Royals veteran Danny Duffy and Alex Gordon talk about 5-4 win at Atlanta
In the middle of their youth movement and letting young players adjust to the rigors of competing at the big-league level, the Royals leaned on their veterans to secure a road victory against the National League’s second-best team on Tuesday night.
The Royals’ 30-and-over club paved the way to a 5-4 win against the Atlanta Braves in the first game of a two-game set in front of an announced 36,570 at SunTrust Park on a night when it looked like Braves starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel might be a one-man wrecking crew.
Royals left-hander pitcher Danny Duffy, 30, turned in his best outing of the season with 11 strikeouts, while outfielder Alex Gordon, 35, collected three hits, including his 11th home run of the season. He finished the night a triple shy of the cycle.
The biggest hit of the night, an eight-inning home run that put the Royals (38-64) ahead for good, came off the bat of veteran slugger Lucas Duda, 33.
Duda’s eighth-inning pinch-hit home run put the Royals ahead 3-2.
“The pitcher was leading off in the eighth inning,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Do we pinch-hit a leadoff guy and try to get on and steal? Do we pinch-hit Duda, take a shot at hitting a home run? ... We opted to take a shot at the home run, and daggone if we didn’t get it.”
Duda’s bomb to deep right-center (estimated 435 feet) was the first pinch-hit homer for the Royals since Ryan O’Hearn on Aug. 15, 2018, against Toronto.
Duda’s last pinch-hit home run came as a member of the Braves on September 9, 2018. This time, he snapped relief pitcher Anthony Swarzak’s scoreless-innings streak at 17, which had been longest active streak in the majors.
“I was just trying to hit the ball hard,” Duda said. “... Pinch-hitting is difficult. Hitting in general is difficult. Pinch-hitting, I think, is even more difficult, so I’m just trying to find a good pitch and put a good swing on it and whatever happens, happens.”
The Royals tacked on two more runs in the eighth courtesy of a bases-loaded walk by Jorge Soler and when Humberto Arteaga got hit by a pitch with the bases loaded.
The Braves scored one run on a tough-hop single to shortstop that Arteaga couldn’t glove with two outs in the eighth. Royals closer Ian Kennedy, 34, gave up three hits and a run in the ninth, but he hung on for his 18th save of the season.
Duffy’s 11 strikeouts were a season-high. He allowed one run on five hits and one walk and two hit batters in six innings. He hadn’t recorded a double-digit strikeout game since June 9, 2018, against Oakland. He also became the first pitcher in club history with multiple outings of at least 11 strikeouts.
Keuchel struck out 12 in six innings. He allowed two runs on three hits and two walks. It marked his sixth career double-digit strikeout performance.
With the score tied one run apiece in the fifth, Keuchel’s leadoff double and a Ronald Acuna Jr. walk, the first of the game issued by Duffy, put two runners on with no outs and appeared the hiccup the Braves needed with Keuchel bordering on untouchable and the score tied 1-1.
Duffy struck out No. 2 hitter Dansby Swanson, looking. Then he threw a 2-2 fastball past Freddie Freeman for his second strikeout of the inning. He then started off 0-2 against Josh Donaldson before hitting him with a pitch to load the bases for Nick Markakis.
Duffy froze Markakis on a slider for a called third strike to end the inning and strand three men on base and leave the score tied.
The next inning with one out, Gordon lifted a 3-2 fastball from Keuchel over the right field wall, stands, “Chop House” bar/restaurant and nearly out of the ballpark all together. That blast gave the Royals their first lead of the night.
“It was a momentum shifter,” Duffy said. “Gordo is going to do what he does. In my mind, he’s everything a captain looks like and he went out and did something clutch in a clutch situation. We expect that out of him. To be able to put us on the board and then put us ahead of them, was big. He had a great night.”
Gordon had batted .200 in 15 career at-bats against Keuchel, but he’d also posted an on-base percentage of .368. He was aggressive early in the count and fouled a pair of pitches off before he worked the count full to get the eventual home run pitch.
“I’ve faced him a lot in Houston,” Gordon said of Keuchel. “Knowing the scouting report and what he likes to do to lefties, I was just looking down and in with his sinker. I usually don’t do that, but you’ve gotta know what his strengths are. I tried to stick with that and look down and in and not let him beat me there.”
Keuchel handed the game over to the Braves bullpen, going into the seventh with the Royals up 2-1.
The Braves tied the score when Freeman hit an RBI single up the middle after he’d fouled off three consecutive pitches from left-handed side-arm reliever Tim Hill.
The score stayed tied until Duda’s home run.