With the prospect of Felix Hernandez facing them in the opening game of the series, I had some fears that the Royals might be a little punch drunk after their 11-0 drubbing on ESPN. Piling on, King Felix had gone the distance in each of his last three starts, which didn’t bode well for the impatient Royals…
But that’s why they play the games. Hernandez was solid through seven innings and gave up only two runs, but the Royals worked counts against him and he left after 112 pitches, leaving the Seattle bullpen to hold down the lead.
And they didn’t.
If the Royals played like this every day, I’d be less frustrated with their offense, as they drew five walks, went 4-11 with runners in scoring position, and took advantage of the sacrifice fly to score two runs from third.
For a while, it didn’t appear the Royals would away with the win. Brian Bannister was a little better, going seven innings, but he still gave up a homerun to Russell Branyan in the fifth inning as part of a three run inning, but he was generally around the strike zone and only walked two. To get seven innings out of him is great, as lately he’s been making an early exit, going less than five innings in three of his last five starts.
The Royals took advantage of their opportunities. It was refreshing. Their first run scored on an Alberto Callaspo sacrifice fly that scored David DeJesus. DeJesus had moved to second base on a chopping grounder by Billy Butler then went to third on a Jose Guillen single. In the sixth, DeJesus scored after drawing a walk and a Butler double.
The big inning came in the top of the eighth when the Royals tied it up. Jason Kendall and DeJesus hit consecutive singles putting runners on first and third with nobody out. Butler hit a fly deep enough to score Kendall. Another Jose Guillen single moved DeJesus to third as the tying run and, after Callaspo singled, DeJesus scored his third run to tie the score. The eighth inning drama wasn’t over, though. Robinson Tejeda came in to pitch the bottom of the inning and walked Russell Branyan. The specter of Bad Tejeda loomed. The Royals caught a break as a Jose Lopez fly turned into a ground rule double, stopping Branyan at third, though with no outs and runners in scoring position, it looked like Tejeda was going to spoil the hard work from the top of the inning.
Then he struck out Franklin Gutierrez, and, after a Casey Kotchman intentional walk, he struck out pinch hitter Milton Bradley. One Jack Wilson popup to shortstop later (which Yuniesky Betancourt caught with both hands), and Tejeda had danced out of the inning. Kyle Farnsworth pitched the bottom of the ninth, retiring all three batters he faced and sending the game to the tenth inning tied at four.
When Callaspo walked to lead off the inning it looked good for the Royals, but some crossed signs got him caught stealing second while Mike Aviles tried to bunt. Aviles then grounded out, so with two out, Mitch Maier came up and laced a perfectly placed line drive into the right field gap and legged out a triple. The Royals, as is becoming their trademark, then scored Maier on a Betancourt single. Betancourt scored after advancing to second on a wild pitch and was driven in by Scott Podsednik.
Joakim Soria came in to shut down the Mariners, but added a little drama. I’m not sure what the difference is but it seems that when Soria lets one runner on, he usually lets another get on base. With two runners on, Soria struck out Josh Bard to end the game.
All in all, this was the kind of game that’s fun to watch and had the right outcome for the good guys. The Royals seemed to want the win more than they were avoiding a loss. They had 14 hits, but only two were for extra bases, though both resulted in runs. Until Alex Gordon makes it back, the Royals are without much of a source of power beyond Guillen and Butler (and DeJesus for a source of doubles), so more walks would put more runners on for those times when they do hit a lot of singles. That’s just this team’s identity.
The bullpen made it interesting but came through when necessary. It’s to the point that I’m getting surprised when a reliever allows a run to score, which is a long ways from my feelings in April.