Royals

Danny Duffy dominates in record fashion as Royals beat the Rays 3-0

Kansas City starter Danny Duffy.
Kansas City starter Danny Duffy. The Associated Press

In the moments after the seventh inning, as the prospect of history hung inside Tropicana Field, Danny Duffy passed through the dugout, bounded up a flight of stairs and pressed through a doorway into the visitors clubhouse.

For seven innings, Duffy had not yielded a single hit. He was approaching a Royals franchise record for strikeouts. And as his manager watched it all from his perch in the dugout, Ned Yost kept returning to one thought: “This is the night.”

Duffy was not ready for those kind of thoughts, though, not yet, so he escaped to the quiet of the clubhouse and completed his usual between-innings ritual. He grabbed a bottle of water. He plopped down on a black leather sofa. He tried to let his mind go free.

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All his career, Duffy has waged war inside his own mind, trying to harness the natural talent that oozed from his left arm. For five years, from Tommy John surgery to high pitch counts to moments of sheer brilliance, he produced a confounding mix. On Monday night, as he sat on a leather couch and let the air-conditioning cool him, he took hold of the moment.

“I sit on the couch and just try to relax,” Duffy would say. “Just for a minute.”

In six years of regular-season games, though, Duffy had never experienced a minute like this. As he sat there, easing his shoulders between innings, he was just six outs from the fifth no-hitter in Royals in history. In a 3-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Ray, Duffy would have to settle for this: The most (nearly) perfect start of his career.

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“I’ve seen a few that good,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “But not many. He was just electric.”

In eight innings, Duffy allowed just one hit and one walk while setting a franchise record with 16 strikeouts. All that stood between Duffy and a shot at history in the ninth was one 94 mph fastball in the bottom of the eighth. The baseball hung in the zone, spinning across the inner third of the strike zone. For once, the baseball did not go where Duffy commanded it.

Outfielder Desmond Jennings roped a double to left field with nobody out. The night of Aug. 26, 1991 — the date Bret Saberhagen went the distance — was still the last no-hitter in Royals history. Duffy remained unfazed, eclipsing Zack Greinke’s record of 15 strikeouts. He gave way to reliever Kelvin Herrera in the bottom of the ninth.

“It’s an honor to have a game like those guys,” Duffy said. “But I understand they had a lot more of those, consistently, than I did. Here’s to trying to do it more consistently myself.”

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After a July collapse and a nondescript trade deadline, Duffy offered the Royals, 50-55, a spark inside Tropicana Field, lifting the club to a needed victory in the opener of a four-game series. The performance offered confirmation of his arrival this season. When the night was over, Duffy had improved to 7-1 with a 2.98 ERA. He set a new season high for strikeouts, finishing the night with 126. In 108  1/3 innings, he has issued just 23 walks. Whether it’s his decision to work solely from the stretch, a new breaking ball or simply maturity, Duffy has emerged as the Royals’ most dependable starter.

“He’s definitely turned the corner,” Yost said. “That’s a big step, when you just take your game to the next level.”

In eight innings, Duffy forced 35 swings and misses, dominating with a 95 mph fastball, hard breaking ball and effective change-up. According to research by ESPN’s Stats and Info, the 35 swings and misses tied Clayton Kershaw for the most in a single game in the last 15 seasons.

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“My fastball was jumping out of my hand,” Duffy said.

He was in command from the opening moments. He struck out two in the bottom of the first, finishing Brad Miller on a 96 mph fastball before coaxing a swing and miss from designated hitter Evan Longoria. He struck out the side in the second inning before adding two more Ks to the ledger in the third.

The perfect game bid would end in the fourth, when Logan Forsythe reached base on a six-pitch walk. The count had sat 1-2 before Duffy missed with a change-up, curveball and fastball on consecutive pitches. Forsythe would advance to third base after Duffy threw wildly on a pickoff attempt. In some ways, it was Duffy’s most errant throw of the night. With a runner on third and two outs, Duffy ended the threat by hurling a 95-mph fastball past a swinging Steven Souza Jr.

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Inside the dugout, the Royals began to sense the moment. Duffy was cruising. The last-place Rays were just hours removed from trading away outfielder Brandon Guyer and utility man Steve Pearce at the trade deadline. Inside the dugout, Yost was perhaps the last to realize what was happening.

“Quite frankly, I wasn’t even paying attention until about the fifth or sixth inning,” Yost said. “I looked up and saw no hits. And I thought: ‘Whoa.’ ”

Duff would end the seventh inning by striking out Souza once more on a 94 mph fastball. Around that time, Yost began to formulate a plan. Duffy’s pitch count — which would climb to 110 pitches — was beginning to become a factor. But Yost was adamant.

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“I wasn’t worried about the pitch count,” Yost said. “If he got through the eighth, he was going back out.”

