On a night when just about everybody who stepped onto the mound at Kauffman Stadium saw their pitches rocketing toward the outfield, the Nationals’ Tanner Roark proved to be the exception.
The rookie reliever shut down the Kansas City Royals over the critical middle innings Friday night, emboldening his team after it rallied from a six-run hole. Jayson Werth’s two-run homer and a terrific catch by Bryce Harper helped sew up Washington’s 11-10 victory.
”I knew it was going to be a long one out there,” said Roark, who allowed just one hit and one walk over 4 2-3 innings in relief of starter Gio Gonzalez. ”I know I’m repetitive, but just kept attacking, kept pounding the zone and kept going after guys.”
Roark managed to get the Nationals to the ninth, but the rest of their bullpen ran into trouble. Justin Maxwell’s two-run single off Rafael Soriano got the Royals within 11-10, but the Washington closer induced a pair of fly balls to end the game.
The first flyout came on a dramatic sliding catch by Harper in right on a blooper by Emilio Bonifacio. The second came on the first pitch to Alcides Escobar, giving Soriano his 33rd save.
”You have to catch that ball in that situation,” Harper said. ”It was a huge play.”
Denard Span, Ryan Zimmerman, Tyler Moore and Anthony Rendon also had RBIs as the Nationals piled up 11 runs for the second time in three games – they beat the Cubs 11-6 on Tuesday night.
Just like in that one, Roark (4-0) earned the win with some sublime relief pitching.
”Unbelievable job. He really hit his spots,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ”He made great pitches. I can’t say enough about him.”
Bruce Chen (5-2) was tagged for the second straight time for Kansas City. He allowed seven runs and six hits with five walks in 3 2-3 innings, his shortest outing of the year.
Maxwell and Eric Hosmer each homered and drove in three runs for the Royals, who have lost six straight. Salvador Perez drove in a pair of runs, and Alex Gordon added three hits.
”It’s a game of breaks and we’re getting the bad breaks,” the Royals’ Billy Butler said. ”It’s good to see the bats come out. The way things are going right now the breaks are coming and we’re falling on the wrong side. The pitchers have been great all year. This is going to happen. The starters and the whole staff has been great all year. You can’t blame them.”
Royals manager Ned Yost convened a closed-door meeting before the game in the hopes of igniting an offense that scored five runs in a three-game sweep by the last-place White Sox.
It looks as if the message worked.
Gordon hit a leadoff double in the first and Hosmer followed with a drive to left, quickly staking Kansas City to a 2-0 lead. Maxwell added a solo shot later in the inning.
The Royals kept battering Gonzalez in the second. Jamey Carroll got his first hit in 17 at-bats since arriving in a trade from Minnesota. Gordon hit an RBI double, Hosmer drove in a run with a single, and Butler’s run-scoring base hit made it 6-0.
Then the Nationals started their comeback.
Span’s triple in the third scored their first run. In a preview of the trouble to come, Chen loaded the bases before escaping the inning on Werth’s fly ball to center.
Chen’s nightmare finally came to pass in the fourth inning, when the veteran left-hander served up three singles to the first four batters he faced. Rendon’s sacrifice fly scored the first of what would turn into seven runs for Washington in the inning.
Span’s two-out walk loaded the bases, and Zimmerman walked to score a run. Harper’s double off the wall in center cleared the bases and tied it at 6, forcing Yost to trundle to the mound for a pitching change. Werth greeted Louis Coleman with his two-run homer.
”We never give up. We never shut it down,” Johnson said. ”We go hard.”
The Royals cut the Nationals’ lead to 8-7 in the bottom half of the fourth on Perez’s base hit, but Washington piled on three more runs in the seventh inning.
The first came on Moore’s RBI single, and the final two runs scored when second baseman Chris Getz threw the ball away trying to make a play at home.
”It was a weird game. They didn’t give up,” Getz said. ”They didn’t give away any at-bats. They kept having great at-bats and fouling stuff off. We came out swinging and did the same thing and we came back. It was a chaotic game.”
NOTES: The Nationals traded C Kurt Suzuki to Oakland for RHP Dakota Bacus and OF David DeJesus to Tampa Bay for a player to be named or cash. They also recalled C Jhonatan Solano and LHP Xavier Cedeno from Triple-A Syracuse. … Royals OF Lorenzo Cain (oblique) felt good after doing a series of conditioning drills before the game. … RHP Jordan Zimmermann starts Game 2 of the series for Washington. RHP Wade Davis goes for Kansas City.