KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The late-inning magic that has been missing much of the season for the Royals suddenly arrived this week at Kauffman Stadium.
A night after the Royals needed Alex Gordon’s walk-off two-run homer to beat the Twins, Kansas City again trailed, 1-0, heading into the late innings.
And again they broke the Twins’ hearts, this time with a six-run explosion in the bottom of the eighth, mostly on bloops and bunts and infield dribblers. The last two runs came on Sal Perez’s two-run triple.
All of that produced a 6-1 win and delighted the 17,668 fans, who may not have been huge in numbers but seemed as loud as a crowd twice that size.
"I thought it was electric," manager Ned Yost said. "Everyone was screaming and having a blast."
Jarrod Dyson got the key hit in the eighth inning, a bunt single that scored pinch-runner Lorenzo Cain to tie it. Nori Aoki punched in the go-ahead run with a single one hitter later. Billy Butler added a two-run single.
By then, emergency starter Liam Hendriks had departed, but he gave the Royals a solid start in place of injured Yordano Ventura. Hendriks went seven innings, giving up just one run.
"What more can you ask?" Yost said, smiling. "He was phenomenal. … I had no idea what to expect. But I will say that when I met him yesterday, he didn’t look starry-eyed. He looked like he belonged."
An added benefit: Detroit lost to the Yankees, and the Royals’ lead in the Central was pushed to 2 1/2 games.
— Soft runs are cool. For most of the Royals’ six-run eighth inning, they looked like they were practicing Phil Mickelson flop shots as they kept flaring balls over the infield. Raul Ibanez got it started off Phil Hughes with a soft bloop into right. Cain pinch-ran and stole second. Mike Moustakas hit a slow roller up the middle and beat the throw to first with a headfirst slide. Dyson reached on a bunt. While Yost said the bunt was a safety squeeze, Dyson told me later he bunted on his own.
"(Cain) knows when I’m up and he’s on third," Dyson said, "he needs to be ready for a bunt. It worked."
Aoki sliced a ball just over the shortstop’s glove. Alcides Escobar beat out a broken-bat grounder to third. Butler then flared his two-run single to right.
"With a guy like Hughes, you just have to grind," Yost said. "Every time you look up at the scoreboard it seems his pitch count is going down, and you wonder, ‘How are we going to get this guy out of here?’ But you just stay with it and grind."
— Incredible outing from Hendriks. Royals officials before the game were simply hoping Hendriks could hold the Twins to four runs or less and go at least six innings. What they got was incredibly better. Hendricks went seven innings and gave up just four hits and one run. Like Danny Duffy the night before, Hendriks deserved a better fate. But at least the team got a win.
"I had the goals of going seven innings and keeping us in it," Hendriks said. "So I accomplished those goals. … But really, the defense just played great behind me all night, too." Indeed.
— Defense! Once again, the Royals made tremendous plays in the field. Gold Glover Alex Gordon crashed face-first into the left-field wire fence as he took away extra bases from Kurt Suzuki in the third on a brilliant running catch. Gordon got a standing ovation for that. Escobar then made a brilliant stop up the middle on his Twins counterpart, Eduardo Escobar, and made a spinning throw to first for the next out.
— Take a pitch, part one. The Royals didn’t do much against Hughes until the eighth, and didn’t have the slightest amount of patience, either. The Royals got a break when Hughes fumbled an easy grounder by Christian Colon. With Dyson up, Colon took off on what appeared to be a straight steal. Colon got a great jump, but Dyson hacked at the first pitch anyway and hit a soft pop-up to short. Would have been nice if Dyson had allowed Colon a shot at swiping that bag, then tried to move him to third. Dyson, of course, redeemed himself with the great bunt in the eighth that tied the game. He is pardoned.
— Take a pitch, part two. In the bigger picture, the Royals have shown no patience at the plate in the last four games, drawing just three walks. At one point, Hughes needed just seven pitches to get five hitters out as almost every Royal seemed intent on hacking at the first pitch. The Royals are, as you’d expect, last in all of baseball in drawing walks and hitting home runs. That impatience will have to be curbed somewhat if they are to win the division.
— One bad pitch. It’s impossible to find any fault with Hendriks, who, considering the pressure on this emergency start, was nothing short of fantastic. His only mistake was a high fastball to Oswaldo Arcia, who planted it off the center-field wall for an RBI double. Hendriks otherwise was dominant in his Royals debut.