Hours earlier, on early Monday afternoon, Duffy had sat on the same black leather couch at the Trop, wearing his customary game-day attire: Mesh basketball shorts and a Kobe Bryant high school jersey. The name “Lower Merion” — Bryant’s alma mater outside Philadelphia — was stitched across the front.

Duffy grew up in central California, idolizing the Lakers icon. A while ago, he purchased the jersey, preferring to bring it out on special occasions. When he rejoined the Royals’ rotation in early May, he began pulling it out before each start, wearing it during his afternoon workouts, an outfit befitting a left-hander.

Duffy, of course, has never taken himself too seriously. Last week, in the hours before a start at Kauffman Stadium, he approached a group of reporters to start a conversation about NBA player DeMar DeRozan. Over the weekend in Texas, he spent an afternoon jogging from the team’s hotel in Irving to Globe Life Park in Arlington, a distance of more than 15 miles.

So on Monday, Duffy pulled out the jersey yet again, adhering to tradition. And for most of the night, he was nearly unhittable. In the end, his brilliance was enough.

The Royals took a 1-0 lead on a solo homer from Kendrys Morales in the seventh. They scored two more runs in the eighth, as Duffy waited to return to the mound.

“It was a long inning,” Duffy said. “The boys were putting up runs, and I’ll take that. I’ll take a 45-minute frame.”

He returned to the mound in the eighth and allowed his lone hit. In the moments after the game, catcher Salvador Perez lamented the fastball he called against Jennings.

“Maybe if I would have called a change-up or slider, things would have been different,” Perez said. “History.”

Duffy was diplomatic, saying it was the right pitch.

“I was perfectly content with the pitch and how it turned out,” he said.

In a big-picture sense, of course, Monday night may not solve the Royals’ larger problems. For the last two months, Duffy has grown into the Royals’ best pitcher, a consistent force in the rotation. It’s the other days that have been troublesome.

In other ways, though, the performance offered a statement. For years, the Royals have waited for Duffy to arrive, weathering the inconsistencies of a wildly talented southpaw. On a Monday night in Florida — and for much of 2016 — Duffy has done just that, at last conquering his inner struggle.

“I’m going to go out there and keep it simple,” Duffy said. “You’re going to get the same me every time out now. I just have to remember what this feels like today and duplicate it over and over again.”

Royals 3, Rays 0

Kansas City

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Escobar ss

3

1

1

1

0

0

.256

Cuthbert 3b

3

0

2

0

1

0

.299

Cain rf

3

0

0

1

0

1

.281

Hosmer 1b

4

0

0

0

0

2

.277

Morales dh

4

1

2

1

0

1

.247

Perez c

4

0

1

0

0

0

.268

Gordon lf

4

0

0

0

0

2

.202

Orlando cf

4

1

3

0

0

0

.323

Mondesi 2b

2

0

0

0

0

1

.273

Totals

31

3

9

3

1

7

Tampa Bay

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Forsythe 2b

3

0

0

0

1

0

.266

Miller ss

4

0

0

0

0

2

.250

Longoria dh

3

0

0

0

0

3

.284

Souza Jr. rf

3

0

0

0

0

3

.239

Jennings lf

3

0

1

0

0

1

.204

Kiermaier cf

3

0

0

0

0

2

.208

Beckham 3b

3

0

0

0

0

2

.225

Franklin 1b

3

0

0

0

0

2

.283

Maile c

2

0

0

0

0

2

.194

a-Dickerson ph

1

0

0

0

0

0

.235

Totals

28

0

1

0

1

17

Kansas City

000

000

120

3

9

1

Tampa Bay

000

000

000

0

1

0

E: Duffy (1). LOB: Kansas City 6, Tampa Bay 2. 2B: Orlando (13), Jennings (7). HR: Morales (17), off Archer. RBIs: Escobar (27), Cain (40), Morales (50). SF: Cain. S: Escobar, Mondesi 2. Runners left in scoring position: Kansas City 2 (Escobar, Mondesi); Tampa Bay 2 (Souza Jr., Franklin). RISP: Kansas City 2 for 5; Tampa Bay 0 for 4. GIDP: Cain, Hosmer. DP: Tampa Bay 2 (Forsythe, Miller, Franklin), (Miller, Forsythe, Franklin).

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

NP

ERA

Duffy W, 7-1

8

1

0

0

1

16

110

2.98

Herrera S, 2-4

1

0

0

0

0

1

11

1.54

Tampa Bay

IP

H

R

ER

W

K

NP

ERA

Archer L, 5-15

7.1

6

3

3

1

6

102

4.38

Jepsen

.2

1

0

0

0

0

20

1.93

Romero

1

2

0

0

0

1

16

5.40

Inherited runners-scored: Jepsen 1-1. WP: Archer, Jepsen. Umpires: Home, Gerry Davis; First, Carlos Torres; Second, Rob Drake; Third, Sam Holbrook. Time: 2:37. Att: 13,976.

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