Terrance Gore ran as if he were floating, tearing across the 180 feet separating him from home plate. After he touched the plate for the final run in an improbable 4-3 Royals victory over Chicago, he leaped into the arms of outfielder Alex Gordon as the dugout emptied behind them.
Gordon held aloft Gore, the 23-year-old called up specifically for September nights like this, and bear-hugged him. Together the duo sprinted with two dozen of their teammates toward shallow right field.
They were searching for Lorenzo Cain, who bounced the walk-off single that scored Gore, and Jarrod Dyson, who stole third and raced home on a wild pitch for the tying run. They were searching for anyone in a white jersey with Royals stitched across the chest. They were searching for all those who would amass in a dogpile, one covered in grass and ice and Gatorade. At the bottom of the pile, entwined with Dyson, was Gore.
“It’s awesome, it’s great,” Gore said. “It hurts a little bit. But it’s nice.”
The soreness would fade. With a few propulsive moments on Monday, the Royals erased eight innings of offensive malaise. They capitalized on an errant pitch by White Sox closer Jake Petricka, four hits by outfielder Nori Aoki and a fleet-footed duo off the bench. After so much futility, the Royals came through.
“That,” starter James Shields said, “was one of the most exciting walk-offs I’ve seen in a while.”
The Royals waited until the final innings to make their own luck. They had their chances, scattered though they were. Shields held Chicago to three runs in seven innings. Omar Infante managed an RBI single in the seventh. Gordon roped an RBI single in the eighth.
The ninth-inning rally started from an unlikely source — an opposite-field double by Mike Moustakas. He slashed his hit to deep left field, a rarity for him this season. Manager Ned Yost sent in Dyson to run for Moustakas. Just six days ago, Dyson was picked off at second base, defusing an opportunity. He relished the chance for redemption.
“I always want to be in that moment, man,” Dyson said. “Anytime I can help the team win, I’m all for it.”
With two outs, Dyson broke for third base. Petricka skipped a fastball to the right of catcher Tyler Flowers. The ball rolled to the backstop. Dyson kept going and jetted all the way home.
The crowd at Kauffman Stadium released all the pent-up frustration from the preceding eight innings. Heading into the ninth, the Royals appeared on the verge of a toothless performance against a flammable pitching staff.
Heading into Monday, 92 big-league pitchers qualified for the ERA title. Among that group, White Sox southpaw John Danks ranked 89th with a 5.05 ERA. He strung together six scoreless innings and held his hosts to two singles. Both were by Aoki. Only one left the infield.
The early stretches of lackluster hitting, so common this month, coincided with a merely serviceable outing from Shields. The White Sox annoyed him with 10 hits, nine of them singles, and three runs. Shields limited the damage but could not keep Chicago scoreless.
“They didn’t hit the ball very hard today,” Shields said. “But they found a lot of holes. There’s nothing else I can really do. I was making my pitches.”
Chicago scored three runs in the first three innings. The Royals looked bound for continued deflation, a day removed from a dreadful series against Boston. The club lost three of four to the last-place Red Sox, including Sunday’s bullpen debacle. In the aftermath of the defeat, when Aaron Crow gave up a grand slam in the sixth inning, Yost pledged he would be more willing to use Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis outside of the seventh and eighth inning.
The rhetoric could not erase the past. The loss still counted. Once again they leaned on Shields for salvation.
For Shields, the position was familiar. He fulfilled a similar task in his last start when he blanked the Tigers for seven innings. That outing extended his string of consecutive scoreless innings to 18 1/3. The streak would not last an inning on Monday.
The burden shifted from Shields to the offense.
A mild roar from the crowd arose with two outs in the second inning. For only the second time in seven games, Billy Butler strode to the plate as a member of the starting lineup. The crowd welcomed with back with open arms, desperate for any semblance of offense.
The usage of Butler has become a daily topic. He has kept private his feelings on his benching. His performance this season — he entered Monday with a career-low .692 OPS and one hit in his last 27 at-bats — has not merited him at-bats in a playoff race.
Yost indicated Butler understood this.
“We’ve talked to him,” Yost said before the game. “He knows. He knows he’s not producing right now to the level that he’s accustomed to producing. But he’s been great through all this. He’s been on the bench, rooting. He’s been great.”
Yet he is still this team’s most accomplished hitter. He was an All Star in 2012. He wants to remain with this franchise for the duration of his career. Three pitches into his first at-bat, he reminded why his time in Kansas City may be drawing to a close.
Butler passed on a fastball and a change-up from Danks. At 1-1, Danks doubled up on the change, tossing one that broke at Butler’s ankles. He swung anyway. Butler’s ground ball rolled into shortstop Alexei Ramirez’s glove. The crowd was mostly silent as he jogged off the field and the inning ended. He went zero for three with a walk.
The subsequent innings offered only more of the same.
The Royals showed signs of life in the seventh and eighth. Then came the ninth, when Dyson captivated the crowd and tied the game.
With two outs, Aoki smoked a fastball from Petricka down the third-base line for a double. This time, Yost plucked Gore from the bench. Gore may have played only 20 games above Class A, but he knew his assignment.
He required a little assistance from Cain. Petricka pumped a 94-mph heater. Cain did not hit the ball particularly hard. It bounced in front of the plate, bounded over Petricka’s head and rolled beneath the glove of shortstop Alexei Ramirez. Cain was safe. Gore was just getting started.
“I had no doubt in my mind that Cain was going to be safe,” Gore said. “So I was like ‘You know what? I’m going anyway. No matter what.’ ”
There was no play at the plate. Gore streaked home and into the waiting arms of Gordon, into the sea of hugs and back-slaps, into a collection of players still holding on to possession of a playoff berth.
“We’re going to fight the rest of this year, and see what the outcome is going to be,” Cain said. “We’re a confident ballclub. We’re going to fight to the end. Hopefully we can get in the playoffs.”
To reach Andy McCullough, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.