KC Royals Opening Day: How resilience fueled a Royal win

Their “never give up” attitude paid off for the KC Royals on Opening Day

For a time Thursday, it looked like the KC Royals’ first game of 2021 might stretch into Friday, and Opening Day might become Opening Days.

It took almost an hour to complete two innings, and almost two to reach the fourth. By then, the Texas Rangers had blown the five-run lead they took after beating up Kansas City starter Brad Keller in the first—they gave back all those runs in the bottom half of the frame—and led by one after nicking Keller again in the second.

Then the clubs stretched the rest of the day out by scoring 13 more runs, combining for 30 hits in all, and ultimately playing the longest nine-inning game in Royals’ history. When the slugfest was finally over a full four hours and 26 minutes after it began, Kansas City owned a 14-10 victory. The 14 runs set a new team Opening Day record.

All the action this game provided makes synthesizing it difficult, but one thing powered the victory more than any other—the Royals won because they refused to lose. The miserable 100-loss 2018 and ’19 clubs often folded after dropping so many early runs. Thursday’s team, however, never gave up or let up, and that’s precisely why it won.

Resilience was the order of the day, especially in the first four innings. The Royals merely scoffed at the five-run deficit they faced after just a half-inning, and wasted no time bouncing back: the Rangers sent 10 men to the plate in the first, so Kansas City did the same. Five Royals reached safely, and two scored, before KC made its first out, and the next three batters each drove in a run, including rookie Kyle Isbel who singled in his first major league at-bat.

The Royals were similarly unfazed when Texas scored twice more in the third to take an 8-5 lead. Michael A. Taylor hit his first Royal homer, a 400-footer to right-center, and Carlos Santana came through with a two-out RBI single to make it 8-7.

The never-give-up approach continued the next inning when the KC Royals scored three runs to give them 10, the number the Rangers ultimately matched but couldn’t surpass. Jorge Soler’s leadoff 435-foot bomb to center started things, Taylor added an RBI single, and Whit Merrifield gave his club a two-run lead with a sacrifice fly.

Three more runs in the seventh and one in the eighth closed the Rangers down.

That never-give-up team theme also encompassed individuals. Taylor came to the Royals under a cloud of suspicion—many wondered why the club decided to stake its center field fortune on such a consistently weak hitter, one who dragged a dismal seven-year slash of .237/.291/.395 with him to Kansas City. But the turnaround he made in spring training (.333/.438/.615 in 17 games) continued Thursday with three hits (including that homer in the third) and three RBIs in five at-bats.

And Nicky Lopez appeared undaunted by the two seasons and one spring training of bad hitting that forced the Royals to send him down a few days ago. Recalled to replace injured Adalberto Mondesi at shortstop, Lopez went 2-for-4 with an RBI. It’s only one game, of course, but Lopez looked good.

Resiliency wasn’t just for the hitters, though. Wade Davis, his career imperiled by two consecutive poor, injury-plagued seasons in Colorado but making his return to the Royals after a stellar spring, rescued Greg Holland in the ninth. Holland entered the game in the eighth and immediately struck out Leody Taveras on three pitches to end the bases loaded threat Scott Barlow created, but Holland found trouble of his own in the ninth after a single, walk, passed ball and wild pitch led to a run.

Enter Davis with one out. In vintage Davis fashion, he fanned Nick Solak looking and Nate Lowe swinging to end the game and earn his 140th career save, and 48th as a Royal.

“Resilient” even applied to rookie Isbel. The KC Royals’ fifth-best prospect per MLB Pipeline, Isbel suffered a wrist injury and dismal season at High-A Wilmington in 2019, hitting just .216 after posting a .326 average in his first pro season the year before. He spent last summer at the club’s alternate training site, then bounced back with a .333/.420/.548 line in 23 Cactus League games to make the improbable leap to Kansas City.

The RBI single in his first big league at-bat Thursday was enough to make his day, but Isbel wasn’t finished. He added two more singles and another RBI to finish 3-for-5.

There were, to be sure, other contributors and factors behind Thursday’s Kansas City victory. But resilience won the day for the KC Royals.