Royals

As Danny Duffy makes final start, Royals lose series finale to the Twins

Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy gets a head rub from second baseman Whit Merrifield while waiting to be relieved in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Danny Duffy gets a head rub from second baseman Whit Merrifield while waiting to be relieved in the seventh inning against the Minnesota Twins on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2016, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. jsleezer@kcstar.com

The final moments of a breakthrough campaign came on a cool Thursday evening at Kauffman Stadium, as a 27-year-old left-hander stepped on the mound one more time, and a crowd of 29,566 prepared to offer a symbol of gratitude for a sterling 2016 season.

For months, Danny Duffy had crafted the best season of his career, pitching his way into the Cy Young race during the late summer months, before ultimately experiencing fading over the final four weeks. The next time you see him pitch in a major-league game could come on April 3, 2017 — opening day at Target Field in Minnesota. Duffy has been that good this season, that dominant for stretches of the summer. An opening-day start could be on the horizon.

But first, he sought to finish out the year with a gem. He came up just a few outs short of his goal. In a 7-6 loss to the Minnesota Twins, Duffy allowed one run through six innings before wobbling in the top of the seventh. After six innings of efficient work, he was nicked for four hits and three runs, including a two-run triple by Twins center fielder Byron Buxton. Moments later, Royals manager Ned Yost emerged from the dugout. The Kauffman Stadium crowd came to its feet, delivering a standing ovation as Duffy paced back to the dugout.

“Our fans have a really good idea about the game,” Duffy said. “I left it all out there this year, and did everything I could to do my part. It felt really good to have an entire fan base showing you love.

In the final game of a three-game series, the Twins broke a 4-4 stalemate in the ninth, scoring three times against reliever Kelvin Herrera, who appeared worn down after a heavy workload in August. In recent days, as Herrera has lagged, Yost has partially blamed the extra work that Herrera took on after injuries to Wade Davis and Luke Hochevar in late July. Herrera made his 72nd appearance on Thursday, just four short of his career high.

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“It’s not the deep runs (through the postseason),” Yost said. “It’s the use without Wade and Hoch. When that happens, it just puts more of a workload on Kel. Ideally, I wanted to give him another day (off). But we were so thin in the pen today.”

Trailing 7-4, the Royals struck back in the bottom of the ninth, scoring twice before pinch runner Terrance Gore was picked off first to end the game. The initial ruling was that Gore was safe. But after a review, the umpires ruled reliever Brandon Kintzler’s throw was on time. The Twins flooded out onto the Kauffman Stadium infield to celebrate.

“I was just anticipating the front foot up,” Gore said. “And that’s when I went.”

The loss prevented a three-game sweep and a possible franchise record. The Royals, 81-78, entered the night 15-3 against the Twins, 57-102, and needed a victory to set the club record for most wins against one club in a single season. Instead, they settled for a series victory entering a three-game series against Cleveland in the regular season’s final weekend.

One night after being officially eliminated from playoff contention, the result was somewhat secondary. Catcher Salvador Perez earned another night off — until he recorded a pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth — and designated hitter Kendrys Morales exited for rookie Hunter Dozier halfway through the evening. According to Yost, Morales got sick during the game.

Thus, most of the attention focused on Duffy, the budding ace who had stumbled in September, posting a 5.46 ERA in five starts entering Thursday.

From a pure run-prevention standpoint, Duffy has had better seasons than 2016. He finished 9-12 with a 2.53 ERA in 2014, helping the Royals to the postseason. But in every other category, Duffy has been a different pitcher in 2016.

He set a career high with 188 strikeouts, the most ever by a Royals left-hander. His walks per nine innings were the lowest of his career. He posted a 3.51 ERA in 179  2/3 innings, the most work of his professional life.

There was more, of course. Duffy set a club record with 16 strikeouts in a 3-0 victory at Tampa Bay on Aug. 1. He recorded his first complete game 10 days later in a win over the Chicago White Sox. As the Royals imploded in July, Duffy was a lone source of light in the darkness.

“I did what I know that I can do this whole year,” Duffy said. “It’s been a fun year. I wanted to finish high. It just kind of went sour there in the seventh.”

After starting the season in the bullpen, Duffy finished 12-3 and didn’t lose a game at Kauffman Stadium. Even after a no-decision on Thursday, his 7-0 home record matched Steve Farr and Larry Gura for the best in club history.

