KC Royals: Letting the kids play paid off Saturday night

(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports)
(Mandatory Credit: Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports) /

Manager Mike Matheny, as he’s been known to do lately, peppered his KC Royals lineup with inexperience Saturday night. Matheny started four rookies—MJ Melendez in left field, Bobby Witt Jr. at shortstop, DH Vinnie Pasquantino, and Nick Pratto at first—and near-rookies Kyle Isbel in right and Daniel Lynch on the mound. The relatively little time Isbel and Lynch spent with the club last season exhausted their rookie status.

Letting the kids play paid off. Due almost entirely to what those inexperienced but eager Royals did, Kansas City, fighting hard and successfully to stay out of the American League Central cellar, squeezed by the Red Sox, who remain very much in the American League Wild Card hunt, 5-4 at Kauffman Stadium.

The youngsters made their presence known early in the game for the KC Royals.

Lynch set the tone in the first inning by retiring the Sox in order. Moments later, Melendez, batting leadoff for KC, gave Lynch and the Royals their first lead of the evening when he homered off Boston starter Nathan Eovaldi.

That early lead didn’t hold up for long—Boston scored once in the second—but the Royals reclaimed it after Lynch put the Sox down in order again in the third. This time, rookie Witt supplied the punch with a two-run, one-out single that scored Isbel and Nicky Lopez to make it 3-1 Royals.

And that lead didn’t age well. Lynch surrendered a game-tying two-run homer to Bobby Dalbec in the very next frame. Leave it to Kansas City’s kids, though. Isbel homered in the bottom half of the inning to give his club a 4-3 lead.

But Lynch, after striking out the side in the fifth, allowed Boston back in. Alex Verdugo’s leadoff homer in the sixth tied the contest again.

Give Lynch his due, however. He struck out six in six innings, issued no walks, and kept KC in the game before Taylor Clarke, Scott Barlow, and Dylan Coleman—still considered a rookie after pitching only briefly for Kansas City last season—held the Sox scoreless over the final three innings, with Coleman retiring the Sox in order in the ninth.

A slumping rookie’s heroic moment made the difference for the KC Royals.

Sooner or later, the Royals had to promote Nick Pratto. He punished Double-A and Triple-A pitching in 2021 by slashing .265/.385/.602 and slamming 36 homers with 98 RBIs and, although his 2022 average was only .240 July 10, still had 17 homers and a .374 OBP in 74 games at Omaha.

The inevitable promotion came July 11, not because Kansas City was prepared to keep him in the majors, but instead because he was among the minor leaguers needed in Toronto after the unvaccinated status of 10 players barred them from Canada for a series with the Blue Jays. Pratto went 4-for-14 (.286) and hit his first major league homer against the Jays, but found himself back on Omaha’s roster the day after the series ended.

Pratto returned to the Royals four days later, this time to replace Edward Olivares after the outfielder landed on the Injured List. Unlike his impressive effort in Toronto, though, Pratto hasn’t hit well—entering Saturday’s game, he was 6-for-38 (.158) with 17 strikeouts since his recall.

And he’d fanned twice and was hitless in three at-bats before coming to the plate with two outs and the game tied in the bottom of the ninth. He pushed Boston’s Garrett Whitlock to 3-2 … and then this happened:

So, 20 days after belting that first big league homer in Toronto, Pratto walked the Red Sox off with his second, a blast that gave the Royals a 2-1 series edge heading into today’s finale.

That one of the youngsters the club seems willing to stick with and test for the rest of the season struck the deciding blow was fitting. Three of those young players, Melendez, Witt and Isbel, provided four runs without which Pratto’s heroics wouldn’t have been possible. A fourth, Lynch, kept KC in the game with six decent innings. And a fifth, Coleman, shut down the Red Sox in their final at bat.

Thank the kids for this win.

Next. 3 reasons KC keeps Ryan O'Hearn. dark

Kansas City and Boston conclude their series with a 1:10 p.m. single game today.