The red and blue stars of the Panama flag hung from inside the locker of Bruce Chen. Ryan Stoneberg, the team’s strength and conditioning coach, carries the flag of each member of the club with him, and he had waited since April to bestow this one upon Chen.
With five innings of one-run baseball in a 7-1 victory on Tuesday, Chen tied Mariano Rivera for the all-time lead for victories by a Panamanian with 82. Chen will have a chance for No. 83 this weekend at Kauffman Stadium.
“For me, he’s one of the best pitchers that has ever pitched in the big leagues,” Chen said. “To tie him for the most wins as a Panamanian, it really means a lot to me. And my family is very happy.”
Added manager Ned Yost, “It’s a pretty big accomplishment.”
Rivera, of course, operated on a separate plane from his countryman. His retirement tour last summer prompted waves of adulation across baseball. He figures to be inducted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.
Rivera picked up his victories as a closer; Chen has been a starter for lengthy portions of his career. Chen has resided on the game’s fringes for his entire career. He continues to cling to relevancy at this crucial time for the Royals.
Chen (2-2, 5.80 ERA) began this season as the team’s fifth starter. His pursuit of Rivera stalled at the end of April. Chen suffered a swollen disk in his lower back. He missed more than two months.
When he returned, his role was vague. Manager Ned Yost installed him as the bullpen’s long reliever, and used him sparingly. But with Jason Vargas recuperating from an appendectomy, Chen returned to the rotation.
In his first outing, he held Detroit to two runs across 51/3 frames. He held the line again Tuesday.
Chen survived five hits and two walks. His lone blemish occurred on a solo homer by Adam Dunn. In the fifth, Chen lucked out when Conor Gillaspie lined into a double play with the go-ahead run on second.
At that point, Yost figured, Chen was “gassed.” The offense picked him up soon after.
Now he shares a title with Rivera, the game’s all-time saves leader. Rivera saved 652. Chen has one.
“So he’s not shutting me out,” Chen said.
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