Nori Aoki stood outside the Royals dugout on Wednesday evening as an adoring crowd showered him with cheers. His translator, Kosuke Inaji, had just been drenched in a Gatorade bath. Aoki, a wily veteran, dodged the incoming liquid as reliever Aaron Crow let it fly.
As the crowd looked out, Joel Goldberg of Fox Sports Kansas City asked the most pertinent question for Aoki, who had just set a franchise record with 11 hits in a three-game series.
“When was the last time,” Goldberg asked, “you heard a huge crowd chanting ‘No-ri’?”
The crowd drowned out his answer. They chanted his name again, just as they had during his final at-bat against Chicago. He has become an unlikely folk hero for the club, propelling himself on base with a creative blend of bloop singles, check-swing choppers and the occasional well-hit ball. He snapped a record of 10 hits in a three-game series held by George Brett and Willie Wilson.
Inside the Royals clubhouse, as Inaji dried off, Aoki explained he had never before heard a reaction like that in the United States. As a player in Milwaukee and Kansas City, he had heard applause and standing ovations. But never something like that.
In just three games, Aoki raised his on-base plus slugging percentage from .666 to .701. His on-base percentage rose all the way to .349, which approaches the .356 mark he finished last season with. In a late-season flurry, Aoki could compensate for his early struggles.
“He’s hotter than a firecracker,” manager Ned Yost said. “You can’t explain it. It’s like it’s hard to explain when guys are cold. You just get hot. And Nori is as hot as you can get.”
FROM THE STAR
Backs against the wall, the Royals did the unthinkable: They pummeled White Sox ace Chris Sale.
Salvador Perez has become the least-selective hitter in the majors. Ned Yost believes he’s too “anxious” at the plate.
THE ROYALS’ PLAYOFF PERCENTAGE (ACCORDING TO BASEBALL PROSPECTUS)
THE STANDINGS IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
KC trails Detroit by a one-half game.
THE STANDINGS IN THE WILD-CARD RACE
KC leads Seattle by two games.
HERE IS SOME ROCK MUSIC
“Thor’s Stone” by Forest Swords.