The story is going to be about the walkoff homer by Kila Ka’aihue, and that’s fine. With the Royals tied going into the ninth inning, Ka’aihue stepped in against reliever Michael Kohn and drilled a pitch over the wall for a 2-1 Royals win.
What will go overshadowed is a fantastic debut by Jeff Francis.
After the first two innings, Francis settled down, brushing off a Howie Kendrick homer to center in the first inning to go seven strong innings, walking none and wearing out the infield grass with grounder after grounder.
It’s a fortunate win, though. It could have gone way worse, as the Royals twice wasted leadoff doubles and runners on third with less than two outs, failing to score both times. Their first run was the result of back to back singles by Billy Butler and Ka’aihue, who both advanced on a wild pitch by Dan Haren. A Jeff Francoeur groundout later, and the Royals were on the board.
In the fifth inning, Brayan Pena led off with a double to the left field gap and moved to third on a Chris Getz sacrifice. Mike Aviles, who’d tripled earlier after homering yesterday, popped out to short right field and Melky Cabrera flew out to end the inning. In the sixth, Alex Gordon led off with a double and moved to third on a Butler ground out. Ka’aihue had a chance to play hero here but struck out and Jeff Francoeur drilled what could have been a homer, but Vernon Wells made a great catch, slamming into the left field fence.
The Royals bats were still pretty quiet, though they were getting runners on. That will probably be a trend with a team this inexperienced, but they still have to find a way to get runners in when they have a chance. The same problem plagued the team last season.
Fortunately, Ka’aihue didn’t let a solid pitching effort go to waste.
Francis was shaky to start, but also got squeezed on a couple of calls early. He was nibbling the corners but missing. As the game went on, he settled in and his curve and changeup were both working well. He struck out four and walked just one, Torii Hunter in the first. Of the 21 outs he recorded, 13 were on the ground with only four in the air (all to Francoeur).
The Royals defense was still a problem, as they committed two errors, first a flub by Aviles at third on a routine play that he never got down on, and then with a throwing error by Pena who tried to throw out Erick Aybar in the fifth. The Royals did turn two double plays, and Alcides Escobar already looks like a pleasant change from Yuniesky Betancourt. He looked solid on the field most of the night (there was a play where he didn’t quite get the grip and wasn’t able to turn a double play).
The win evens the Royals record at 1-1. For facing Jered Weaver and Dan Haren, that’s not too bad. The Royals send Kyle Davies for his first start while Ervin Santana and his Royal-killing slider starts for the Angels.
Remember, also, that tomorrow is the Futures Game featuring the Omaha Storm Chasers against the Northwest Arkansas Naturals. Mike Montgomery faces John Lamb in the 12 inning exhibition. It might be the most exciting game in Kauffman Stadium all season, so if you haven’t gotten tickets yet, you might give it a shot.