An errant 99 mph fastball turned a routine blowout into a momentary quarrel on Wednesday night, eliciting confusion in the visitors clubhouse at Comerica Park and sparking genuine frustration from a member of the starting rotation.
The confusion began in the top of the ninth inning, when Tigers reliever Bruce Rondon drilled Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas with an inside fastball that ignited a bench-clearing skirmish. The anger boiled over as Royals starter Danny Duffy rushed into the fray and tried to confront Rondon as a theater of pushing and jostling commenced.
“That’s the second time he’s done that,” Duffy said, sitting in a chair inside the clubhouse late Wednesday night. “And if he doesn’t want to compete in a situation that’s not sexy, they should just send his (butt) home.”
For a moment, the frustration was still prevalent. Yet in the aftermath of a 16-2 victory over the Tigers, there was much to process. The Royals (53-47) rolled their winning streak to a season-high eight games. Eric Hosmer matched his career high with five hits and clubbed his first career grand slam in a nine-run seventh inning. The final act was clouded by a tension-filled ninth inning.
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Moments after the Royals took a 14-2 lead on Hosmer’s fifth hit of the night, Rondon, an ill-tempered reliever, fired a 99 mph fastball that struck Moustakas in the side. Moustakas objected immediately, slamming his bat to the ground and taking a step toward the mound. As the benches cleared, Duffy entered the middle of the action, trying to get at the Tigers’ reliever.
The dustup was limited to some pushing and yelling. Yet, in the aftermath, Moustakas offered a cutting response to Rondon’s behavior.
“I think he was trying to hit me,” Moustakas said. “I don’t really know. A game like that, kind of getting out of control, (you) just go drilling guys. I don’t really understand what happened.”
Moments later, a reporter asked what the most frustrating element of the incident had been.
“It’s gotta be for him, giving up three runs,” Moustakas said. “I mean, for us, it was whatever. I got hit. I’ve been hit before.”
In the end, the dramatic ninth inning did not amount to much. Rondon was ejected after hitting Moustakas. Royals reliever Brandon Maurer, acquired this week from the San Diego Padres, pitched the ninth inning and concluded a dominating performance without further incident. That, Royals manager Ned Yost said, was by design.
“It was one of those situations where you just don’t try to compound something that’s not very smart,” Yost said. “You just go ahead and get through the inning right there. With the warnings being issued, it’s an automatic suspension. He’s automatically ejected.”
For Duffy and the Royals, the frustration was simple. On Wednesday, they kept their winning streak alive, finishing off a three-game sweep. They remain 1 1/2 games behind first-place Cleveland and in position for an American League Wild Card spot. Moustakas, of course, is a crucial part of the equation. He finished Wednesday with a team-leading 29 homers. He remains on pace to smash the franchise record held by Steve Balboni.
“First of all, you’re talking about a guy for us that has 29 home runs,” Hosmer said. “And we’re in a pennant race, so if he hits him in the wrist or something like that, he can really jeopardize our season.”
In the other clubhouse, Rondon did not speak to reporters. His motivation remained unclear. But it appeared possible that he was upset that Lorenzo Cain had scored from second on Hosmer’s single in an 11-run game.
“It’s showing him up even more for Cain to hold up,” Hosmer said. “We’re playing the game. It’s the major leagues.”
Moustakas added: “I don’t think we did anything out of control. Lo-Cain scored from second base. And that’s what you do.”
Inside the Tigers’ clubhouse, manager Brad Ausmus did not appear to see much issue with Cain scoring from second, nor did he present much of a defense for Rondon.
“It depends on the situation,” he said. “If the guy’s going to score easy, then I think you gotta send them. I’m sure whoever’s hitting at the time, you want an RBI.”
He added: “We got our (butts) kicked. That’s basically what it was.”
By late Wednesday night, Moustakas had emerged from the shower and shuffled toward his locker. He had calmed down and digested the incident. He had avoided injury and finished 3 for 5. After an eighth straight win, he prepared to take a late flight to Boston and enjoy a day off with his teammates before a series at Fenway Park.
It was over, he said. There were no punches thrown, no real fight. The moment, he said, was not worth that.
“Obviously, I was a little upset,” he said. “I didn’t feel like I deserved to get hit right there. But other than that, once that all settled, back to playing baseball.”