The baseball collided with the elbow of Lorenzo Cain, and the Royals dugout stirred to life. They were midway through a 10-1 thrashing of the White Sox on Opening Day, and Mike Moustakas had just homered off Chicago starter Jeff Samardzija. Cain stared toward the mound with displeasure and wondered about the pitcher’s intentions.
Cain and his teammates heard Samardzija tell Cain to hustle to first base. This, in the fifth inning of the first day of their defense of the American League crown, the Royals could not abide. The barking settled Cain’s internal debate, and ignited the men behind him. A group of Royals exited the dugout to growl at Samardzija and roust the 40,085 fans behind them.
“He hit me on purpose,” Cain said. “But beating him the way we did today, it definitely makes up for that.” He added, “I know my boys. I know they’re ready to go.”
So returned to Kauffman Stadium the swaggering, snarling Royals, the group that so captivated the country last October. The proof resides in the AL championship rings they received on Monday, jewelry that glittered in pave-set diamonds and 10-karat gold, and the bruising they dispensed on their foes from Chicago. The Royals hung five runs on Samardzija and five more on his relievers. “We let our bats do the talking,” outfielder Jarrod Dyson said.
As Dyson, Moustakas, Christian Colon, Jeremy Guthrie and others approached the mound, the umpires intervened and restored order. Manager Ned Yost reminded his group, ‘It’s OK, boys. Let’s calm down a little bit. It’s a long year.”
It is, and one game can only say so much. The Royals still delivered a statement. On the same day they accepted their rings and hoisted the pennant, they drubbed a club favored to outpace them in 2015. the Royals experienced a picture-perfect season opener, give or take a smattering of drizzle, an overcast sky and Yordano Ventura’s thumb cramp.
Ventura, 1-0, 1.50 ERA, exited midway through the seventh, but only after he stymied his guests for six innings without much difficulty. The rest of the day unfolded in idyllic fashion: Alcides Escobar excelled at the top of the batting order. Moustakas launched the first opposite-field homer of his career. Kendrys Morales reached base four times and scored twice. Alex Rios lifted a three-run homer in the seventh, capping a three-hit day.
And those were only the newer ingredients. The old elements still applied. The outfielders raced down any flyballs foolish enough to exhibit hang time, while the infielders converted double plays and leapt to snag line drives. The bullpen logged three scoreless frames.
“There were just so many storylines in that game,” Yost said. “For our players coming back, getting their rings, and then putting on a great performance in front of a sold-out crowd.”
The day began with a celebration. About 45 minutes before the first pitch, stadium attendants dragged a pair of tables covered with blue cloth. Dozens of jewelry cases rested atop them. General manager Dayton Moore started a procession line, with vice president Kevin Uhlich, team president Dan Glass and chairman David Glass behind him. The elder Glass, this club’s owner since 2000, reiterated his club’s goal to return to the World Series and emerge with “a different ending.”
The crowd cheered for Glass. The noise turned into a roar as announcer Ryan Lefebvre introduced the principals from last season’s run. A sizable contingent from last season’s roster returned for 2015. They accepted their rings, as did familiar faces like Terrance Gore, Brandon Finnegan and Bruce Chen. At 2:42 p.m., Lefebvre asked the crowd to turn toward the Royals Hall of Fame above left field.
The team completed an about-face in time to see the American League pennant raised between their pennant from 1980 and a flag commemorating their 1985 World Series triumph.
“Just a special day for the organization,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “There’s a lot of hard work that’s been going into that.”
The White Sox represented one hurdle in the club’s climb back to October. Chicago overhauled their roster during the offseason. They shelled out money and prospects to repair their batting order (outfielder Melky Cabrera, designated hitter Adam LaRoche), bullpen (former Yankees closer David Robertson) and starting rotation (Samardzija).
The Royals pounced on Samardzija, the former Cub and Athletic, early. Salvador Perez stroked an RBI double, scoring Morales in the second. Escobar opened the third with a double, moved to third on a bunt by Moustakas and scored when Cain dunked a single into shallow right field. Escobar would score twice more on the day.
“Wow,” Escobar said. “This is one of my best days in baseball. Like the ring ceremony and everything.”
Samardzija sparked the imbroglio in the fifth after Moustakas went deep, though he said after the game that he didn’t intend to hit Cain.
“I hit him, he didn’t like it, I didn’t like it. I didn’t want to hit him,” Samardzija said. “It probably didn’t feel good, so he didn’t like it.”
The rout would only continue. In the seventh, Gordon dribbled a single through the middle that snuck between shortstop Alexei Ramirez and second baseman Micah Johnson for a pair of improbable runs. Rios followed up with a homer that cut through the afternoon draft and the rain.
Hosmer added an RBI single in the eighth. By then, the outcome was secured. The Royals opened the season with a rout, a statement and a show of unity — the qualities they displayed so often last season. On their first day as American League champions, the Royals looked the part.
“We’re going to back each other all year,” Cain said. “We’ve got to play together, stay together as a team.”