Judging the Royals

Small ball, big results: The Royals beat the Twins 6-1

The Royals’ Mike Moustakas scored the go-ahead run in front of Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki on a double by Nori Aoki in the eighth inning Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals scored four more runs in the inning and went on to win 6-1.
The Royals’ Mike Moustakas scored the go-ahead run in front of Minnesota Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki on a double by Nori Aoki in the eighth inning Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals scored four more runs in the inning and went on to win 6-1. The Kansas City Star

The Royals were losing to the Minnesota Twins 1-0 going into the eighth inning — then Raul Ibanez singled. That started a chain of events that eventually blew the game wide open. After Ibanez‘s single, Lorenzo Cain came out to pinch-run. Cain stole second base, and the tying run was in scoring position with Mike Moustakas at the plate. Minnesota put on a left-handed defensive shift, and it wound up biting them in the backside.

Minnesota’s second baseman, Brian Dozier, was playing well back on the outfield grass. When Moose tapped a soft ground ball in his direction, Dozier had a long run forward to field the ball. A play that would be routine in a normal alignment became a very difficult play because of Dozier’s positioning. Moustakas slid into first base with an infield single.

The tying run was on third, the winning run was on first.

Christian Colon hit a pop fly to make the first out, then Jarrod Dyson came to the plate. The situation was right for a squeeze play: one out, a fast runner on third base and a guy who can bunt handling the bat. So the Royals put on a safety squeeze.

In a safety squeeze, the runner on third waits to see whether the bunt is down and then breaks for home plate. In the suicide squeeze, the runner starts for home before the ball is bunted. Dyson laid down a great bunt, Cain scored and Jarrod made it to first with another infield hit.

The score was tied 1-1. The go-ahead run was in scoring position.

Nori Aoki poked a curveball into left field. Moustakas scored the go-ahead run while Dyson was thrown out trying to go first to third, but the Royals weren’t done yet.

Alcides Escobar came up with the third infield hit of the inning. The Twins changed pitchers — Brian Duensing replaced Phil Hughes — and the new guy walked Alex Gordon. The bases were loaded. Aoki was on third, Escobar on second and Gordon on first.

Casey Fien replaced Duensing, and Fien gave up a two-run single to Billy Butler. The final hit of the inning was the only extra-base hit of the inning: Salvador Perez tripled, and two more runs came home.

Final score: Royals 6, Twins 1.

The eighth inning was big, but it was based on playing small ball.

Pitching, defense kept Royals in the game

For the last two nights, most of the attention has gone to the offense. Alex Gordon hit a walk-off homer Tuesday night, and the Royals had the big eighth inning on Wednesday night. But if the pitching and defense had not kept the score low, the late-inning offense would not have mattered.

On Wednesday night, spot starter Liam Hendriks threw seven innings and gave up only one earned run. He threw strikes and let his defense work for him. Gordon made a highlight-reel catch of deep fly ball to the bullpen gate, Escobar robbed the Twins of at least one hit and Dyson ran down a drive to right-center field that probably would have been a double had any other outfielder been chasing the ball.

When you’re not hitting — and for much of the night, the Royals weren’t — pitching and defense keep you in the game.

Ned’s gamble paid off

You usually don’t use your best relievers when you’re behind in a game, but in the eighth inning of this one, Royals manager Ned Yost did. He brought in Wade Davis even though his team was down 1-0 because he felt that if the Royals could hold the Twins right there, they might have a rally in them.

If the Royals had not rallied, it would have been an easy move to criticize. So give credit where credit is due. Ned’s gamble paid off.

They got dirt on their uniforms

Back to that Gordon catch: The Twins’ Kurt Suzuki hit the ball, and it looked as though it would be gone, but Alex chased it back to the bullpen fence, caught the ball, then did a face-plant into the chain link. Gordon hit the fence so hard, he was thrown onto his back and landed in a cloud of dust.

Moustakas beat out an infield single by sliding headfirst into first base.

Escobar went sliding for a flare hit into left-center field and almost took out Dyson and Gordon. They had to leap over him to avoid a collision.

Heck, when Perez hit that triple, Billy Butler scored from first base.

This was the kind of dirt-on-the-uniform baseball that fans should appreciate, and the 17,668 who were there did.

One of the best moments of my journalism career

The press box is on the sixth floor of Kauffman Stadium, so not too many foul balls make it up there, but in the eighth inning, one did.

Alex Gordon fouled a ball straight back, and it was headed for an open press-box window. The ball hit the edge of the window, shot between The Star’s Vahe Gregorian and Andy McCullough and ricocheted toward the second row of seats. From there, it hit off several objects, shot straight up, hit the ceiling and came down squarely on top of the head of KCTV’s Brad Fanning.

The ball then landed in Fanning’s lap, and he held it up as if he had accomplished something. I felt compelled to say, “Dude, it hit you in the head.”

I gotta say I’ve been out here a long time and had many thrills, but seeing a buddy take a ball off the head and then pose with pride — Fanning took pictures with the ball to commemorate his athletic accomplishment — was one of the best moments of my journalism career.