The Royals’ 8-6 triumph over the Angels at Kauffman Stadium on Friday turned on a pair of firsts.
Second baseman Omar Infante powered the first grand slam of his career to cap a seven-run third inning.
Rookie relief pitcher Michael Mariot navigated through a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the fifth with minor damage to halt an Angels rally and become a winning pitcher for the first time as a major-leaguer.
The outcome got a three-game set off to a positive start for the Royals, who had dropped six of seven entering the evening and had lost their grip on first place in the Central Division.
The game started on an alarming note for the Royals, when a pair of Angels hit titanic home runs in each of the first two innings off Jason Vargas.
Mike Trout splashed his in the fountain next to the Crown Vision video board, some 445 feet by Royals calculation that left manager Ned Yost agog.
“I’ve been here five years and that’s the most impressive homer I’ve seen here,” Yost said. “It was absolutely crushed.”
In the second, C.J. Cron’s blast went 418 to left center.
A slumbering offense had largely accounted for six losses in the last seven games, but the Royals sprang to life in the third.
Alcides Escobar got it started with a double and he scored when Jarrod Dyson’s bunt single was thrown away.
An uprising had commenced. Lorenzo Cain dunked an RBI single and Alex Gordon chipped in a sacrifice fly to give the Royals a 3-2 lead.
A nice answer inning became a definitive statement when Infante turned on Matt Shoemaker’s offering and dropped it into the bullpen in left for the first grand slam on his 4,401th at-bat, spanning 13 major-league seasons.
“I was just looking to make contact in that situation, a sac fly, a ground ball, do something,” Infante said.
The Angels were in a position to see the Royals’ big inning and raise it when they opened the fifth with six hits.
The second was Cron’s second home run of the game, and the Angels didn’t stop, scoring another to make it 8-5. None were out and Royals starter Jason Vargas got the hook.
Here, Yost showed faith in reliever Mariot, who entered the game with a 6.45 ERA and opponents hitting .297 against him.
The task: Get the 3-4-5 hitters of Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Howie Kendrick.
Mariot did exactly that, in breath-holding fashion.
Pujols lined hard to Gordon in left, and he didn’t have time to position himself for a shot at the plate. Chris Ianetta scored on the sacrifice fly to make it 8-6.
On Mariot’s best pitch of the inning, Hamilton popped to third baseman Mike Moustakas, running hard toward the wall next to the Angels dugout.
Cain’s dash and grab in the right field gap robbing Kendrick of extra bases to end the inning was even more artistic.
Mariot escaped from a major jam, got one out in the sixth before giving way to Kelvin Herrera. But the former Nebraska standout was around long enough to record the victory.
For most of the season, Mariot had been something of an innings eater, in the game in low-pressure situations. Not Friday. The heat was on and Mariot responded.
“It’s great they had that confidence in me,” Mariot said. “That gives me confidence.”
It was the type of performance that could buy Mariot more opportunities.
“We needed him to step up and he did,” Yost said. “He needs to go out there and make an impression so we can put him in higher leverage situations, and he did.”
Mariot wasn’t alone in bullpen heroics. Herrera was splendid, striking out three of the five batters he faced. Wade Davis responded to his worst out of the year, when he took the loss against the Dodgers on Wednesday, with a clean eighth that included two punch outs.
Greg Holland finished it off by striking out the side in the ninth for his major-league leading 23rd save. In all, Royals relievers struck nine in the final four innings, including the final five hitters. After smacking the ball around the park and into the fountains early on, the Angels didn’t hit a ball out of the infield after the fifth inning.