If any doubt lingered about who the KC Royals’ closer is, or whether they had one at all, Mike Matheny effectively removed it Tuesday night.
Matheny, the club’s manager known for his preference for putting pitchers in game situations based more on best individual matchup criteria than established roles, chose Staumont to pitch the bottom of the ninth against Milwaukee at Kauffman Stadium.
It was a save situation, made so just moments before when the Royals, locked in a scoreless tie with the Brewers, scored two quick runs with two out in the bottom of the eighth.
Brewer starter Brandon Woodruff was superb to that point, outlasting Kansas City’s equally superb Kris Bubic, who left after locking Milwaukee down for six innings. But how little Woodruff might have had left showed when, just one out away from getting out of the eighth unscathed, he walked Whit Merrifield and hit Carlos Santana.
Andrew Benintendi then lined a single to right off reliever Devin Williams to score Merrifield despite a throw from right fielder Avisail Garcia that made the play at the plate agonizingly close. The review went the Royals’ way and KC led 1-0.
Santana scored on an error to make it 2-0 before the inning ended, giving Matheny a choice. He could stick with reliable rookie Jake Brentz, who he summoned to get the final out of the Milwaukee eighth when the Brewers had the potential go-ahead run on base. Or he could dip back into his bullpen.
It was an important decision—this was a game Kansas City really needed. Winners of only three games this month and looking up at American League Central-leading Chicago from a seven-game deficit after leading the division for almost a month, a Royals’ win would mark their third in five games, a modest but perhaps critical turn. And they’d worked too hard, and their hurlers pitched too well, to lose.
Matheny gave the ninth, and the game, to Josh Staumont.
And Staumont delivered. He fell behind Kolten Wong 3-1 before getting him on a fly to center and, after surrendering a single to former Royal Lorenzo Cain, struck out always dangerous Christian Yelich on a near-100 mph fastball. Staumont then worked the count to 2-2 on Garcia, who found himself ejected after protesting what he thought was a checked swing that first base umpire Adrian Johnson ruled wasn’t. Daniel Vogelbach replaced Garcia and Staumont embarrassed him with a nasty breaking ball strikeout to end the game.
There can be no question now that, whether or not Matheny chooses to publicly label him so, Staumont is his closer. Eight of Staumont’s 18 appearances this season have started in the ninth inning, and he entered only two of those games with his team behind. He’s pitched earlier than the seventh just three times, and leads the Royals in saves with four and save opportunities with four.
Wade Davis’ blown chance in Sunday’s loss to the White Sox was the most recent save opportunity that didn’t go to Staumont, and that’s probably because Staumont pitched the two previous days.
Staumont’s Tuesday opportunity, though, should wipe away any doubt that he’s the closer. The Royals needed the game, Matheny chose Staumont to get it for them, and Staumont did a closer’s job. And the Royals shaved a game off that seven game lead Chicago had when the evening began.
Starter Kris Bubic, KC Royals relievers set the table for Staumont’s save.
Staumont, of course, wouldn’t have been in a save situation without the efforts of the pitchers who worked before him. Bubic excelled in his first start of the season, a position he found himself in after Danny Duffy went on the disabled list Monday. Bubic had appeared four times in relief this month after retooling himself in the minors and, after giving up a pair of runs in his first game back, hadn’t surrendered one in 11.2 consecutive innings before Tuesday.
He made the most of the assignment, holding the Brewers scoreless and limiting them to just two hits and striking out four in six innings.
Scott Barlow, Tyler Zuber and Brentz then held Milwaukee down until Staumont took over in the ninth. Because the KC Royals scored before Staumont entered the game, Brentz earned his first major league win.
The KC Royals and Milwaukee finish their short two-game series tonight at The K. Kansas City’s Brad Keller (3-4) is set to face Corbin Burnes (2-3). First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m.