Brett Phillips didn’t get the bat off his shoulder in a big moment in the fourth inning, and he went back to the dugout frustrated about a strike three call and kicking himself for not even taking a swing.
When the time came in the ninth with the Oakland Athletics seemingly closing in on a victory with their closer, former Royal Liam Hendriks, Phillips didn’t hesitate. He jumped on a 2-0 pitch and lifted it out to right field for a game-tying solo home run.
Phillips’ second home run of the season came with one out. A two-base fielding error on a fly ball hit by Whit Merrifield put the go-ahead run in scoring position, and Adalberto Mondesi smacked an RBI double to left field as the Royals beat the Athletics 6-5 in the series opener in front of an announced 12,902 at the Oakland Coliseum on Monday night.
The Athletics (90-61) had a six-game win streak snapped.
“I’m looking at scenarios, trying to determine pinch-hit scenarios, (bench coach) Dale (Sveum) and I are talking,” Royals manager Ned Yost said of the ninth inning. “He asked me about Phillips, and I said you know what he’s been taking walks. We could catch lightning in a bottle with him too. He could get a hold of one and hit it out of the ballpark. Darn if he didn’t.”
The win gave Yost 1,200 managerial victories in his career. He’s the 45th manager to reach that benchmark. Meanwhile Jorge Soler hit his 45th home run of the season to move into a tie with Angels star Mike Trout for the American League lead.
Left fielder Alex Gordon reached base twice, took a home run away from Jurickson Profar in the second inning with a leaping catch at the wall, and hit a game-tying two-run single in the fifth which pushed him past 70 RBIs in a season for the first time since the 2014.
Trailing by two runs in the fourth inning, the Royals loaded the bases with no outs against Athletics starter Tanner Roark. Roark struck out Ryan O’Hearn swinging, Meibrys Viloria swinging and Phillips had the last chance to make Roark pay. However, a called third strike on a borderline pitch allowed Roark to strand three runners on base and preserve a two-run lead.
“Obviously, it was a tough AB right there,” Phillips said. “It was a good pitch. I didn’t swing. Obviously, it was too close to take. You can’t hit the ball if you don’t swing. Luckily, I was able to keep my mind there in the game through that situation and come back and help us later on.”
The Athletics broke a 4-4 tie win the eighth on a Khris Davis one-out RBI single into center field. Hendriks, who’d converted all eight of his save opportunities in August, entered with intentions of closing the game in the ninth.
With one out, Phillips got ahead 2-0 in the count and didn’t watch a third pitch go past.
“Hendriks is one of the best closers in the game right now, and I didn’t want him to get ahead,” Phillips said. “Luckily, I guessed right. Fastball. He throws hard, so I had to get the head out and was able to put a good swing on it.”
Merrifield, who had two hits in the game and now has 195 this season, reached on the error when Ramon Laureano didn’t squeeze a fly ball in center field.
Mondesi, having hit an RBI triple to score Merrifield in the first inning, followed with a double. Mondesi became the first Royal since Carlos Beltran in 2003 with 10 triples or more in a season.
“We just competed to the end,” Mondesi said. “We just keep competing and playing the game that we know. We just stayed focused.”
The ninth-inning rally was the second of the game for the Royals (56-95). They came back from a 4-1 deficit after two innings to tie the score in the fifth.
After Soler’s titanic 447-foot homer made it a two-run game in the fourth, but they left the bases loaded to end that inning.
Merrifield hit a leadoff single and advanced to third on a double to left field by Soler. With two outs and two runners in scoring position, Athletics manager Bob Melvin replaced Roark with former Royals left-hander Jake Diekman to face Gordon.
Diekman, who the Royals traded to the Athletics in July, hadn’t given up a hit to his fellow Nebraskan Gordon in six career at-bats. Gordon got enough of a 2-2 slider to poke it through the right side of the infield for a game-tying two-run single.
The score remained tied until the eighth. After Phillips and Mondesi put the Royals ahead in the top of the ninth, closer Ian Kennedy recorded his 30th save of the season.
The teams continue their three-game series on Tuesday night. Right-hander Jorge Lopez (4-7, 6.09) will start for the Royals, while the Athletics list left-hander Brett Anderson (12-9, 4.07) as their scheduled starter.