Royals

After Moustakas’ splash hit, Royals roll their winning streak to four games

The waters of McCovey Cove slosh and splash just 24 feet beyond right field here at AT&T Park, beyond the towering, angular brick walk, beyond the sidewalk filled with pedestrians on a sunny afternoon.

The waterway — officially named the China Basin Channel, unofficially named for Hall of Famer Willie McCovey— offers a veritable test for sluggers and a seductive target for any hitter who stands in the batter’s box here. In how many stadiums on earth can you take a swing and try to hit a baseball into an actual bay?

On Wednesday, in the Royals’ 7-2 victory over the Giants, it was third baseman Mike Moustakas’ turn to step into the box and take aim for the basin. The water, of course, was not the goal. In the midst of the finest season of his career, Moustakas just wanted another productive at-bat. He had not taken batting practice on Wednesday, opting to rest in the morning. One day earlier, he eschewed target practice for his usual pregame routine of line drives to left-center and a few pull swings at the end.

“I don’t want to get in that dead-pull approach,” he said.

Yet on a 3-2 changeup from Johnny Cueto in the second, the fifth changeup of the at-bat, Moustakas saw a mistake and let one rip, launching a solo homer that soared into the air and splashed into the cove on the bounce. The homer, which traveled an estimated 415 feet, was Moustakas’ 18th of the season and provided 1-0 lead. The moment sparked another complete performance as the Royals (30-34) won for a fourth straight day, matching their longest streak of the season.

“We haven’t hit on all cylinders like this all year,” said starting pitcher Jason Hammel, who allowed one run in 6  2/3 innings.

In the history of AT&T Park, just 73 balls have landed in the water from the bats of Giants players, a total kept on a right-field scoreboard with the title of “Splash hits.” The total for road players is more nebulous, and Moustakas’ homer offered a brief lesson in what counts and what does not. As he returned to the dugout, teammate Eric Hosmer told him the ball had reached the water. But upon further inspection, Giants third-base coach Phil Nevin told Moustakas that the ball had bounced off a railing. It still counted, right?

“That’s not what Nevin said,” Moustakas said. “But it’s all good. A homer is a homer.”

And there have been many. With 18 homers, Moustakas pulled into a momentary four-way tie with Toronto’s Justin Smoak, Tampa Bay’s Logan Morrison and Houston’s George Springer for the second most homers in the American League. With three blasts in three days, he remained on pace to shatter Steve Balboni’s club record of 36. In the moments after the latest victory, Moustakas credited a simple formula: Years of work with hitting coach Dale Sveum; an approach and plan for each at-bat.

“We’re making adjustments where we need to,” Moustakas said. “But for the most part, I’m sticking with the same approach. And it’s been paying off for me.”

On Wednesday, Moustakas represented just the start of the continued power surge. Rookie Jorge Bonifacio would deliver a two-run shot off Cueto in the third, his ninth of the season. Lorenzo Cain followed with a line-drive solo blast to left, his seventh of the season and fifth in 11 games. In all, the Royals have connected for 13 homers while winning four of five on this West Coast road trip. As they prepared to board a plane for Anaheim in the evening, in advance of a four-game series with the Angels, they had climbed to within four games of .500 for the first time since April 23.

“That’s what we planned on coming out of spring training,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of the offense. “It’s just that, through the month of April, we were just really flat offensively.”

As the offense remained locked in, Hammel continued his June resurgence, working into the seventh. In three starts in May, he has allowed just five runs, posting a 2.21 ERA. The performance comes on the heels of a disastrous May in which he logged a 5.83 ERA in five starts. The difference, Hammel says, is a mechanical adjustment that opened him up in the set position. For the last year, he had become more and more closed off, creating more torque and power, yet developing a bad habit in the process. In his first 10 starts of the season, Hammel issued 23 walks. On Wednesday, he walked his first batter in 79 plate appearances.

“To open up,” Hammel said, “to actually allow me to see the plate, see the glove, it’s helped me get back down in the strike zone and command the fastball.”

