KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Zack Greinke was as good as we all remembered Tuesday night in his return to Kauffman Stadium. Luis Mendoza was as good, maybe, as we’ve ever seen.
They were merely the preamble – albeit a terrific preamble.
The game turned when the Royals, specifically Billy Butler, finally delivered a hit with a runner in scoring position – a one-out RBI single in the eighth inning that provided the difference in a 2-1 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.
“We got a guy in scoring position with less than two outs,” Butler said, “and, honestly, that’s what you’re supposed to do. You don’t have to get a hit. You just have to get the ball in the air.
“The pressure is on them. Instead, we’ve been putting the pressure on us. We have to realize the pitcher is actually the one in trouble.”
Butler’s single came after Alex Gordon opened the inning against reliever Francisco Rodriguez with a double past left fielder Ryan Braun before moving to third on Chris Getz’s sacrifice.
“I always tell (Butler) before I go up to the plate,” Gordon said, “that I’m going to get on, you get me in. That was the plan.”
Butler’s tie-breaking single into center field was the Royals’ first hit in seven chances with a runner in scoring position.
Recall, too, they were 4 for 29 with runners in scoring position while losing three weekend games in Pittsburgh and a staggering 13 for 86 over the previous 10 games before Butler delivered.
“It just takes one hit like that (sometimes) to get the offense going,” manager Ned Yost said. “It gives everybody a deep sigh of relief. It was big, and it was big for Billy because Billy has left some runners at third base with less than two outs in crucial situations.”
Then it was onto the ninth with closer Jonathan Broxton, who put the crowd of 24,258 through another thrill ride before securing his 15th save in 17 chances. The Brewers put runners at first and third with one out before Broxton wiggled free.
“Some of them are interesting,” Broxton said. “As a closer, you’ve got to go out there and stay calm and just take it one out at a time. Don’t worry who is on the bases. Just make your pitches. You do that, the majority of the time, you’re going to come out OK.”
About that preamble; it was magnificent stuff as Mendoza actually outpitched Greinke for most of the game before both wound up with no-decisions.
Greinke served up a leadoff homer in the first to Gordon – how’s that for a notable return to Kauffman Stadium? – but nothing more before exiting after seven innings.
“I mean, yeah, it was exciting,” he admitted. “I wasn’t like any more getting ready for the game or anything, but probably it started earlier, where when I woke up I was probably a little more excited than usual.
“But once I got to the park it was the same, and once on the mound, it was the same, too.”
Gordon’s homer was a 431-foot bomb into the right-field fountains. It broke a streak of 150 at-bats since his last homer on April 27 at Minnesota.
“He threw me all heaters,” he said, “and he was grunting a little bit, so I think he was coming after me. He threw a couple of close pitches, but I was able to get one up. I haven’t hit a home run in a while so I didn’t know how to do it.”
Mendoza carried a no-hitter into the seventh – but also just that 1-0 lead after the Royals, as has been their growing trend, failed to cash a couple of scoring opportunities.
“Of course, I knew I was throwing a no-hitter,” he said. “But I just wanted to do a good job and throw some innings.”
Mendoza lost his no-hitter when Braun opened the inning with a hopper to deep third that Mike Moustakas gloved before slipping and making an off-target throw that got away from first baseman Eric Hosmer.
Getz pounced on the carom but threw wildly to second for another error – and Braun wound up on third with no out. The scoring was a single and two errors.
When Mendoza then walked Aramis Ramirez, the Royals went to the bullpen for Aaron Crow – and nearly got out of it. Green’s fly to medium left turned into a rousing double play when Gordon threw out Braun at the plate.
“You try to force the issue,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said, “but you have to. You can’t just sit back and wait for us to bash the ball when we’re not.”
Gordon came up throwing.
“I kind of knew they were going to send him,” he said, “because the angle was kind of tough. I just tried to keep it to the right side of him. (Catcher Humberto) Quintero made a great play.”
Ramirez took second on the throw, though – and that permitted him to score when Weeks dropped a two-out single into center. That also stuck Mendoza with a no-decision after allowing just one hit over six-plus innings.
Holland stranded two runners in the eighth by retiring Braun on a fly to center before the Royals nicked Rodriguez for the winning run.
“It’s not like our offense did a great job tonight,” Gordon said. “Our pitching definitely picked us up again. We did just enough.”