The context for Chris Young’s sterling performance in the Royals’ 4-2 victory over the Orioles on Friday night at Kauffman Stadium was established in the handshake line after Thursday’s game.
After the Royals had defeated the Detroit Tigers, manager Ned Yost told Young that he would be arriving at the stadium early to watch Young collect his first victory of the season.
“It meant a lot,” Young said. “Just to have your manager have that type of belief in you.”
Even before that, after Young had lost his previous outing in Oakland on Saturday, Yost lifted the spirits of the pitcher who had started 0-3 for the first time in his career.
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“He said, ‘I think you’re so close, close to really clicking and getting on a roll,’ ” Young said. “For him to show that confidence in me means more than I can really articulate.”
The faith was rewarded with a terrific performance. Young struck out 10 in six innings, walking one. He posted double-digit strikeouts for the first time since April 2008.
Young entered the game with a 0-3 record and 7.90 ERA. Most of the damage occurred in his second outing, an 8-2 loss in the Astros’ home opener.
But in each of the past two games, Young surrendered three runs in the first half and pitched from behind throughout the appearance.
Friday, the Royals led 4-0 after two innings.
“It set the tone and allowed me to be aggressive,” Young said. “You try to treat the game the same way. You want to get every hitter out regardless. You try to stay locked in regardless. But certainly having those runs I was able to be aggressive. Those guys put me in a great spot.”
It took the Royals two pitches to gain a two-run lead. Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy gloved Alcides Escobar’s grounder but couldn’t make a throw for a base hit.
On the next pitch, Mike Moustakas crushed Yovani Gallardo’s fastball 426 feet over the center field wall. Moose had his sixth home run of the season and the first that was not a solo shot.
“I’m just seeing the ball good right now,” Moustakas said. “Just trying to get good pitches to hit and put good swings on good pitches.
When Lorenzo Cain followed with a first-pitch single, the Royals had seen three pitches from starter Gallardo and had three hits. Cain reached second because he was off and running with a full-count pitch to Eric Hosmer, who scorched a one-hopper to second baseman Jonathan Schoop.
Kendrys Morales got Cain home on a double to right and the Royals increased the lead to 3-0.
Maybe the Royals knew about Gallardo’s first inning woes this season. He entered the game with opponents hitting .462 against him in the first frame.
The second inning wasn’t much better for him. It started fine, with two quick outs. But Gallardo walked Escobar. Moustakas didn’t go over the wall this time, but he one-hopped it for an RBI double.
Gallardo finished the inning but that was it. In came T.J. McFarland.
Gallardo said he was dealing with shoulder soreness. McFarland cooled Royals bats, holding them scoreless in his five innings. Moustakas added another opposite field double to lead off the fifth but remained at second throughout the inning.
“I’m trying to get pitches out over the plate and stay with the approach I had last year, and that’s to drive the ball to left-center field,” Moustakas said. “It worked out well for me last year, and I want to get better doing that.”
More offense wasn’t required on this night, not with Young’s best start of the season. He surrendered a home run to Manny Machado to open the sixth, and the inning was shaping up to be his last.
It ended with strikeouts of Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo and Young walked off the field to a huge ovation.
The game was now in the more than capable hands of the bullpen. Hardy opened the seventh with a single off Luke Hochevar but remained at first as Hochevar retired the next three. Kelvin Herrera kept his record spotless with a perfect eighth inning, and closer Wade Davis recorded his seventh save with a perfect ninth.
But the drama apparently wasn’t over. After the game, social media was ablaze with a television replay of the postgame handshake that appeared to catch a pause and perhaps words between Davis and catcher Salvador Perez.
Both players said afterward that there was no issue.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Perez said when asked directly about the meeting.
Davis was contacted by MLB.com after leaving the clubhouse and texted, “Yeah, we are great.”
A club official said Perez and Davis left the clubhouse together.