As Alex Gordon stepped to the plate with two outs in the top of the ninth inning, very few Royals fans were feeling confident or optimistic, and how could you blame them?. Billy Butler had just gotten thrown out from right field after hitting an apparent single, and the Rogers Centre crowd of nearly 18,000 stood on their feet and roared in full force. If Butler being erased at first in a one-run game wasn’t ‘rock bottom’, I don’t want to know what is. The Royals, already in the midst of a painful four-game losing streak, had been battling all night with baseball’s hottest team, and it appeared that their efforts would come up just short.
Gordon never lost confidence. Not after Butler was thrown out on what should have put the tying run on base with one out. Not after he fell behind 0-2 in the count against a closer that had a perfect 0.00 ERA on the season. The 2013 All-Star left fielder singled on the sixth pitch of his at-bat and was replaced by pinch-runner Jarrod Dyson, who then stole second base. Dyson would score when Toronto shortstop Jose Reyes made an errant throw trying to field Salvador Perez’ easy grounder. The slow-roller should have ended the game and sealed the 10th straight win for the Blue Jays. Instead, the game was tied up at six runs apiece. The next inning, Omar Infante came through with a two-run single that would end up being the deciding factor in an eventual 8-6 extra-innings win.
All year long, the problem had been the offense. The team desperately needed to turn things around, as they were preparing to face a team that had won nine consecutive games. On the day when Kansas City changed hitting coaches from Pedro Grifol to Dale Sveum, all nine starters in the Royals lineup recorded at least one hit. The team also banged out five extra-base hits, tying a season high. Salvador Perez homered for his team-high fifth dinger with a solo shot in the second inning. There were still some issues, such as leaving the bases loaded back-to-back in the sixth and seventh innings, and a pathetic six-pitch effort in the eighth. However, Royals fans have to be feeling at least a little better after the eight runs and fourteen hits the team gave them tonight.
The pitching continued their descent back to earth as starter James Shields labored through one of his worst statistical starts as a Royal. The Royals’ ace gave up all six runs in seven innings of work, striking out six and walking none. For just the second time in his 45 starts as a Royal, Shields gave up three home runs – all of which changed either a tie game or Royals lead into a Blue Jays advantage. Fortunately for Shields, while his offense (or Blue Jays’ defense) bailed him out, the bullpen was absolutely nails on Thursday night. Wade Davis continues to be one of the best relievers in baseball, retiring all six batters he faced in the eighth and ninth innings. En route to winning his fourth game of the season, he struck out two more Blue Jays, marking his 20th consecutive appearance in which he has fanned at least one hitter. Closer Greg Holland worked around a two-out single to earn his 15th save in 16 chances.
They call us the ‘Royal Coaster’. It seems like Kansas City may be the only team in baseball that can make three straight mediocre pitchers look like Cy Young candidates (see Houston series), and then light up an actual former Cy Young winner in R.A. Dickey. The Royals chased the Blue Jays’ Opening Day starter after making him throw 108 pitches in just five innings of work, holding him responsible for five runs. Baseball is such a crazy game; every day you see something new. For instance, how about this wild stat from tonight – the Blue Jays had eight runs on eight hits, and left zero men on base. Six of the hits were singles followed immediately by homers, while the other two singles were erased on James Shields pickoffs. You see something new every day in this game – just look at the play where the Royals tied the game in the ninth inning. It’s a wild sport as is, and the Royals constantly ‘Royaling’ doesn’t help my need for a Xanax.
Maybe it’s the hitting coach. Maybe it’s the ballpark. Heck, maybe it’s my James Shields jersey T-Shirt – I wasn’t going to get into it, but Sarah wanted me to at least give a brief summary. Right before Easter, I bought a James Shields jersey T-Shirt from Rally House. I make sure to wear it on days where he pitches, and the Royals are now 8-0 on these occasions. Before you ask why I don’t wear it every day, Kansas City is 0-3 when I wear it and somebody other than Shields is pitching. I’m not usually superstitious, but after seeing the way the Royals improbably won their series opener in Toronto, it’s clear that there’s only two possible explanations – either the Royals are truly unpredictable and nobody knows what’s about to happen, or my James Shields $27 shirt from Rally House really has magical powers. I’m not at all sold that the Royals’ offense is ‘fixed’, but Thursday night’s performance was definitely a step in the right direction.
Up next: the Royals continue their four-game set with the Blue Jays on Friday when left-hander Jason Vargas (4-2, 3.55 ERA) matches up with fellow southpaw J.A. Happy (4-1, 3.34). With one more win this series, the Royals can clinch the season series with the Blue Jays for the first time since 2009.Published 30 May 2014, 16:40 IST