The fierce inter-division rivalry that consumed the KC Royals and New York Yankees in the ’70’s and early ’80’s has cooled a bit — rarely now do the two teams meet in meaningful games with championship implications. But that doesn’t mean they no longer relish beating each other.
Proof that there is no quit in these clubs when the face-off lies in a May 26th game in Kansas City, a Sunday contest seemingly well in the Royals’ hands until a startling ninth inning New York comeback forced the game to extra innings. The game’s drama matched the close battles that characterized the old rivalry.
The contest seemed destined after five innings for an easy Royals’ win — KC scored three runs in both the second and fifth innings and led the Yanks 7-1 after five. By the time the fifth frame concluded, Martin Maldonado, Ryan O’Hearn, Hunter Dozier, and Jorge Soler had all homered to account for the Royals’ runs. Danny Duffy, pitching one of his best games of the year, had allowed New York only a run.
But after Duffy retired the first two batters in the sixth, Adalberto Mondesi’s throwing error allowed Aaron Hicks to reach base; Gary Sanchez followed with a single, and Gleyber Torres a three-run homer, to make it 7-4. After Duffy struck out former Royal Kendrys Morales to end the inning, Wily Peralta and Jake Diekman held the Yankees scoreless in the seventh and eighth.
It was the Yankee ninth that gave the game the flavor of the epic battles these teams waged at their rivalry’s heights. Ian Kennedy, increasingly establishing himself as the KC closer, retired Morales to start the inning, then gave up singles to Clint Frazier and Gio Urshela before striking out Brett Gardner for the second out.
Nestor Cortes pitched the bottom of the ninth for New York and almost equaled Kennedy’s poor effort: With two outs, he gave up singles to Gordon and Hunter Dozier and walked Soler. O’Hearn, however, popped a 2-2 pitch to second, forcing extra innings.
Kevin McCarthy took over for KC in the 10th; a walk to Morales was his only mistake and the Yankees went quietly without scoring.
New York then put the game in Jonathan Holder‘s hands. Martin Maldonado worked Holder for a full count before striking out swinging. Billy Hamilton then walked and stole second. Nicky Lopez grounded to third for the second out, pinning the Royals’ 10th inning hopes on Whit Merrifield, who was uncharacteristically hitless in five at-bats.
Searching for his first hit at the game’s most critical moment, Merrifield worked the count to 2-1. He then punched a single between short and third; Hamilton raced home and Kansas City walked off with a nail-biting victory.
For its sheer excitement and a reminder of what the bitter Royals-Yankees rivalry used to be, Merrifield’s walk-off single to salvage the win over the Yanks ranks as the biggest Royals’ moment of May.
Five wins provided the biggest moments in the month of May for the KC Royals. Superb performances by a rookie and several veterans, and a stellar month from Whit Merrifield, provided the foundation for some exciting times in a disappointing season.