Without much going on offensively, the Royals needed a spark. And Whit Merrifield provided it.
In the sixth inning, the Royals infielder walked and stole second. With two outs and the 19,424 people on a bright Sunday afternoon at Kauffman Stadium implored by the scoreboard to get loud, Merrifield took off for third before reliever Lou Trivino looked up.
When he did, Merrifield had a huge start and slid into third safely. The ball got past third baseman Matt Chapman and rolled into foul territory.
In a 1-1 game, a run would be precious here, and third base coach Mike Jirschele’s arm was a windmill of motion.
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But Merrifield retreated to the bag.
“I didn’t know where the ball was when I slid into third,” Merrifield said. “If I had known instantly if it was a bad throw, I could have hopped up and scored. But when you have the moment of hesitation, you have to shut it down.”
Merrifield didn’t score and the game remained tied until the eighth, when the A’s plated four to take a 5-1 victory and the series from the Royals.
The Royals and starter Jakob Junis needed the support. Junis was excellent through seven innings and finished with a career-best nine strikeouts.
“I had my slider working, and I went in with a good game plan,” said Junis, who fell to 5-5 and has lost back-to-back decisions for the first time in a career that started last season.
He was in good shape until the eighth, when Dustin Fowler got enough of a Junis changeup to drop a base hit to center.
Fowler stole second, and Jed Lowrie, who twice had struck out with runners on to end innings, singled up the middle on a 3-0 count to give the A’s a 2-1 lead.
Junis’ day was finished, but the A’s hitters weren't done. Burch Smith relieved, issued a walk and then surrendered a mammoth 454-foot home run to Matt Olson that put the game out of reach.
“I wish we could have gotten (Junis) some runs, something to protect,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
All the Royals could muster was a home run from an unlikely source.
Jon Jay is having a solid season at the plate, entering Sunday with a team-leading .305 average. He was the Royals' player of the month for May after hitting .368 with 43 base hits. Only Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor had more among major-leaguers in May.
Jay has been a singles machine, his 58 ranking second in the majors.
But this time, Jay took out the big stick and belted a 413-foot home run over the right-center field wall off starter Daniel Gossett.
The home run was Jay’s first as a Royals player and his first since July 5, when he was with the Cubs. Jay's 442 at-bats between homers was the longest active streak among nonpitchers.
But the Royals finished with three hits, not nearly enough support for Junis.
Rare error: Alcides Escobar booted a grounder off the bat of Chapman with two outs in the sixth. The Royals had played the previous seven games without an error. But the A’s couldn’t take advantage. Chapman became the eighth player thrown out by catcher Salvador Perez in 16 attempts this season. Fowler’s swipe in the eighth made Perez eight for 17.
RIP, Bruce Kison: Kison, who spent six years (1992-98) on the Royals staff, died on Saturday after a battle with cancer. The two-time World Series winner with the Pittsburgh Pirates was 68.
Next: Danny Duffy (2-6), seeking his third victory in three games, is on the mound when the Royals open a three-game series at the Los Angeles Angels. In his last two outings, Duffy has surrendered two earned runs in 13 2/3 innings. Nick Tropeano (3-3) will start for the Angels.