As the pain flared in Danny Valencia’s left hand, a group of Royals officials swarmed around him. The count was full in the first at-bat of the 13th inning of an eventual 7-4 victory. Ned Yost looked into the eyes of his new starting third baseman, who had injured himself early in the inning.
“This is a big at-bat,” Yost said.
“I know it’s a big at-bat,” Valencia said. “I got this.”
Valencia came through — roping a double to spark a three-run rally. But the consequences of his hitting could be problematic for this club. Valencia fears he fractured the hamate bone, which presses against the handle of hit bat. He left the park with trainer Nick Kenney for an X-ray after the game.
So an otherwise uplifting victory may sting. The minor-league stint of regular third baseman Mike Moustakas may be short-lived. The Royals received seven scoreless innings from their bullpen, and probably will make a roster move to add another reliever for Sunday’s series finale.
“They just held the fort until we could find some way to score some runs,” manager Ned Yost said.
Valencia harbored no regrets about his decision. After his hit, Alcides Escobar followed with a bunt, which reliever Michael Morin promptly threw away to provide the Royals’ the go-ahead run. They tacked on with an RBI single from Nori Aoki and a sacrifice fly from Billy Butler.
“Our team is trying to win games,” Valencia said. “I’m going to lay it all out there.”
For the Royals (24-24), it was a game that could have been deflating. In the game’s most exhilarating, exasperating play, Alex Gordon scaled the left-field wall in the fifth inning, attempting to keep in the park drive off Angels slugger Albert Pujols’ bat. He snared the ball with his glove, and tipped the baseball behind him. The ball connected with his free hand as he descended to the ground and eventually settled in his glove.
The play stunned the park. A few feet away from the mound, starter James Shields raised his arms as if to signal a touchdown. His face was incredulous. He would merely look furious a few minutes later.
Angels manager Mike Scioscia challenged the call, and it was overturned. Somewhere in between the first contact and the final catch, the baseball grazed the fence behind him. Gordon said later he believed he made the catch.
“They say that it’s got to be clear and convincing evidence to overturn a call,” Yost said. “I didn’t see any clear and convincing evidence on that.”
The decision placed Pujols at second base. Three batters later, Pujols scored from third base after Shields slipped a changeup between the legs of catcher Salvador Perez.
Granted a three-run lead, Shields couldn’t hold down the Angels. They tied the game on a pair of home runs, and took the lead thanks to Shields’ mistake. The Royals tied the game in the seventh when Perez grounded into a double play with none out and the bases loaded.
The depleted offense received a reinforcement on Saturday. Perez returned after resting his sore hand for three games. In his first at-bat, he fit right back in: He hacked at a low changeup to strand a pair of runners in the first inning. In the second, Lorenzo Cain roped a leadoff double and advanced no further.
By now, the talking points about offensive struggles feel familiar. Yost relies on similar refrains in these situations.
“You can sit back and try to figure it out all you want,” he said before the game. “It’s not going to get going until it gets going. There’s nothing that we can do any differently than we’re doing now. We’re talking ‘til we’re blue in the face about approach and about this and about that. And maybe it’s too much. I don’t know.”
The Royals broke the pattern in the third. Nori Aoki and Hosmer singled to start the rally. Billy Butler plated Aoki with a sacrifice fly. Then they benefited from a two-out defensive gaffe by superstar Mike Trout. He dropped a liner off Perez’s bat. Cain threaded an RBI single up the middle in the next at-bat.
They grinded out another run in the fourth. Alcides Escobar reached on a bunt single. He stole second base and then he stole third. Hosmer dropped a single in front of right fielder Kole Calhoun for another two-out RBI.
It was an exemplary version of a manufactured run. The Angels soon demonstrated the power of a more blunt attack. After a leadoff double by former Royal Raul Ibanez in the fourth, Erick Aybar wrapped a two-run shot around the right-field pole.
A solo shot by Trout tied the game in fifth. He belted a low cutter over the center-field fence. Up came Pujols, about to cause the game’s most intriguing play, and eventually gave the Angels the lead.