Royals’ Hunter Dozier talks about his walk-off single against the Indians
Nothing available in the box score will reflect the difference last season made in the pivotal at-bat Hunter Dozier had on Sunday afternoon.
The statistics can’t and won’t show the growth, the experience and the maturity that went into everything that led up to and including the moment Dozier connected on a 1-1 pitch for a walk-off RBI single down the left-field line.
Dozier’s hit sent Terrance Gore home from third base and gave the Royals a 9-8 victory and a series sweep of the Cleveland Indians in front of an announced 14,303 at Kauffman Stadium.
“I think (I’m just getting) a little bit better luck,” Dozier said. “I saw the ball really well in Detroit. Nothing really fell. I’ve been seeing the ball well all season. Just early on, nothing was falling. Right now, I’m finding hits.”
A few minutes earlier, Dozier had just received what might best be called the Salvy Splash Remix — a celebratory Gatorade shower this year being administered by new catcher Martin Maldonado in place of injured Salvador Perez.
The celebration provided the final punctuation mark on a week that saw Dozier come out the other side of the funk that had mired much of the first two weeks of his season. That splash capped of 2-for-4 day that included with a walk, two runs scored and the game-winning RBI.
Dozier dragged a .100 batting average, .208 on-base percentage and a .250 slugging percentage into the homestand, having gone 2-for-20. The numbers didn’t show that he’d made hard contact as much, if not more, than anyone in the lineup.
During the same game in which he hit his first home run of the season in Detroit, he also smashed three separate balls that sent the center fielder racing to the deepest part of the park for long, loud outs.
For the homestand, Dozier went 11-for-27 (.407) at the plate with six runs scored and four RBI in seven games.
“It helps getting time up here, knowing you can play at this level,” Dozier said. “It’s still frustrating when you go through those slumps or go through the time when you’re seeing the ball but nothing’s falling. You still get frustrated, but you know in the back of your head that you’re good enough to play at this level and things will turn around.
“I think maybe last year I would’ve tried to change something even if I was hitting the ball hard. I would’ve thought something was wrong mechanically.”
The Royals, now the winners of three straight, made it interesting in the final three innings.
Starting pitcher Jakob Junis scratched out 6 1/3 innings despite needing 29 pitches to get through a three-run first inning. He handed an 8-5 lead with one out in the seventh over to rookie left-handed reliever Richard Lovelady. Lovelady, who’d shown flashes of lights-out ability in the minors and in spring training, couldn’t finish the inning.
Lovelady gave up back-to-back singles to Leonys Martin and Jose Ramirez, the second an infield single, before getting a ground out which moved the runners to second and third. After Lovelady fell behind Indians slugger Carlos Santana, the Royals decided to walk Santana intentionally.
With bases loaded now after an intentional walk to Santana, the Indians sent right-handed hitter Hanley Ramirez up as a pinch hitter for left-handed batter Naquin. The Royals responded by bringing in right-hander Jake Newberry, but Newberry walked Ramirez to force in a run and then allowed a two-run single to Jake Bauers that tied the score 8-8.
Scoreless eighth and ninth innings pitched by Royals relievers Brad Boxberger and Wily Peralta, set the stage for the ninth-inning excitement.
Left-handed hitting slugger Ryan O’Hearn battled through a nine-pitch plate appearance against Indians left-handed Brad Hand, a former multi-time All-Star selection, to get a walk.
The Royals sent speedster Gore in as a pinch runner. Gore stole second base, and the throw from the catcher trickled into the outfield grass far enough for Gore break for third despite getting a “super late” read on where the ball went.
“I looked at him (on the iPad) before I went out there,” Gore said of Hand. “I saw his pick-off moves and finally found a key that I should go on and took a good pitch to go on.”
That stolen base and throwing error put Gore on third for Dozier’s game-winning single.
The game featured 22 hits (four home runs), 11 walks and 17 runs.
The Royals chased two-time former Cy Young Award winner Corey Kluber from the game inside of three innings. Lucas Duda and Whit Merrifield hit homers off Kluber.
Before Sunday, Kluber had only walked one batter with the bases loaded (in 54 chances), and that came April 3. The Royals forced him to commit the costly faux pas twice the third inning.
Jorge Soler added another homer off relief pitcher Neil Ramirez in the sixth inning.
“We’re a lot better than a 10-game losing streak,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I think that’s a really good team over there (the Indians). Of course, they’ve been touted to be the head of this division. I think that they’re an extremely good team, but I think we’re a good team too.”