NEW YORK — Well, hey now, that trade-deadline move Wednesday to acquire outfielder Justin Maxwell from Houston suddenly seems like a bigger deal, doesn’t it?
Maxwell opened the 12th inning Saturday afternoon by booming a pinch-hit homer against reliever David Aardsma that enabled the Royals to escape Citi Field with a 4-3 victory over the New York Mets.
“I got (the count) to 3-0, and thought, ‘OK, I’ve got to take here. He hasn’t thrown a strike,’” Maxwell said. “He laid one in there. And at 3-2, I took a good swing. I was trying not to do too much.”
If that was the goal — trying not to do too much — Maxwell failed miserably because the ball took off like a rocket toward left field. It started to hook but stayed fair.
“You can’t get behind like that because then you have to give him something to hit,” Aardsma said.
That homer would seem to put Maxwell in line for the post-game heroes‘ treatment. But, no, that went instead to Kelvin Herrera, who worked three scoreless innings before Greg Holland closed it out for his 29th save.
Herrera got the shaving-cream facial and the ritualistic water dousing.
“For me, Kelvin Herrera was as big as Justin Maxwell today,” manager Ned Yost said. “To come in and throw three innings like that, when our pitching was on fumes, was huge.”
So it ended well after Aaron Crow blew a two-run lead in the eighth inning and after the Royals turtled on offense after scoring three runs in the third inning. Seventeen Royals went up and down before Maxwell’s game-winner.
“This was a hard-fought win,” Yost agreed. “This was as hard-fought a win as we’ve had in a long, long time.”
It was more than that, too.
This was a Cowboy Up game for the Royals, who sought to bounce back after their nine-game winning streak ended Friday night in a 4-2 loss in 11 innings on Eric Young’s homer against Luis Mendoza.
This one would have stung a lot more.
The Royals, 55-52, never led Friday but never trailed Saturday due, in part, to another strong outing by veteran lefty Bruce Chen, who held the Mets to one run — a second-inning homer by Daniel Murphy — in six innings.
That makes four earned runs for Chen in 24 innings over four starts. He allowed four hits overall to the Mets while striking out eight, walking none and lowering his ERA to 2.03.
“I feel like I’m throwing the ball well,” he said. “I feel very comfortable with my pitches. But I can’t take all of the credit. I think George (Kottaras) has done an outstanding job of calling the game.”
Tim Collins pulled Luke Hochevar out of a jam in the seventh, but Crow blew the two-run lead in the eighth. Just as alarming, the Royals’ attack showed little life after its three-run burst.
It seemed to be slipping away.
Crow replaced Collins to start the eighth once the Mets sent up Andrew Brown as a pinch-hitter. Brown pulled a single past third and moved to second on a passed ball by Salvy Perez, who had just entered the game.
Eric Young flied to left, but Juan Lagares reached on an infield single to short that moved Brown to third.
Ignored by Crow, Lagares stole second, which diminished the double-play opportunity … and that steal turned into the tying run when Josh Satin grounded a two-run single up the middle.
“That’s going to happen sometimes,” Crow said, “A ground ball is going to get through the infield. I’ve just got to go out there (Sunday) and put it behind me.”
That two-run eighth enabled Mets starter Jeremy Hefner also to gain a no-decision. He yielded eight hits in six innings, but the Royals bunched five of them in their three-run third inning.
Kottaras started the burst with a homer. The other runs scored on a bases-loaded sacrifice fly by Alex Gordon and a two-out RBI single from Miguel Tejada.
Herrera, 4-5, took over for Crow to start the ninth and worked through seven straight batters before issuing a one-out walk in the 11th inning to Marlon Byrd.
When Herrera fell behind 3-1 on Murphy, the Royals were poised for a move. Maxwell had his glove in hand in preparation for a double-switch with Yost ready to call on Holland to preserve the tie if Murphy reached.
“Last hitter,” Yost confirmed.
It never came to that. Herrera fought back to strike out Murphy, which turned into an inning-ending double play when Perez threw out Byrd, who was running on the 3-2 pitch.
Herrera said, “I thought, ‘If I try to throw hard, I’m going to leave it up. So I just concentrated on throwing the ball down. I told myself, ‘All right, this is a battle. I’m going to fight.’ And we won.”
As it turned out, yes. Maxwell switched his glove for a bat to face Aardsma, 2-1, because Herrera was the first scheduled hitter in the 12th. Maxwell worked the count full and turned on a 91-mph fastball.
“I’ve played this style of ball before” with Houston, he said. “National League ball. You never know when you’re going to have an opportunity. So you just try to make the most of it.”