KANSAS CITY, Mo. — What seemed like a possible cakewalk after the Royals bolted to an 8-2 lead wound up as tense and white-knuckling as most Royals games these days.
And this time the Royals held off the Angels for a gritty 8-6 win Friday night in front of 35,461 fans, thanks to a spectacular performance by the bullpen, which shut out the Angels over the last five innings.
In fact, in the last four innings, the Royals’ pen did not allow a ball out of the infield while striking out nine.
"We were outstanding tonight," right-hander Kelvin Herrera said.
Manager Ned Yost agreed.
"Just phenomenal," he said.
The Royals had lost six of their previous seven.
"This was a big one to get," designated hitter Billy Butler noted. "There were 14 runs scored and we weren’t even out of the fifth inning and then both bullpens shut it down. But ours was better."
— LoCain for president. Seriously, Lorenzo Cain is stealing the offensive show lately, and it sure looks like he’ll steal the leadoff spot from Nori Aoki when Aoki gets off the disabled list. (In fact, as I wrote earlier this week, Aoki’s role is likely to change). Cain delivered three more hits from the leadoff spot Friday — he singled in a run in the third, he tripled and scored in the fourth, and he singled again in the sixth. Cain also made a tremendous, game-saving catch in the fifth. With runners on first and second and two out and the Angels already having plated four runs to pull within 8-6, Cain raced deep to the track to haul in a drive by Howie Kendrick. "If he keeps hitting like this, I’m not anxious to make a change at the top," Yost said.
— Omar’s grand slam. This was definitely a night for the long ball as the wind was howling out to left and the weather was hot and sticky. The Angels took advantage by delivering three bombs. But none was as impactful as Omar Infante’s grand slam in the third that put the Royals up 7-2. Infante sent a pitch from Matt Shoemaker toward deep left that at first seemed just deep enough to be a sacrifice fly. Then the wind got a hold of it and it drifted and drifted and dropped over the left-field fence into the Royals’ bullpen. "I hit it pretty well but I knew the wind would help," Infante said. "I told Esky (Alcides Escobar) earlier that the wind was going to help a lot of balls." It was Infante’s first career grand slam. "I almost got one here last year," he said. "So this was nice."
— The Royals’ bullpen. After starter Jason Vargas nearly spit out an 8-2 lead with a disastrous showing, the Royals’ bullpen came on and restored order. Michael Mariot came in with the bases loaded and none out and the Royals clinging to an 8-5 lead. He gave up a sacrifice fly but shut down the Angels after that. He got his first big-league win and a beer shower afterward. "It felt great," he said. "And it was nice that my family was here to see it." Then came Herrera, the flame thrower, with runners on first and third and one out in the sixth. Herrera wound up retiring all five hitters he faced, three of those strikeouts, including Mike Trout, Chris Iannetta and Josh Hamilton. Trout had hit a 445-foot homer earlier but Herrera froze him with a fastball. "I just threw fastballs and said ‘Hey, hit it,’" Herrera said. And, Herrera set it up for Wade Dave and Greg Holland to do their thing — they struck out five of the six hitters they faced.
— The ESPN home run inflation. We saw this earlier this season when Eric Hosmer hit a home run over the right-field bullpen, and while the Royals declared it a 404-foot homer, or something close to that, ESPN Stats added about 30 feet to it. On Friday, Trout hit a mammoth blast over the fourth wall in center field and into the fountain. The Royals’ laser chart estimated the distance at a whopping 445 feet. ESPN almost immediately tweeted and inflated it to 489 feet, which would have made it the longest homer in Kauffman Stadium history (Johnny Bench hit a 480-foot homer in the 1973 All-Star Game). Royals officials simply shook their heads and laughed at the 489-foot estimate of Trout’s blast. After C.J. Cron hit his second homer of the game, the Royals estimated that shot at 384 feet. Vice president of communications Mike Swanson then quipped over the press-box intercom, "Stay tuned for what ESPN will estimate."
— Vargas doesn’t deal. In an earlier start this season, Vargas spit back a 5-0 lead given to him against the White Sox in a game the Royals eventually lost 7-6. On Friday, Vargas was handed an 8-2 lead, but wasn’t able to make it out of the fifth inning. The Angels hit Vargas hard all over the stadium. Vargas gave up nine hits and six runs in four-plus innings. "Just didn’t have his fastball command," Yost said.
— The Hoz still searching. Hosmer, mired in a dreadful slump, did get a bloop single in the third. And he did line out in the eighth. But he wound up one for five. In the fourth inning, Hosmer was up with Cain on third and no one out and the infield back. He popped out to short right field. Then in the sixth, Hosmer came up with Cain on first and none out. Hosmer even got ahead in the count 3-0. But Hoz wound up swinging and fouling off one "ball four" and also tried to check his swing but wound up fouling off another ball out of the zone. Then he swung at a pitch a foot off the plate, nearly fell over, and grounded out. Hoz seriously needs to have a day off.