Three hours before first pitch on Friday, Royals manager Ned Yost leaned against the dugout wall, holding court for his daily pregame media session. Gold trim surrounded the letters on his jersey, a design first introduced to commemorate a 2015 World Series championship. And on this night, the New York Mets occupied the visitors’ dugout, the same club the Royals beat in that 2015 World Series.
All told, it provided a perfect setting that might prompt memory of the Royals’ best achievement in nearly three decades.
“Relive it if you want,” Yost said. “But there’s nothing to say.”
He’s focused on today, he added. Not yesterday. Not four years ago.
So, the present: Timely hits. Good pitching.
Same as it was back then. For at least one night.
The Royals bested the Mets 4-1 on Friday in the opener of a three-game interleague series at Kauffman Stadium, with 21,439 fans on hand.
Mike Montgomery picked up his second straight victory with a quality start, and the Royals strung together three straight hits off hard-throwing Noah Syndergaard for a two-run fifth. Then they added two more in the ninth, despite stranding the bases loaded with nobody out — Ryan O’Hearn hit a ball that was initially ruled a grand slam only for replay to intervene.
The Mets loaded the bases in the ninth before closer Ian Kennedy induced a ground-out from shortstop Amed Rosario.
Montgomery has thrown 13 innings over his last two starts without allowing an earned run.
“I didn’t have my best stuff, but this team came in — they were hot. They’re a good team,” Montgomery said. “Today, I was overthrowing (early) and then slowed it down a little bit. We made some good plays. Offense came up big. It’s just a good win for the team against a team that’s coming in as hot as they are.”
A World Series seems like distant history, the Royals pacing toward 100 losses for a second straight season. The Mets have already thrust themselves back into the National League Wild Card race, aided by the luxury of the horses on the mound. The same ones present for that 2015 fall classic. The Royals handed Syndergaard the loss.
The Royals (44-78) countered with a lefty with his own World Series appearance. Montgomery, who closed out the Cubs’ championship in 2016, furthered his progression into a starting rotation. After seven shutout innings in his last outing, Montgomery produced six innings of one-run ball in the encore, and the lone run was unearned.
Jake Newberry threw a perfect seventh with a pair of strikeouts. Scott Barlow and Tim Hill combined to escape the eighth unscathed. Kennedy finished it off in the ninth, with Royals shortstop Nicky Lopez ranging to his right to record the final ground-out.
“They were finding holes, and I was just happy I was able to get to one at the end,” Lopez said. “Whenever Kennedy is on the mound, we’re all confident, so we knew he was going to get us some ground balls.”
By mere inches, the Royals had missed an opportunity to blow the game open in the eighth. O’Hearn was initially credited with a grand slam before replay showed the ball crossing the foul pole on the near side. Instead, the Royals left the bases loaded. But Bubba Starling had already delivered a run-scoring single and Brett Phillips a bases-loaded walk. Both were 0 for 3 before their last plate appearances.
“I guess you can claim some growth there, but it was more relief,” Yost said. “(Starling) was having a tough night with three punch-outs. But he was facing one of the best pitchers in baseball and I fully expected that. For him to come through and get a hit was a load off his shoulders for sure.”
Syndergaard (8-6) held the Royals to one hit over four shutout innings before they stacked together three straight in the fifth. O’Hearn singled. Meibrys Viloria squeezed a double inside the first-base line, despite Pete Alonso hovering the line, to break the shutout. Lopez doubled down the opposite base line for a 2-1 lead. The Royals had been scoreless over their previous 22 innings.
Mets cleanup hitter Michael Conforto drove in the game’s opening run, but only after Royals second baseman Whit Merrifield fumbled a double-play exchange. The runner was initially ruled out, but after a 3-minute, 27-second review, umpires signaled a reversal of the on-field call, judging that Merrifield had never controlled the flip. Montgomery forced a double play on the ensuing batter to limit the error’s effect.
The Royals plugged Phillips into the lineup for the first time this season. Acquired in the trade that sent Mike Moustakas to the Milwaukee Brewers last summer, Phillips batted fifth in his season MLB debut.