The Royals headed into the last game of their interleague road trip mired in a five game losing streak. And with Stephen Strasburg on the mound, it didn’t look like they were going to be able to right the ship.
Nobody bothered to mention that to Brian Bannister.
Bannister wasn’t sharp, but wily enough to sneak out with no runs allowed over six innings of work. After his last two starts saw him give up 14 earned runs over just seven innings, Bannister gutted it out and out-dueled the rookie superstar.
Despite throwing strikes on just 48 of his 84 pitches, Bannister induced nine ground ball outs and helped himself on the field, starting a double play in the second inning and making a play on a bunt in the fourth.
He survived a couple of jams and picked up a little bit of luck, such as in the fifth inning. Josh Willingham singled and stole second, but looked to roll over his ankle a bit on the slide, so he didn’t advance home on an Ivan Rodriguez single and became indecisive halfway down the third baseline on an Adam Kennedy groundout to Billy Butler. Bannister took advantage of the shaky baserunning, striking out Ian Desmond who chased a ball in the dirt before Strasburg grounded out to end the threat.
Bannister danced around some baserunners in the sixth as well. After a leadoff walk to Nyjer Morgan, Roger Bernandina attempted a sacrifice bunt, but Alberto Callaspo got to it quickly and made the throw to second to retire the lead runner. Ryan Zimmerman‘s single put runners on first and second instead of scoring the speedy Morgan who would have been on second. The highlights will show you Adam Dunn‘s single and Jose Guillen‘s throw to the plate to nail Bernandina (according to the umpire, at least), but Callaspo’s play on the bunt was the key to the Royals preventing a run.
As for Strasburg, I have to say he’s one of the rare athletes who’s beyond his own hype. On Monday, the Royals were flustered by Livan Hernandez‘s 84 mph fastball with movement. Strasburg has just as much movement and command, except it’s coming to the plate at 97 or 98 mph. His changeup was devastating and a few curveballs lived up to the cliched “fell off the table” proclamation.
The kid’s for real. Consider this: The Royals have struck out the second fewest times in the major leagues and he still struck out nine batters in six innings of work. Kansas City managed to make contact all day, though they rarely hit the ball very hard. David DeJesus had two solid rips including his fifth inning single to left field.
It really feels like an accomplishment to have scored one run on Strasburg, and that’s scary.
The bullpen kept the Nationals in line, as Robinson Tejeda worked two strong innings, showing that the homerun he surrendered to Troy Glaus in Atlanta didn’t shake his confidence. Tejeda threw 21 pitches in two innings and 16 went for strikes. He stranded the tying run on second by overpowering Ryan Zimmerman to get the ball to Joakim Soria.
Soria hadn’t pitched since June 17th, so there was a chance he might have been rusty or vulnerable. But apparently not, as he struck out two to get the save and looked sharp and confident.
This was a great win for the Royals and exactly what they needed heading into the weekend series with St. Louis. After losing the last five, the specter of facing Strasburg seemed like a backbreaker in the kind of way that Jon Lester‘s no-hitter in 2008 sent the Royals spiraling into a prolonged losing streak. And yet Bannister toughened up, the bats made enough contact, and the bullpen, which looked to be in shambles in April, is turning into one of the stronger aspects of this team.
Stars of the Game
Jose Guillen, 2-4, only RBI of the game, prevented a run with sixth inning outfield assist
David DeJesus, 2-4, scored only run
Chris Getz, 2-4, making better contact lately despite sporadic playing time
Brian Bannister, 6 IP, 4 K, 5 H, 2 BB, 0 R
Robinson Tejeda, 2 IP, 3 K
Joakim Soria, 1 IP, 2 K