On his first day in the major leagues, Cam Gallagher found his way to the home clubhouse on the bottom floor of Kauffman Stadium on Sunday morning and stood by his locker at just past 10:30 a.m. A pack of reporters surrounded him, asking the usual questions about his journey. The raw emotions. The years of toiling in the minor leagues. The calls to his family, who would be here in the afternoon.
Gallagher offered a smile, and a few feet away, Drew Butera, a catcher 9 years his senior, milled about the center of the room, fiddling with some equipment and peering back toward the scene.
On the Royals’ first day without catcher Salvador Perez — who officially landed on the 10-day disabled list with an intercostal strain in his right side — the two men most affected by his absence began the morning separated by a row of empty locker stalls. By the end of a doubleheader against the Seattle Mariners, both Gallagher and Butera had found themselves in the middle of a Sunday split.
In a 9-1 victory in the second game, Gallagher collected his first major-league hit and called a gem from fellow rookie Jakob Junis, who yielded just one run and four hits in eight innings while making a spot start. In an 8-7 loss in game one, Butera was among a cast of characters responsible for a disastrous second inning that ultimately prevented a sweep.
The missed opportunity was lamentable. The offense surged for most of the day. Yet the Royals (57-53) settled for a series split after four games with Seattle, salvaging a victory on Sunday after heavy rains had washed out Saturday night’s game. The good news, of course, was that a victory in the nightcap pulled them within 2 1/2 games of first-place Cleveland, which lost a series finale in New York, and kept them in line for the second wild-card spot in the American League.
On an unseasonably cool Sunday evening, an unlikely rookie battery pushed the Royals back in the right direction.
“It was a big boost for us,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Junis and Gallagher had grown up together in the minor leagues. The same draft class in 2011. The same stops in the same towns. On Sunday, Junis estimated that he had thrown to Gallagher “hundreds of times.”
The connection and chemistry appeared to benefit both parties. Gallagher said he felt fewer nerves while making his first major-league start in game two. Junis offered the best outing of his young career, striking out seven while throwing 94 pitches in eight innings.
“I’m comfortable with him,” Gallagher said. “He’s comfortable with me.”
The comfort allowed for flexibility. All season in Omaha, Gallagher said he had probably called “five or six” two-seam fastballs while catching Junis. On Sunday, though, the pitch was flummoxing Seattle’s lineup. So the rookie catcher kept going to it, and Junis coupled an effective breaking ball with the sinker and retired the last 19 hitters he faced.
“It was funny,” Gallagher said. “ … He said the big-league balls helped him throw the sinkers a little bit better, and he was throwing them a little bit better today. He was very effective.”
Junis was serving as the Royals’ 26th man, per the rules of a doubleheader. It was his first appearance since July 24. When the game was over, he was headed back to Omaha. But for the moment, Gallagher will be here in Kansas City, filling in alongside Butera as the Royals wait for Perez to return.
Gallagher’s stay could be two weeks. It could be three or four. The Royals do not yet know how long it will take Perez to recover from a strained muscle in his right side. But for one day, Gallagher offered a strong debut.
“It was every thing that I think he ever dreamed about,” Yost said.
The rest of the day, in some ways, was business as usual. Melky Cabrera finished 3 for 4 with a homer and four RBIs, igniting the offense in the second game. Lorenzo Cain finished 6 for 10 after two three-hit games, raising his batting average eight points to .283. The Kansas City attack finished the day with five home runs, battering Seattle starter Erasmo Ramirez for five runs in five innings to earn a win after a missed opportunity in the first contest.
Second baseman Whit Merrifield collected a game-tying solo homer in the second game and a two-run shot in the first. He now has 13 homers this season, and Frank White is the only Royals second baseman to ever hit more. Eric Hosmer clubbed a solo blast, his 17th, to deep left-center in the sixth inning of game two. And Mike Moustakas finished the day just five homers shy of Steve Balboni’s club record after cranking his 31st homer in the eighth inning of game one.
The offensive performance was such that a breakdown in the second inning of the first game loomed as the only frustrating portion of the day. Well, that and the loss.
As the afternoon began, starter Danny Duffy allowed three runs on two homers in the first inning of game one before being hit for four unearned runs in the second inning. The sequence left the Royals behind 7-0. It included a borderline ball-four call to Seattle’s Jean Segura on a 3-2 pitch that sparked a rally with two outs. It also included a botched pickoff when Eric Hosmer and Duffy couldn’t execute a rundown; a strike three to Robinson Cano that would have ended the inning but turned into a passed ball from Butera; and a three-run homer by Mariners slugger Nelson Cruz.
“We just didn’t make plays defensively in that second inning,” Yost said. “And that eventually ended up costing us the game.”
In the moments after the afternoon loss, Duffy lamented the 3-2 pitch against Segura, which was just below the knees and could have ended the inning. He took ownership of everything that happened afterward.
“You can’t miss that pitch,” he said of home-plate umpire David Rackley. “Especially when it’s to a hitter the caliber of Segura.”
The Royals would scratch and claw back into the game, falling 8-7 before the teams reconvened for game two. Facing a lost day, the battery of Junis and Gallagher would offer a nice end to the weekend.
“After the sixth, I was going to come out,” Junis said. “But then we scored a run, so I went back out. And then we scored again, so I went back out. So I got two extra innings. I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll get a third.’ ”
He did not. He did get his fourth win.