And yet, there was a whiff of disappointment on Thursday night. After taking a 2-0 lead into the sixth inning, he gave up a towering solo shot to Twins first baseman Kennys Vargas. One inning later, Duffy coughed up a one-run lead.

“I just wasn’t executing,” Duffy said. “I left a couple of sliders over the plate and they made me pay.”

The Royals stirred in the top of the seventh, tying the game on an RBI triple by Jarrod Dyson and line-drive single by Whit Merrifield. Dyson, who is batting .354 in September, raised his season average to .271 with two hits Thursday. Paulo Orlando matched a career high with four hits, raising his average to .307 for the year.

Still, the Twins took control in the ninth. Herrera ran out of gas. The comeback collapsed in the bottom half of the inning. With three games left, the Royals still need one victory against the Indians to clinch their fourth straight winning season.

Twins 7, Royals 6

Minnesota

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Polanco ss

4

1

2

1

1

1

.279

Grossman dh

5

1

2

1

0

0

.281

Sano 3b

5

0

1

1

0

1

.237

Vargas 1b

5

1

2

1

0

2

.250

Kepler rf

5

0

1

1

0

1

.234

E.Escobar 2b

4

1

1

0

1

0

.240

Murphy c

4

1

1

0

0

2

.160

Schafer lf

3

0

1

0

0

0

.226

Buxton cf

3

2

2

2

1

0

.222

Totals

38

7

13

7

3

7

 

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Dyson cf

4

2

2

1

0

1

.272

Merrifield 2b

4

0

1

1

1

1

.283

Hosmer 1b

4

0

0

0

1

2

.266

Morales dh

2

0

0

0

0

1

.265

a-Dozier ph-dh

2

0

0

0

0

1

.188

b-Perez ph-dh

1

0

1

1

0

0

.247

1-Gore pr-dh

0

0

0

0

0

0

.000

Orlando rf

4

1

4

0

0

0

.307

Gordon lf

4

1

1

0

0

2

.224

A.Escobar ss

4

0

1

1

0

0

.263

Cuthbert 3b

4

0

0

0

0

2

.276

Butera c

4

2

3

1

0

1

.281

Totals

37

6

13

5

2

11

 

Minnesota

000

001

303

7

13

0

Kansas City

020

000

202

6

13

2

a-popped out for Morales in the 5th. b-singled for Dozier in the 9th.

1-ran for Perez in the 9th.

E: Dyson (2), Young (1). LOB: Minnesota 8, Kansas City 7. 2B: Vargas (11), Buxton (18), Orlando 2 (23). 3B: Buxton (6), Dyson (8). HR: Vargas (10), off Duffy. RBIs: Polanco (23), Grossman (37), Sano (62), Vargas (20), Kepler (63), Buxton 2 (34), Dyson (25), Merrifield (27), A.Escobar (54), Butera (15), Perez (64). CS: Orlando (3). S: Schafer.

Runners left in scoring position: Minnesota 5 (Sano, Kepler, E.Escobar 3); Kansas City 3 (Merrifield 2, Gordon). RISP: Minnesota 6 for 15; Kansas City 5 for 9. Runners moved up: Kepler, Hosmer. GIDP: Grossman, Hosmer. DP: Minnesota 1 (E.Escobar, Vargas); Kansas City 1 (Merrifield, A.Escobar, Hosmer).

Minnesota

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Gibson

6 1/3

9

4

4

1

8

103

5.07

O’Rourke

 1/3

0

0

0

0

1

4

3.97

Tonkin W, 3-2

1 1/3

1

0

0

0

2

17

5.02

Kintzler S, 16

1

3

2

2

1

0

13

3.27

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

NP

ERA

Duffy

6 1/3

8

4

4

2

3

96

3.51

Young

1 2/3

0

0

0

1

3

35

6.19

Herrera L, 2-6

 2/3

5

3

3

0

1

26

2.75

Pounders

 1/3

0

0

0

0

0

5

10.97

Inherited runners-scored: O’Rourke 1-0, Tonkin 1-0, Young 1-0, Pounders 2-0. HBP: Gibson (Dyson). WP: Gibson, Young.

Umpires: Home, Mike Winters; First, Todd Tichenor; Second, Mike Muchlinski; Third, Ramon De Jesus. Time: 3:16. Att: 29,566.

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