Royals starter Jakob Junis talks loss to Mets
The World Series matchup is now nearly four years in the past, and the Royals aren’t in contention for a playoff spot this season. Be that as it may, there was an energy and atmosphere in the ballpark for Saturday night’s meeting with the Mets.
A significant contingent of Mets fans known as “The 7 Line Army” took up residency in the park and provided a raucous cheering section for the visitors, who are still chasing a playoff spot, while the Royals were attempting to turn around a homestand that started with back-to-back losses.
Royals starting pitcher Jakob Junis did his best to keep pace with Mets ace and last year’s National League Cy Young Award winner, Jacob deGrom, but Junis and his partners came up short in a 4-1 loss in front of an announced 28,697 at Kauffman Stadium.
“It’s a shame we couldn’t score more runs for him, but I thought he threw the ball extremely well,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of Junis.
The Royals (44-79) can win the three-game series with a victory on Sunday afternoon. The Mets (63-60) entered the day two games back in the NL Wild Card race.
Junis (8-11) allowed three runs on seven hits, one walk and two hit batters. Two of the runs charged to him scored after he’d exited the game. Junis stranded five men on base through the first six innings. Up until the seventh inning, he’d matched up well with deGrom (8-7).
DeGrom held the Royals to one run on three hits over seven innings. He struck out five and walked two and handed the Mets’ bullpen a three-run lead in the eighth inning. The Royals didn’t score in the final two innings.
Royals outfielder Hunter Dozier went 2 for 4, and designated hitter Jorge Soler went 1 for 4 and drove in the club’s lone run in the fourth inning to give the Royals a 1-0 lead.
“He’s one of the best, if not the best in the league,” Dozier said of deGrom. “After my first at-bat I kinda settled in and saw him the best I could. He’s got a good fastball, a really good slider. It’s hard to pick up his slider. He pitched a really good game.”
The Mets evened the score in the fop of the fifth with their first run off of Junis. Junis gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning. After a double play left a runner on third and two outs, Joe Panik singled up the middle to tie it 1-1.
“Got the double play in the (fifth) inning when they had guys on with nobody out, Panik just snuck one through the infield, got enough wood on it to get it through the infield and score that run,” Junis said. “Even we did give up the run, we still made our pitch. Our command was there for the most part.”
Junis got a ground-out to start the seventh, but then gave up a single and hit Aaron Altherr with a pitch. Right-hander Jake Newberry came on in relief of Junis, but he walked Amed Rosario to load the bases, and Royals manager Ned Yost turned to left-hander Tim Hill.
“If he’d got two outs and a guy on, I was going to let him face Rosario,” Yost said. “... He ended up getting two guys on. I didn’t really want to go fourth time around. They’d seen him. He’d thrown the ball well. I thought he’d done his job. We were in the seventh inning. Bring in Jake, he gets 0-2 and then eventually walks Rosario.”
Yost turned to left-handed sidearm pitcher Hill anticipating the match-up against pinch-hitter J.D. Davis and then hoping Hill could get Peter Alonso to hit a ground ball.
Hill struck out the first batter he faced, then got the grounder he’d wanted from Alonso. Only it went back up the middle and Hill couldn’t field it.
Second baseman Whit Merrifield kept it from reaching the outfield. The runner on third scored immediately, but Merrifield threw home to try to get the runner coming from second. Hill cut off the throw as the second run scored and the Mets took a 3-1 lead.
“I was thinking more or less that Whit might have had a play at second and I was stuck in no man’s land,” Hill explained. “When he threw the ball I figured it was off line, so I just grabbed it. I’m not sure if it was the best decision at this point. It just happened real fast. It was instinct, and I didn’t want a ball bouncing off the backstop.”
The Royals had two men on and no outs in the seventh after back-to-back singles by Dozier and Soler, but a rocket off the bat of Cheslor Cuthbert went right at Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada and the Mets turned a double play.
After Brett Phillips drew a walk, deGrom struck out Ryan O’Hearn to end the seventh inning and keep the two-run advantage.
The Royals had one hit in the final two innings. Mets center fielder Juan Lagares’ RBI triple in the eighth inning drove in the game’s final run.