On a warm Sunday afternoon that resembled summer far more than early fall, the KC Royals played the only October baseball they're entitled to this year. And when this final game of the season ended, so did one of their most disappointing campaigns since they brought baseball back to Kansas City in 1969.
Answered in the process of 2023's final nine innings were two big questions: could the Royals escape the embarrassment of setting a new club single-season loss mark, and would Bobby Witt Jr. get his 50th stolen base?
The score answers the first question — Kansas City beat the Yankees 5-2 to sidestep a 107th loss and exclusive ownership of the dreaded single-season loss record — and the answer to the second is simply "No."
And Zack Greinke and some Royals home runs softened, at least for now, the pain of Saturday night when the Royals tied the 2005 team for most defeats in a season by losing to New York.
KC Royals starter Zack Greinke pitched like the old Zack Greinke Sunday
Fortunately, and just in case he never pitches again (we don't know whether he'll return next season or retire), Greinke had much to do with this win. Reminding everyone just how good he can be, he staved off a disastrous first inning by working out of a bases-loaded, no-out threat with no damage done, then allowed only two more Yankees to reach base before walking the first Yankee he faced in the sixth.
That bases-on-balls ended Greinke's day. As reliever Taylor Clarke warmed up, the Kauffman Stadium crowd treated the beaming Greinke to a long, well-deserved standing ovation.
Clarke took over and made things interesting by giving Isiah Kiner-Falefa a two-run single before the inning ended. But that pair of runs proved to be the best the Yankees could do — Carlos Hernández held New York scoreless in the seventh, and James McArthur did the same in the eighth and ninth, to preserve the 225th victory of Greinke's 20-season career. It was McArthur's fourth save of the year; Greinke ends the campaign 2-15.
Three home runs helped Zack Greinke and the KC Royals Sunday afternoon
A trio of home runs, albeit each with no one on base, assured Kansas City of winning Sunday — without them, the Royals wouldn't have scored enough times to beat the Yankees and avoid that record-setting 107th loss.
MJ Melendez clubbed the first of the Royals' round-trippers with a blast in the second, and Edward Olivares and Dairon Blanco followed with their own homers in the fourth. Melendez's was his 16th of the season, Olivares' was his 12th, and Blanco's was his third.
Nick Pratto broke out of his lengthy slump long enough to single home Blanco in the second, and Salvador Perez's RBI sacrifice fly in the fifth completed Kansas City's scoring.
Blanco ended the day with three hits, and Melendez, Pratto and Witt added two apiece.
KC Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. didn't get his 50th steal Sunday
Witt entered the campaign's final game needing one stolen base to become the first player in major league history to collect 30 homers, 10 triples, and 50 steals in a single season, and to also become the latest big leaguer to join the 30-homer, 50 steal club.
But he didn't get it done. He missed his chance in the first inning by grounding out, got caught in a short rundown after singling and then appearing to attempt a steal in the third, didn't try to steal home after tripling in the fifth, and struck out in the seventh.
Kansas City opens the 2024 regular season by hosting Minnesota for a thee-game series beginning March 28.