KC Royals: Look what the kids did in Toronto Thursday!
There can’t be a KC Royals fan anywhere in the world who didn’t want the club to accomplish what it did in Toronto Thursday night.
Lacking 10 important players whose decisions not to vaccinate kept each from entering Canada, the Royals fielded a team two players short and stocked with young replacements and beat the Blue Jays 3-1.
The improbable victory by a weakened last place team over a legitimate postseason contender capped a tumultuous period that began Wednesday night when the Royals revealed that Whit Merrifield, Andrew Benintendi, Michael A. Taylor, MJ Melendez, Hunter Dozier, Kyle Isbel, Cam Gallagher, Brady Singer, Brad Keller and Dylan Coleman couldn’t make the trip to Toronto because they’d all declined to get vaccinated and, under Canadian law, couldn’t cross the border.
The news immediately overshadowed that night’s victory over Detroit, one that gave them a series win over the Tigers and represented the sixth win in 10 games for this suddenly improving team.
The club moved its 10 ineligible players to baseball’s Restricted List, where they won’t collect pay or service time, then retooled itself with eight minor leaguers. (Under big league rules controlling replacement of starters, their recent starts mean the team can’t fill Keller’s spot until Saturday and Singer’s until Sunday).
So it was that a much different team showed up Thursday evening to face the Blue Jays at Rogers Centre.
The reconstituted KC Royals struck midgame, then held on for the win.
That the circumstances forced the club to call up pitcher Ángel Zerpa, catcher Sebastian Rivero and outfielder Brewer Hicklen, all of whom had appeared in at least two big league games, and catcher Freddy Fermin, infielders Maikel Garcia, Michael Massey and Nick Pratto, and outfielder Nate Eaton, none of whom had seen any big league action, disadvantaged Kansas City before Thursday’s game even started.
From the beginning, though, this game was tight. The Royals, much of their offensive heart ripped out by the glaring absences of Benintendi, Taylor, Melendez, and Dozier (and leadoff man Merrifield, who before being moved to the RL was day-to-day with a toe issue) didn’t score until the fifth inning when Edward Olivares, who went 3-for-3 to raise his average to .310, singled in Nicky Lopez and Bobby Witt Jr. hammered his 13th homer of the year, a solo shot that gave the Royals a 2-0 lead. Witt finished 2-for-4.
The Jays kept things close by nicking KC starter Zerpa in the bottom of the fifth for their only run. Zerpa, who won his first big league game as the designated 27th man for Monday’s twinbill against Detroit before heading back to the minors, gave Toronto only three other hits before giving way to Jackson Kowar to start the sixth. Kowar, another of the team’s younger players, threw two scoreless innings.
And Pratto made some excellent plays at first in his major league debut to help the Royals keep Toronto at bay.
The ninth dawned with Kansas City holding the thinnest of leads, a one-run advantage a team like the Jays can easily overcome in an instant. The need for insurance was urgent.
Nate Eaton supplied it. The up-and-coming prospect and rookie center fielder, deployed by manager Mike Matheny to replenish an outfield stripped of Benintendi and Isbel (Taylor was day-to-day with a sore shoulder before landing on the RL) bashed Anthony Banda’s full-count changeup out to left; Eaton’s first big league homer gave his new teammates a 3-1 lead:
That left things up to closer Scott Barlow, who successfully secured the win, and his 16th save, by holding Toronto scoreless in the ninth.
What does Thursday night’s victory in Toronto mean for the KC Royals?
The win drew Kansas City within a half-game of Detroit, which means the Royals are tantalizingly close to escaping the American League Central cellar, the dark place they’ve unfortunately occupied since May 29.
More importantly, however, it gave the club a boost when it most needed one. Although the values of Benintendi, Taylor and Merrifield on the current trade deadline market may now be diminished, no one yet knows how this temporary absence of 10 key players will ultimately affect the franchise generally, and the KC clubhouse specifically. But the current controversy and unwanted attention swirling around both can’t be good for either.
Whatever happens, though, the negative focus became positive Thursday night. For now at least, the Kansas City storyline in Toronto belongs not to the absent 10, but instead to the present 24, and especially to the young, energized Royals who so clearly played with a purpose.
And won when so many people probably thought they couldn’t.
The series continues tonight when Zack Greinke (3-5) faces Alek Manoah (9-4) at 6:07 p.m. CDT.