Their usually reliable closer blew a save but a big late inning, a power-hitter closing in on a club record, and a second-year player’s clutch hit fueled the KC Royals to an extra-inning win in Cleveland.
August 25th found the KC Royals mired in the muck of another awful season, 40 games below .500 and 33½ games behind the AL Central Division leading Twins. Only because Detroit hadn’t yet reached 40 wins were the Royals not in last place.
Whatever the Royals had to play for that day in Cleveland was far less significant than what the Indians had at stake–while Kansas City was long removed from postseason contention, Cleveland was a mere 2½ games behind the Twins and still very much in the hunt.
What the teams’ respective records should have foretold about their meeting was rendered meaningless by the end of the 10 innings it took to determine the winner. Only three innings–the eighth, ninth and 10th–really mattered, and the better team didn’t win.
The clubs were tied 3-3 after seven innings, a deadlock hardly justified by the teams’ relative strengths. But baseball is a game played inning by inning; how those inning are played, not comparative statistics and predictions, determines who wins and who loses.
In this game, the decisive innings started with the eighth when the Royals appeared to blow things open with five runs. With no outs, Jorge Soler hit his 36th homer of the season, a two-run shot to left that scored Whit Merrifield to give KC a 5-3 lead. The blast left Soler just two home runs short of Mike Moustakas‘ club record 38.
Then, after walks to Alex Gordon, Ryan O’Hearn and Nick Dini loaded the bases, Phil Maton‘s wild pitch to Humberto Arteaga scored Gordon; a moment later, Arteaga walked to reload the bases and chase Maton from the game. Nicky Lopez laced new pitcher Hunter Wood‘s first pitch for a two-run double and the Royals had a seemingly comfortable 8-3 lead. Cleveland cut it by one with a run in the bottom half of the inning.
Manager Ned Yost then entrusted the ninth to Ian Kennedy; his 22 saves and a four-run lead suggested it was a good move. But Kennedy, and the lead, disintegrated. The usually reliable closer gave up two home runs–a solo shot to Francisco Lindor and a three-run bomb to Franmil Reyes and, just like that, the game was tied and headed to extra innings.
The bat of lead-off hitter O’Hearn, playing in his first full big-league season and leading off the 10th, was all the Royals would need. O’Hearn deposited Nick Goody‘s 2-2 pitch into the right-field seats to break the tie; Jorge Lopez then retired the Indians in order, and Kansas City headed out of Cleveland and ended its road trip with an exciting 9-8 extra-inning win.
For the KC Royals, it was a great August moment.