3 loss, starting pitcher Ian Kennedy survived six innings in a no-decision, and the offense saved Yost from some nervous moments in the final innings.
“Our bullpen was awful thin, man,” Yost said. “It’s just trying to figure out, ‘OK, how can we hold this one-run lead?’ And then here they are. They just keep tacking on, tacking on.”
At the heart of the surge was Cain, who belted a solo homer off Padres reliever Jose Torres in the sixth inning, trimming the deficit to 4-2. Two innings later, he would feast on a first-pitch fastball from Jose Valdez, crushing his second career grand slam — and the Royals’ first of 2017. Yet his most pivotal at-bat may have come when he led off the eighth with a single against Brad Hand, who entered the day with a 2.12 ERA.
With the speedy Cain on first base, the left-handed Hand could not rely solely on his slider against Hosmer. So after seeing one off-speed pitch, Hosmer readied himself for something hard and straight.
“After the first slider, I knew there was a good chance I might get a fastball,” Hosmer said. “And it might be the only one I got. So I just wanted to make sure I was on time and not miss it.”
Hosmer did not, and suddenly, the vibe was transformed inside Petco Park, where a contingent of Royals fans took over the final innings.
For moments Saturday, it had appeared as if the Royals might lose to the lowly Padres (24-39) for the second straight day. The Royals trailed 4-1 after five innings and 5-3 after Royals reliever Mike Minor was pinched for a run in the seventh. But the day ended with an offensive slugfest.
By the end, Cain had amassed four homers in his last eight games after having just two in April and May. Hosmer finished the day batting .311 after his sixth homer. The Royals can clinch the series with a victory here on Sunday.
Royals rookie Jakob Junis will start opposite San Diego’s Dinelson Lamet. The Royals will then have a day off Monday before opening a two-game set at the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday.
On Opening Day, the Padres’ payroll topped out at close to $68.5 million, including $31.5 million earmarked for players no longer on the roster. The number is at once a reminder of their wholesale rebuilding process and a measurement for the talent remaining on the roster.
Which is to say the Padres did not expect to compete this season. They understood their plight. They opted for a complete teardown, a demolition before a new foundation.
This is the opponent the Royals face here this weekend. This is the Padres team that surfaced in the late innings. In a moment, Cain reached base and Hosmer sent a jolt of energy through the Royals’ dugout with a two-run shot. And then, the wave kept coming.
“I’m trying to get on base as much as possible and allow him to do what he do best,” Cain said of Hosmer. “Drive the ball all over the ballpark.”