The KC Royals pulled a fast one Thursday night. Teetering on the brink of a seventh straight loss, and just when another blown lead seemed well in hand, they fooled us.
They rallied to beat Minnesota in the first of a four-game weekend road series. In an odd sort of way, the way they won might be more important than the 3-2 victory itself. Unlike so many recent Kansas City games whose bad endings arose from shattered leads, this one was actually a pleasure—although a nail-biting one—to watch in the late innings.
That’s because this contest long bore the earmarks of another Royal loss before things changed dramatically. For one, there were few hits to come by. Twins’ starter Devin Smeltzer allowed Kansas City only two in the seven innings he dominated them; that, together with his six strikeouts and only one walk, explain why the Royals scored absolutely nothing against him.
And as they have so many times before, most often at the expense of Brad Keller and Zack Greinke, the Royals didn’t reward their starting pitcher’s good effort. Daniel Lynch, the club’s sophomore lefty arguably making a case to become a staff ace, allowed Minnesota just two runs, fanned six and walked only two in 5.1 innings. That pair of runs was, though, enough to convince reasonable KC fans that, with their club trailing 2-0 after seven, another loss was a sure thing.
But the Royals winked and went to work.
An impressive rally gave the KC Royals almost everything they needed.
Fortunately for Kansas City, Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli decided to give the game to reliever Tyler Duffey to begin the eighth, and Ryan O’Hearn wouldn’t let the inning die with two out and Emmanuel Rivera at first.
Pinch hitting for rookie Brewer Hicklen, who made his major league debut Thursday because Kyle Isbel went on the Injured List before the game (Hicklen went 0-for-2), O’Hearn lined a single to right to set up the two-run, game-tying double Whit Merrifield hit moments later. O’Hearn is now 5-for-8 as a pinch hitter this year and Merrifield, mired deeply in a slump most of the season, is hitting .326 since May 15.
Andrew Benintendi walked to keep the inning alive and Bobby Witt Jr.’s 10th double scored Merrifield with the lead run.
Scott Barlow pulled the KC Royals out of a fire and secured their win.
Kansas City’s new 3-2 lead seemed destined to be blown just minutes later. Joel Payamps replaced eventual winner Josh Staumont to start the Twins’ eighth and wasted no time loading the bases with no one out, a predicament that forced Matheny to summon Scott Barlow. Barlow was splendid—he struck out José Miranda and Nick Gordon and retired Max Kepler on a grounder.
Barlow closed out Minnesota in the ninth to secure the win that broke KC’s six-game losing streak.
Thursday’s victory over Minnesota might be important for the KC Royals.
This win won’t propel Kansas City to the kind of turnaround required to ultimately put them in postseason contention. As presently assembled, the Royals aren’t that kind of team; this club has too many flaws and soft spots.
But the victory suggests the fight Matheny and some players have maintained the team has might exist notwithstanding its troubled roster. The Royals, beset by an uncanny ability to collapse late in games, probably didn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt after taking the lead in the eighth inning, and a multitude of fans likely expected them to find a way to lose again.
There was fire, though, in that eighth-frame rally and Barlow was clearly bound and determined not to let another win escape.
So it is that Thursday’s win against the American League Central’s best could spark something more. Not a pennant, not even a Wild Card spot, but instead some renewed confidence, a commodity sorely needed before the 2022 season becomes what it’s squarely on pace to be—the Royals’ third 100-plus loss campaign since the magic of 2014 and 2015.
We shall see.
The Royals and Twins play the second game of their four-game series tonight. First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m. CDT at Target Field.