All-Star Game: 2 KC Royals play, rest of season awaits

(Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports) /

The Major League All-Star Game returned from its one-year, pandemic-driven absence Tuesday night. Top American League players squared off against top National Leaguers at Colorado’s Coors Field, and it seemed fitting that in such a star-studded environment appeared the KC Royals’ two best players.

Catcher Salvador Perez, elected to the AL roster by the fans, started for the AL and Whit Merrifield, who made the club after the Astros’ Jose Altuve opted out, came in as a pinch hitter in the sixth and remained for the duration.

And that the American League beat the NL isn’t surprising—the AL had won the last seven contests coming into this one and all but a half-dozen since 1988. The final was 5-2; the game was over when the AL scored its third and fourth runs in the fifth inning on Vladimir Guerrero Jr.’s fielder’s choice and Xander Bogaerts’ single.

The Angels’ Shohei Ohtani started on the mound and at DH and pitched a scoreless, hitless first inning to get the win. Former Royal Liam Hendriks, now pitching for the White Sox, got the save.

Anyone expecting a home run barrage at high-altitude Coors Field left disappointed. Only Toronto’s Guerrero, Tampa Bay’s Mike Zunino, and the Phillies’ J.T. Realmuto homered.

Bogaerts was the only player with more than one hit; he singled twice.

The KC Royals’ Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield both played a few innings.

And what of Perez and Merrifield?

Despite striking out twice, the final time on a 2-2 slider from Colorado’s German Marquez (to whom Perez flashed what appeared to be a knowing “You got me” smile), Perez clearly enjoyed himself—the smile at Marquez was just one of many that crossed his face. And after belting 28 homers in the first round of Monday evening’s Home Run Derby, Perez seemed committed in demeanor and swing to hitting another Tuesday, but unfortunately didn’t.

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Merrifield struck out when he pinch hit for starting second baseman Marcus Semien, then hit into a fielder’s choice in the eighth. He threw out Washington’s Trea Turner at first to end the game.

After Tuesday, what’s next for the KC Royals’ 2021 All-Star participants?

The Baltimore Orioles are next up for Perez, Merrifield, and the rest of their Kansas City teammates when the Royals resume regular season play Friday night at Kauffman Stadium. The two division cellar-dwellers—the Orioles are 28-61 and in last place in the AL East, while KC is 36-53 and dead last in the Central—play night games Friday and Saturday and an afternoon tilt Sunday. The Royals have Monday off, play in Milwaukee Tuesday and Wednesday, take Thursday off, then return home for three games against the Tigers and four with the White Sox.

Perez hopes to pick up the regular season where he left it. He’s played every game, leads the KC Royals with 21 home runs and 53 RBIs, and is hitting .275. With his club’s postseason hopes all but gone, expect Manager Mike Matheny to give him an occasional day off.

Merrifield also hasn’t missed a game. He leads the majors with 24 steals and has eight homers, 47 RBIs, and a .270 average. Like Perez, don’t be surprised to see him sit out a game or two.

The key question about Merrifield is whether he’ll survive the July 30 trade deadline. Merrifield trades are frequently rumored but never made, but the Royals might be tempted this time around. He isn’t hitting as well as he usually does and his contract runs out after next season. Kansas City could think this is the best time to get good value for him.

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Salvador Perez and Whit Merrifield played in the All-Star Game Tuesday night. Now it’s time for the rest of the season.