Facing off against Hammel was Cueto, the erstwhile Royals starter who entered the day with a 4.33 ERA in 13 starts. In 81 innings, Cueto had allowed 13 homers. His uneven performance had manifested itself off the diamond, too. In April, in an interview with The Bay Area News Group, he remarked on the lack of Latin players in the Giants’ clubhouse, contrasting it with his stints in Cincinnati and Kansas City. In the winter, he will possess the choice of opting out of his six-year, $130 million contract, signed in the months after the Royals won the 2015 World Series.

For Cueto and the Giants, the marriage started off splendidly. He posted a 2.79 ERA in 32 starts last season. He started the All-Star Game for the National League. He helped the Giants back to the postseason.

And yet, his 2017 season has mirrored his performance on Wednesday. He was ravaged by the home run, surrendering three in 5  2/3 innings. He departed after allowing a single to Whit Merrifield and an RBI double from Bonifacio in the top of the sixth.

In that moment, Moustakas had already gone deep and Hammel was keeping the Giants at bay. The Royals were in command, poised to take another step back to the fringes of contention.

“We’re still in the middle of June, almost 100 games to play,” Hammel said. “It’s a long season to play.”

Moments later, he added: “We’re back on track.”

Royals 7, Giants 2

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Merrifield 2b

6

3

3

0

0

0

.292

Bonifacio rf

5

1

2

3

0

0

.266

Cain cf

4

2

3

2

1

0

.272

Hosmer 1b

5

0

2

0

0

0

.315

Moustakas 3b

3

1

1

2

1

1

.278

Escobar ss

5

0

3

0

0

1

.193

Gordon lf

4

0

0

0

1

1

.185

Butera c

5

0

2

0

0

1

.250

Hammel p

4

0

0

0

0

1

.000

Moylan p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

Minor p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

Moss ph

1

0

0

0

0

1

.180

Herrera p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

Totals 42

7

16

7

3

6

 

San Francisco

AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Span cf

4

0

2

0

0

1

.259

Nunez 3b

5

0

2

1

0

0

.301

Belt 1b

4

0

0

0

1

0

.229

Posey c

5

0

1

0

0

2

.348

Crawford ss

3

1

1

0

1

1

.245

Pence rf

4

0

1

0

0

1

.235

Panik 2b

4

0

2

0

0

0

.259

Slater lf

4

0

1

1

0

0

.344

Cueto p

2

0

0

0

0

0

.040

Osich p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

Tomlinson ph

1

0

0

0

0

0

.293

Law p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

Strickland p

0

0

0

0

0

0

---

Hill ph

1

1

0

0

0

0

.170

Totals 37

2

10

2

2

5

 

Kansas City

013

001

020

7

16

1

San Francisco

000

100

001

2

10

0

E—Escobar (5). LOB—Kansas City 12, San Francisco 11. 2B—Merrifield (7), Bonifacio (6), Hosmer (15), Escobar (12), Nunez (17). HR—Moustakas (18), off Cueto; Bonifacio (9), off Cueto; Cain (7), off Cueto. RBIs—Bonifacio 3 (23), Cain 2 (22), Moustakas 2 (40), Nunez (25), Slater (7). SB—Merrifield (7). SF—Moustakas. DP—Kansas City 1.

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Hammel, W, 3-6

6 2/3

8

1

1

1

4

5.05

Moylan, H, 9

 1/3

0

0

0

0

0

6.95

Minor

1

0

0

0

1

0

2.18

Herrera

1

2

1

0

0

1

5.13

San Francisco

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Cueto, L, 5-6

5 2/3

10

5

5

3

5

4.57

Osich

1 1/3

2

0

0

0

0

3.31

Law

1

3

2

2

0

0

3.72

Strickland

1

1

0

0

0

1

1.75

Inherited runners-scored—Moylan 2-0, Osich 1-0. HBP—Hammel (Span). WP—Hammel. T—3:03. A—41,144 (41,915).

Related stories from Kansas City Star

  Comments