Vahe Gregorian

Royals’ dazzling comeback comes with an asterisk

If you were like me, you figured it was reasonable to leave Kauffman Stadium in the seventh inning Saturday with the Royals trailing 7-1 and, in my case, with another story you’d been working on for days turned in.

Maybe you walked out with hundreds of others, figuring the Royals might score a token few runs but that this still was a chance to sneak in that overdue haircut and that the lone takeaway from the game was … whatever happened to Yordano Ventura?

If you were watching on television, you probably had long since been tempted to turn it off and go bask in a rare sunny afternoon.

Probably by now with the team that won’t die, though, you knew enough to keep the radio on.

For which you were rewarded by a stupefying comeback for an 8-7 victory in a dud game that had turned downright dismal after catcher Sal Perez — the most essential player on the team — collided with third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert and had to be helped off the field with what is tentatively being called a quad contusion.

The loss of a third All-Star for an indeterminate time (Perez was to undergo an MRI) in less than a week after the pileup between Alex Gordon (broken bone in wrist) and Mike Moustakas (torn ACL) could well prove the long-term signature of the day.

Then again, perhaps the meaning of the day was encapsulated in the preposterous bottom of the ninth.

Moments after the deflating injury to Perez might understandably have left the Royals drooping … minutes after Paulo Orlando struck out to leave the White Sox with a 99.9 chance of winning, according to FanGraphs …

The Royals unleashed the most prolific ninth-inning comeback in club history, puncturing the White Sox with a second straight momentous reversal after trailing 5-1 Friday before winning 7-5.

“It says a lot about the team,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said later. “Salvy is our guy. He’s a leader of this game. He’s an All-Star, he’s everything. When you see a guy like that go down, it fires you up.”

With the will-to-win trademark that took form in the transformative comeback against Oakland in the 2014 American League Wild Card Game and morphed into an absurd eight come-from-behind wins in the 2015 postseason on the way to winning the World Series, by now you might as well call this The Royals Way.

Even if the sequel has a tweak to it.

The theme no longer simply is “keep the line moving,” a concept the Royals honed and perfected by pecking away one by one by one by one to surmount seemingly impossible deficits all of last postseason.

The twist now is it’s combined with the idea of “next man up.”

Because that’s what the Royals have had to rely on with the injuries that have sidelined Moustakas for the season, Gordon for weeks to come and slumping designated hitter Kendrys Morales the last few days because of a finger injury.

And for the second straight day, the replacements — rookie Brett Eibner, rookie utility man Whit Merrifield and semi-rookie infielder Cuthbert — were instrumental in flipping the virtually assured loss.

On Saturday, Cuthbert started the ultimate resurgence with a trickle, a single up the middle.

Eibner doubled to offer a flicker of life. A few batters later, Merrifield singled in two runs.

Drew Butera, in for Perez, doubled in Eric Hosmer to tie it.

And then Eibner, in his second major-league game, drove in Butera with a walk-off single.

In a sense, the berserk ending was a snapshot of the season to date.

Only a few weeks ago, the Royals were mired in a 4-12 slump that was as lackluster as the numbers suggested. It was easy to worry.

Now they’ve won five straight series, and are a half-game behind division leader Cleveland.

Now they’re 4-1 without Moustakas and Gordon.

But as crucial as they have been to this team, navigating a long-term loss of Perez would make for another dimension of challenge.

His presence behind the plate alone makes him special, and he’s also third on the team in RBIs and tied for second (with Moustakas) in home runs (seven).

It’s too early to know what’s looming with Perez, obviously, and there seems to be reason to hope he won’t be out for an extended period: The Royals said preliminary examinations indicate no structural damage.

Whatever’s to come, though, don’t doubt they can muster a way to keep the line moving with the next men up.

Or you might miss seeing something spectacular.

Vahe Gregorian: 816-234-4868, @vgregorian

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