Going into this offseason there likely won’t be a stone-cold lock as far as who will start at first base for the Royals next year.
Three players who each will assuredly want to throw their hat into the ring made key contributions to the club’s win on Saturday night.
Cheslor Cuthbert hit his first pinch-hit home run, the third this season for the Royals, to give the club a lead in the ninth inning on their way to a 12-5 win over the Minnesota Twins in front of an announced sellout crowd of 37,750 at Target Field. Six of Cuthbert’s nine homers this season have given his club a lead.
The Royals (57-99) will try to salvage a split in the finale of the four-game series against the Twins (95-60) on Sunday afternoon.
Cuthbert’s home run, a two-run laser pulled down the left-field line on a 1-2 pitch from Twins reliever Taylor Rogers, jump-started a seven-run ninth inning that broke open a tie game. The Royals brought 10 batters to the plate in the inning.
“I just tried to look for a good pitch and tried to help the team in a tough situation,” Cuthbert said. “I just wanted to look for a good pitch, and he left me a slider down and in. I didn’t try to do too much and it happened, homer.”
The last time the Royals scored seven runs in the ninth inning came when they broke a tie against the Twins at Target Field in a 10-3 win on Sept. 6, 2016.
“The offense never quits,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “It keeps grinding. These kids have made some pretty good headway this season. They just stay after it.”
First baseman Ryan O’Hearn collected three hits for the Royals on Saturday night, including a leadoff single in the ninth as well as his 14th home run of the season.
Newcomer Ryan McBroom, who started in right field, went 2 for 4 with two runs scored and an RBI.
O’Hearn snapped an 0-for-17 skid that dated back to a solo home run he hit on the road against the Chicago Cubs on Sept. 11.
“I understand that this year didn’t go the way I wanted, but it is what it is,” O’Hearn said. “I got six games left to prove I belong here and go into spring training in good position.”
Since being recalled from the minors on July 27, O’Hearn has struggled to hit consistently. He entered the night with a .188 batting average and .286 on-base percentage.
However, he’s continued to show flashes of the eye-catching power that made him a tantalizing option at first base late last season. O’Hearn has seven home runs in 42 games since coming back up from the minors.
O’Hearn finished the 2018 season in the majors after a strong year with Triple-A Omaha. He made franchise history with 12 home runs and 24 extra-base hits in his first 44 games in the majors, the most in that span by a Royals player.
Meanwhile, McBroom entered the night having batted .308 with four RBIs, a .357 on-base percentage and .385 slugging percentage through his first 16 games in the majors as well as his first 16 games in the Royals organization.
The Royals acquired McBroom from the New York Yankees on Aug. 31. He’d enjoyed a breakout year in Triple-A where he led the International League in runs (87) and OPS (976). He also hit batted .316 with 26 home runs with a .402 on-base percentage.
McBroom has received a long look at both first base and the outfield since being promoted to the majors as a September call-up.
The Twins seemingly took control of the game with a four-run fifth inning in which they chased Royals starter Glenn Sparkman from the game without him having recorded one out in the frame. The first four batters of the inning all reached and scored.
A LaMonte Wade Jr. leadoff triple off the wall in right-center followed by a Luis Arraez RBI double tied the score. After Sparkman walked Jorge Polanco, Nelson Cruz swatted a RBI single back up the middle to give the Twins the lead.
Royals left-handed reliever Tim Hill took over after those four batters. After a pop-up accounted for the first out of the inning, shortstop Adalberto Mondesi failed to cleanly field a grounder up the middle. A run scored on the play.
The four-run inning pushed the Twins’ season total to an all-time franchise record of 894 runs this season.
McBroom’s RBI single and O’Hearn’s two-run homer pulled the Royals even, 5-5, in the sixth. It remained tied until the ninth inning.
“They had a big four runs and an error the inning before,” O’Hearn said of the sixth. “So for us to come back (was big). McBroom stayed inside of a tough pitch to get that run in, and to tie it up, that was huge to just get the momentum back a little bit and keep us in the game.”
The teams wrap up their series on Sunday afternoon. Right-hander Jorge Lopez (4-8, 5.93 ERA) will start for the Royals, while the Twins list left-hander Martin Perez (10-7, 4.92) as their scheduled starter.