Brett Phillips’ first career walk-off RBI came in the final game of Ned Yost’s managerial career as the Royals sent out their skipper in grand fashion.
Phillips hit a sacrifice fly with runners on the corners and no outs in the ninth inning. Players started pouring out of the Kansas City dugout with the throw from Minnesota Twins right fielder Ian Miller still in the air. Humberto Arteaga slid in safely, the players ran to Phillips to celebrate along the first-base line, and then each member of the team lined up to hug Yost on the field in front of the dugout.
Shortly thereafter, while Yost was setting up to do an on-field interview with Fox Sports Kansas City, veterans Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez dumped Gatorade buckets over Yost’s head.
Phillips’ fly ball gave the Royals a 5-4 season-ending win in front of an announced 17,875 at Kauffman Stadium. The club last won a season finale in 2015. The Royals finished the season with a record of 59-103, one game better than last year.
“It wasn’t about me there,” said Phillips, who entered the game in place of Whit Merrifield. “Obviously, I’ve got to credit Artie and Dini getting on base, great ABs. It’s been an emotional weekend, obviously, with Yostie leaving and retiring. That was for him, for Yostie. His last game, something he’ll remember, hopefully, and to go out on a win. I’m blessed to be able to have that opportunity, to be in that position to help the team win there and have Yostie go out with a win.”
Arteaga doubled down the left field line to start the ninth inning, and then Nick Dini’s looping fly ball dropped into shallow right-center field for a single which left Arteaga on third base when Phillips came to the plate.
Phillips had been thinking about the potential chance to drive in the winning run in the top of the ninth when closer Ian Kennedy entered the game. Kennedy’s 1-2-3 ninth set the stage.
Had Phillips not been thinking about the potential for such a memorable at-bat, Yost provided an extra reminder between innings.
“It was funny. I come in, in the ninth I’m third up,” Phillips said. “So I’m going to the bathroom. He’s like, ‘Let’s go! Hurry up! You’re dipping into my retirement. Hurry up! Getting the game-winning hit and let’s get out of here.’
“You couldn’t have written it any better. It’s crazy how that happened and how it played out. Like I said, it was only right that that’s the way it ended.”
Yost retires with 1,203 career wins, a franchise-record 746 with the Royals. He insisted as he set down for his final post-game press conference that he’s completely ready to enjoy life after baseball.
“It’s hard for me to say good-bye,” Yost said. “I’d just as soon get it over with. I was sitting there in the middle of the game and there’s not one part of me that wants to continue doing this. I”ve done my part. I’m healthy. I want to go spend time with my family. We’re both healthy and in great shape and we want to go do things together.”
Jorge Soler hit his 48th home run of the season in his first at-bat of the game. He crushed a 3-2 offering from Twins starting pitcher Martin Perez into the visiting bullpen behind the left-field fence.
Soler’s home run set the franchise’s new single-season home run record at 48, moved him past Rafael Palmeiro for the most home runs in a season by a Cuban-born player and helped him become the first player in franchise history to lead the American League in home runs.
“I feel extremely appreciative for the opportunity,” Soler said with quality control/catching coach Pedro Grifol translating. “It means a lot to me, my family. Also, it’s an understanding that you can do anything you want to do in life.”
Erick Mejia (RBI double), Dini (RBI single) and Ryan O’Hearn (RBI double) also drove in runs for the Royals.
Yost substituted for both second baseman Merrifield and Gordon while they were in the field. With one out in the fourth, he took Merrifield out and allowed the home crowd to give him an ovation as he came off the field. Yost did the same for Gordon with one out in the fifth. Fans cheered and applauded as Gordon made the jog in from left field, perhaps for the final time.
Gordon, 35, will decide during the offseason whether or not he’ll retire. He’s said throughout the season that he doesn’t want to play for any other franchise.
The Royals trailed 4-3 after a Jason Castro solo home run to start the fifth inning. Castro’s go-ahead smash came on a 1-1 pitch, the third homer allowed by Lopez in the game.
The Twins jumped on Lopez for two first-inning homers, including a two-run shot by C.J. Cron. Lopez finished the day having allowed four runs on six hits in six innings.
Hunter Dozier’s leadoff triple in the eighth tied him with Merrifield, Adalberto Mondesi and Arizona’s Eduardo Escobar for the MLB lead with 10 apiece. They became the first trio of teammates with at least 10 triples since the 1984 Houston Astros.
Dozier scored the tying run on an O’Hearn RBI double to set up the thrilling finish.