Whit Merrifield becomes baseball’s hits and stolen base leader as Royals fall in finale

Whit Merrifield on leading baseball in base hits

Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield discusses his hit streak and leading baseball in base hits.
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Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield discusses his hit streak and leading baseball in base hits.

Fifty years of Royals baseball in the books, and all anybody could think about after Sunday’s season finale was the 51st year.

That’s how upbeat the finish to an otherwise dreadful season was.

The Royals’ 2-1 loss to the playoff-bound Cleveland Indians on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium finalized the record at 58-104, matching the second worst in franchise history. The last place finish in the American League Central is their first since 2010.

But the final five weeks produced a 20-14 record, and one of baseball’s best home records. The Royals were buoyed by young talent like shortstop Adalberto Mondesi, second baseman Whit Merrifield and a group of young starting pitchers.

“As a group you saw them start to believe in each other, you saw them start to believe in themselves and here we go,” manager Ned Yost. “We started to have some success.”

Yost had completed the terms of his two-year extension signed before the 2016 season and his future was in doubt as the year drew to an end. No more. The club announced before Sunday’s game that he would be back for 2019 on a one-year deal.

“The harmony in the organization is really important,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “We’re at a point in time right now where we think continuity is even more important than it’s been in the past.

“We’ve seen the improvement of a lot of the players...and Ned has been a huge part of the success of this organization. I enjoy working with him personally and professionally and am excited about next year.”

Sunday’s loss came with one highlight for the Royals. In the eighth inning, Whit Merrifield needed a base hit to own baseball’s leadership outright. He entered the day with 191, tied with Freddie Freeman of the Atlanta Braves.

Merrifield and Freeman chatted by Face Time on Sunday morning. Merrifield kept up with the Braves’ progress during the game, and knew Freeman was removed from the game after two plate appearances without a hit.

Merrifield had struck out in two of his three at-bats when he singled up the middle. Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer tipped his cap as Merrifield joined George Brett and Willie Wilson as the only Royals to lead baseball in base hits.

The single also extended his hitting streak to a career-best 20 games.

While on base, Merrifield swiped his 45th base and that also leads the major leagues. He’s the third player since World War II to lead in both categories.

“Opportunities like this don’t come around often,” Merrifield said. “I feel blessed to have a chance to accomplish something like this. It feels really good, a good way to end the season. It’s special.”

Merrifield wound up a third base, was lifted for a pinch runner and returned to the dugout to a standing ovation.

“It was hard to describe,” Merrifield said. “It was really special. This community, this town is such a sports town. They know what’s going on. I got a nice ovation every at-bat today because they knew what was going on.”

The Indians took a 2-0 lead in the third when Royals started Eric Skoglund served up Francisco Lindor’s 38th home run.

The Royals got their run in the fifth. Brian Goodwin led off with a single, stole second and moved to the third on Alcides Escboar’s ground out.

Meibrys Viloria picked up his fourth RBI of the season with base hit up the middle.

That was it on a quiet afternoon for the offense but a day when the Royals looked forward to a new season.

“We feel like we have the nucleus of a really good defensive team, a really good offensive team, a really good group of starting pitchers, and now we need to work on the bullpen,” Yost said. “If I’m looking at my team for next year I’m feeling pretty good about what we’ve got going into the winter and into next year.”

Blair Kerkhoff

Blair Kerkhoff covers the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals and college sports for The Star.

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