Sunday night had drifted into Monday morning, and Greg Holland stood in the center of a diamond soaked by rain. An out away from victory, Royals manager Ned Yost presented him with a choice. Holland could intentionally walk Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez and face outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Or he could eschew discretion and attack Martinez. The answer did not surprise the manager.
Holland is a closer, and a two-time All-Star at that. “They don’t like intentionally walking anybody,” Yost said, and then he gripped the dugout railing for the last 11 pitches of a 2-1 rollercoaster, 10-inning victory. Holland’s decision exemplified the night: Little went according to plan. Kansas City still found a way to win, anyway, after Omar Infante recorded a go-ahead sacrifice fly and Holland turned knuckles white in the bottom of the frame.
He opted for aggression with Martinez. Instead, he issued a walk, his third in a four-batter sequence, to load the bases for a second time that inning. Holland steadied his breathing. A timely double play had already lessened his burden. The rain had slowed. A hardy band of hundreds ringed the lower bowl of Comerica Park. The group released a collective sigh when Holland rebounded to whiff Cespedes with a slider. With his 30th pitch of the night, Holland notched the final out of a game that began five hours and six minutes earlier.
“A great feeling,” said starter Chris Young, who logged six innings and allowed one unearned run. “A great win. A great team win. It just makes the flight a little more enjoyable.”
The game exhausted the Royals, 20-11, who flew through the night toward a four-game series in Texas. But it solidified their lead in the American League Central and represented their improved standing against their division foes. The Royals totaled only six victories in 19 games against the Tigers last season. They lead the season series, 4-3, thus far in 2015.
Inside the visitors’ clubhouse, packing their gear for the flight, the players looked weary but content.
Yost showered praise on Holland and on Jason Frasor, who pitched the ninth inning after a 103-minute rain delay. Frasor teetered on the brink of a breakdown as he navigated a 31-pitch, 22-minute frame.
“The job that Frasor did was spectacular,” Yost said.
Yost cursed the evening’s weather. The game was tied when he called upon Luke Hochevar to pitch the bottom of the ninth as his first back-to-back assignment since Tommy John surgery. Hochevar had thrown only three pitches the day before. But when he stepped on the mound, a light rain became a deluge.
The resourceful fans held umbrellas. The desperate hid beneath ponchos and hoodies. The unprepared fled for the safety of the concourse. Inside his clubhouse, Yost seethed.
“I thought the weather conspired to beat us,” he said.
“I always try not to worry about things I can’t control, but that’s as mad as I’ve been in a long time, when it started raining,” Yost added. “Then, it rained again.”
Kansas City could not afford to risk Hochevar’s surgically repaired right elbow. So Yost turned to Frasor. About 20 minutes into the delay, Yost was informed the game could resume soon with about a 30-minute window before another storm cell arrived. Frasor started to loosen up.
The grounds crew dragged the tarp off the diamond as 11 p.m. approached. Frasor was ready to enter the game when he heard the crowd jeer. The tarp returned to the field. The window had shrunk. Frasor had to wait another hour to pitch.
“It’s a lot of up and down,” Frasor said. “It’s just exhausting.”
So was his inning.
He walked Miguel Cabrera to start the madness. In came speedster Rajai Davis as a pinch-runner. Then Victor Martinez singled. Frasor recovered to pop up Cespedes and outfielder J.D. Martinez. Another walk to third baseman Nick Castellanos loaded the bases. Frasor managed to pop up catcher James McCann to force extra innings.
Once there, the Royals pounced on an opportunity granted by Tigers reliever Angel Nesbitt.
He hit Alex Gordon with his first pitch. His next pitch was wild and Gordon took second. He scored two batters later on Infante’s flyball to center field. Infante atoned for a fielding gaffe that led to Detroit’s only run. He opened the bullpen door for Holland.
From the outset, Holland lacked command. He yielded a leadoff single to shortstop Andrew Romine. Then he uncorked a wild pitch. Up came outfielder Anthony Gose, who tried to bunt Romine to third. Holland failed to throw strikes. After Gose walked, second baseman Ian Kinsler tried to bunt Romine to third.
Four balls later, the bases were loaded – and Romine stood at third.
“I just didn’t have my best stuff tonight,” Holland said.
Holland did catch one break. With Cabrera out of the game, Tigers manager Brad Ausmus used backup first baseman Hernan Perez as a pinch-hitter.
Perez chopped a slider at third baseman Christian Colon. Colon pegged homeward for the first out. Salvador Perez whipped a throw to first base. The 5-2-3 double play granted Holland room to breathe. He picked up the save two batters later.
“That was huge,” Colon said.
The weather transformed a pitcher’s duel into a waiting game with the elements. Tigers starter Shane Greene pacified Kansas City for eight innings. In his second start as a Royal, Young again confounded the Tigers. He limited Detroit to three hits.
“It’s a great hitting team,” Young said. “I was lucky to come out of it only giving up one [run]. They hit a couple other balls hard, right at guys. It was a great win for us.”
Young joined the club almost as an afterthought. As Yost recalled the exchange, general manager Dayton Moore reminded Yost of Young’s availability early in spring training. Moore sought Yost’s opinion.
“Man, a guy like him could give you some really good depth,” Yost told Moore. “If you can get him, go get him.”
The two sides finalized a contract in the first week of March. Young agreed to a $675,000 base salary with a series of incentives. He earned $250,000 for making the Opening Day roster. Another $250,000 accrued after he surpassed 30 days on the roster. Yet even as Young achieves these benchmarks, the club can consider him a bargain.
“He threw the ball tremendously, really good,” Yost said.
Yost lamented one pitch Young threw: A hanging slider that Ian Kinsler bashed for an RBI single in the third. The hit matched Alex Gordon’s run-scoring double two innings prior. It also heightened the scrutiny on Infante, who put a runner in scoring position thanks to an error.
A few hours before the game, a group of Royals gathered beneath a clubhouse television to watch the Cavaliers gut out a victory over the Bulls in the NBA playoffs. Perhaps the display inspired Infante. Little else could explain his defensive decision in the third, when his error led to Detroit’s first run.
With two outs, outfielder Anthony Gose dropped a bunt. Gose is a swift runner, and Infante could not have thrown him out in time. But he tried a backhanded feed to Eric Hosmer, anyway. The ball soared away and Gose advanced to second, in perfect position for Kinsler’s single.
No runner would score again for hours. After the victory, a few Royals laughed at the idea that reporters had sat through the entire ordeal. One asked first baseman Eric Hosmer his feelings on the evening.
“I’m just glad it’s over,” Hosmer said, and cracked up laughing.
The reporter sought a follow-up from Jarrod Dyson. He shook his head and pointed at his teammate, another member of the first-place Kansas City Royals.
“What he said.”