On a night he didn't need to be perfect, KC Royals pitcher Jordan Lyles wasn't. Although the Yankees couldn't touch him for the first three innings at Kauffman Stadium, Lyles, who began and ended the game with the major leagues' worst ERA, gave up three runs in the fourth, one in the fifth, and another in the sixth.
And in the process, he relieved Darrell May of the team record for most home runs given up in a single season when he served up a three-run shot to Austin Wells in the fourth; it was the 39th homer Lyles has surrendered this year.
But in the end, when Kansas City and the Yankees had finished the opener of their season-ending three-game series, none of that mattered. The Royals exploded for nine first-inning runs, shattered New York starter Carlos Rodón's evening before it really began and, despite Lyles' mid-game troubles, won 12-5.
They're now 55-105 and, with only two games left in this forgettable campaign, can avoid breaking the club record for losses in a season (106) if they beat the Yanks Saturday night or Sunday afternoon.
The KC Royals ended the game for all practical purposes in the first inning
Almost anything anyone needs to know about this game happened in the first inning. After Lyles retired the Yankees in order, which he'd do again in the second and third, the Royals punished Rodón by sending eight batters to the plate and scoring five times before New York manager Aaron Boone decided enough was enough and replaced his starter with Matt Bowman, who promptly gave up four more runs before getting the last two outs of the inning.
The Royals inflicted that first-frame damage in a variety of ways. Edward Olivares hit his 11th homer of the season, a two-run shot to left, Salvador Perez and Kyle Isbel each stroked two-run doubles, Matt Duffy singled in two runs, and Bobby Witt Jr. (more on him in a moment) drove in one with a sacrifice fly.
And although they'd go on to score three more times, that first inning barrage gave KC all they needed.
Bobby Witt Jr. made KC Royals history in the game's seventh inning
His sac fly accounted for Kansas City's final run of the first inning, but the highlight of Witt's night came four frames later. That's when, after fouling off Keynan Middleton's first-pitch fastball, he drove the next pitch into the left field seats to become the first Royal ever to have a prestigious 30-30 season; he long ago stole his 30th base. By swiping just one more base, he can reach another of the big numbers — 50 steals — we wrote last month were within his reach.
Good bullpen work preserved the win for KC Royals starter Jordan Lyles
Lyles ended the night charged with five runs and gave up four hits, but struck out four and walked only one. Manager Matt Quatraro turned the game over to the bullpen to begin the seventh, and three relievers combined to shut out the Yankees the rest of the way to secure Lyles' sixth win of the year (he'll finish 6-17; whether the Royals have him back next year, the second of his current contract, remains to be seen).
Tucker Davidson struck out one and gave up a hit in the seventh. James McArthur, whose fine September should give him a leg up on a 2024 bullpen spot, did the same and, although he put the first two batters on in the ninth, Jonathan Bowlan finished off New York without allowing a run.
The teams resume this series Saturday at 6:10 p.m. CDT.