I-70 series rubber match features under-the-radar pitching duel
For one night, the Kansas City Royals bucked their season-long trend of giving up homers and not being able to hit them.
That formula netted them a 5-1 win Tuesday night over the St. Louis Cardinals as Alex Gordon and Salvador Perez went deep while Jason Hammel scattered nine hits but gave up just one run, that coming on a fluky double steal, as he won for the first time in six decisions.
Kansas City will try to replicate that performance in Wednesday’s series finale at Busch Stadium behind its best starter this year, right-hander Jake Junis (5-3, 3.51). He’s coming off a 5-2 win on Friday night over the New York Yankees in Kauffman Stadium.
Junis lasted 5 1/3 innings and 101 pitches in that game, permitting seven hits and two runs with a walk and three strikeouts. Both runs scored after he departed.
“I gave up some end-of-the-bat stuff and some hits that you feel should be outs,” Junis said to mlb.com. “I was making the pitch I wanted to make and they just didn’t fall our way. Fortunately, they didn’t do much damage.”
Junis has allowed 11 homers in 56 1/3 innings but has minimized the damage. He’s fanned four hitters for every walk and has cut his WHIP down from 1.281 as a rookie to 1.083 this year, enabling him to be the team’s only starting pitcher with an earned run average under 5.00.
This will be his first appearance against St. Louis, but he is 2-0 in three career interleague starts with an earned run average of 2.95.
The Cardinals will counter with Michael Wacha (5-1, 3.08), who is 5-0 over his last eight starts, including a 12-4 win on Friday night over Philadelphia. Wacha overcame rainy conditions to tie a season high with eight strikeouts over six innings, yielding five hits, two runs and two walks.
“It was raining the entire game, which can make it a little tough,” he said to mlb.com. “I tried to continue to make my pitches and not worry about the slick mound.”
It was the 50th career win for Wacha, who is 3-1 in five career outings against the Royals with a 2.81 ERA, including a win last August. He owns a 28-12 career record at home and has won all four of his decisions there this year.
St. Louis (26-20) didn’t lack for chances on Tuesday night, but simply couldn’t convert. The Cardinals actually outhit Kansas City (15-33) 11-10 but didn’t come up with any hits with men in scoring position. It was a reversal of form from their last four games, when they scored 29 runs.
“It was one of those days,” St. Louis manager Mike Matheny said. “We had guys in scoring position and chances for the big hit, but we couldn’t get the big hit.”
Wednesday’s game is the finale of a seven-game homestand in which the Cardinals are presently 3-3. After this one, they head out for a six-game road trip through the Central Division, playing three games each against Pittsburgh and Milwaukee.