The carousel on the mound moved through right-handers Brad Keller, Glenn Sparkman and ultimately Jakob Junis. Over a three-day stretch, they each approached season-long outings — starts that, at minimum, kept the Royals in the game.
Finally, after 26 long innings, they found a payoff.
The Royals scored a pair of runs in the eighth inning Tuesday, the impetus for a 3-2 comeback victory against the Tigers to open a three-game series in front of 20,776 at Kauffman Stadium.
“To come out in the seventh, eighth and ninth to win a ballgame like that and get some momentum, it’s awesome,” said Junis, credited with a no-decision after seven innings.
After a three-day scoring drought, Terrance Gore scored the game-winning run amidst a light rain when a Cheslor Cuthbert pop-up went unattended in right field. Gore, pinch-running for Jorge Soler, had just stolen third base and acrobatically refrained from slipping off the bag. His entire momentum seemed destined for the third base coach’s box, but he turned over his cleat to keep contact with the base. The Tigers elected not to challenge.
Asked how he was able to stay on the bag, he replied, “That’s a great question. Nobody knows. I don’t even know.”
“It was like he had magnets on his feet,” Royals manager Ned Yost added.
One batter earlier, Soler tied the game with a double to score Adalberto Mondesi, who had a three-hit day. Mondesi sparked the pivotal inning with a hustle double on a ball through the left side of the infield. In each of his initial two hits, he turned the first-base bag hard, considering a double.
On the third, he finally just went for it.
“I just want to create something that’s hustle,” he said.
“As soon as he hit that double, the energy in the dugout came up,” Soler said through a translator.
Ian Kennedy pitched a perfect ninth inning for the save. Scott Barlow (2-2) recorded the win.
The Tigers (24-39) offered the Royals their opening — perhaps even a favor — in removing starter Spencer Turnbull after six shutout innings requiring 96 pitches. And sure enough, first baseman Ryan O’Hearn welcomed Blaine Hardy, the first man to emerge from the Tigers bullpen, with a 439-foot bomb to the second deck of the fountains in right field. Prior to the blast, Kansas City (21-45) had scored two runs in its previous 25 innings. It added runs against Daniel Stumpf and Victor Alcantara in the eighth.
That left Junis with the no-decision, though he earned more. He threw seven innings, giving up just five hits. He pounded the strike zone with 63 of them over his 89-pitch tour through the Tigers lineup. He struck out five and walked none, undone only by the nemesis over his three-year career.
The home run.
Right fielder Nicholas Castellanos popped him early, a 427-foot blast into the left-center field seats. Junis has allowed 13 first-inning runs in 14 starts. Three innings later, Brandon Dixon hit a ball to a nearly identical location. With some added distance. His solo shot, the 14th homer against Junis this season, splashed the fountains in left.
But that was it.
Keller offered a season-best eight innings in a loss on Saturday. Sparkman threw 6 2/3 innings on Sunday, one out shy of his season-high. They each gave up only two earned runs. Junis supplied a similar performance Tuesday.
With a different final outcome.