The I-70 Series got off to a rousing start Friday night when the Royals held on for a 3-2 victory over the St. Louis Cardinals that ended in a frenetic bang-bang play at the plate.
“Oooh!” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “That’s all I can say. Oooh!”
We’ll try to say a little more.
First, the back story. Right-hander Vin Mazzaro pitched six shutout innings before handing off a 3-0 lead when forced to exit once his right calf tightened up. A tired bullpen offered up just-promoted Roman Colon, who quickly spit back two runs.
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It stayed 3-2 into the ninth inning when Jonathan Broxton took the mound in search of his 100th career save on the eve of his 28th birthday.
With me so far?
That ninth inning opened with shortstop Alcides Escobar taking away a leadoff single from Yadier Molina by corralling a grounder deep in the hole and making a strong throw to first.
That was highlight in itself.
“An unbelievable play by Esky,” Broxton marveled, “to lay out and somehow get him at first.”
Broxton then struck out Matt Adams before Tyler Greene reached on a two-out single to deep short. Greene is faster than Molina and beat Escobar’s throw.
Then it got wild.
Greene took off for second on a 1-1 pitch to pinch-hitter Rafael Furcal, and the throw by catcher Humberto Quintero seemed in time to record the out. But the ball sailed into the runner just enough that Escobar couldn’t handle the throw.
“I think,” manager Ned Yost said, “if Esky hangs onto the ball, he’s out.”
Instead, the ball caromed away to the left side with second baseman Chris Getz in pursuit as Greene raced toward third. Getz made a wild throw that seemed headed into the dugout before striking two posts and staying in play.
“It was like the ball was right next to me,” Getz said, “and it kept trickling further and further (away) as I committed to it. Then I threw it…Thank the Lord that it didn’t go into the dugout.
“It’s something my dad probably taught me in Little League – not to throw that ball.”
Disaster loomed as the ball seemed headed into the dugout, but the Royals got a post save – and a beauty.
Third baseman Mike Moustakas then grabbed the ball, wheeled and threw home – a strong, accurate throw that Quintero gloved while blocking the plate before applying the tag. Umpire Alan Porter made an emphatic call, and the game was over.
“It started as just a run-of-the-mill stolen base,” Moustakas said, “and then it escalated quickly. Getzie made an aggressive throw, but he threw it a little off-balance. I thought, no doubt, it was headed into the dugout.”
When the posts kicked the ball out, Moustakas said, “I didn’t think about anything. I just picked it up and threw it to Q. When (Porter) called him out, we were high-fiving.”
The play was close. The Cardinals believed Greene got his foot to the plate before Quintero applied the tag. Replays were inconclusive. The Royals got the call and the victory.
Maybe Hosmer was right: Oooh!
By that margin, the Royals now have a four-game winning streak.
“They’ve all been one-run games,” Yost said, “but we’ve faced some darn good pitching here lately. To come out on top is the bottom line.”
It all started with Mazzaro, who improved to 3-1 by yielding just five hits – all singles, while striking out four and walking one before his calf tightened up.
“I would have loved to send him out for another inning,” Yost said, “because I didn’t have (Greg) Holland; I didn’t have (Kelvin) Herrera; I didn’t have (Tim) Collins. I shouldn’t have had (José) Mijares, but I got him up.”
So Yost turned to Colon to start the seventh, and it didn’t go well. Colon began the seventh by yielding a single to David Freese. After Molina flied to right, Adams pumped an RBI double over the head of center fielder Jarrod Dyson.
Greene struck out, but pinch-hitter Shane Robinson made it 3-2 with an RBI single to right. That prompted Yost to call on Mijares, who ended the inning by retiring Daniel Descalso on a foul pop to first.
Aaron Crow replaced Mijares to start the eighth and, immediately, the Cardinals put the tying run on base when Allen Craig singled through the left side. Adron Chambers replaced Craig as a pinch-runner.
Matt Holliday flied to center, but Carlos Beltran grounded a single up the middle that moved Chambers to second. Crow then escaped by getting Freese to ground into a double play. The Royals had a chance to get an insurance run after Alex Gordon led off the ninth with a single against Sam Freeman, but Getz bunted through a strike, and Molina picked off Gordon.
That meant Broxton had only a one-run lead, but he protected it – in pulsating style – for his 16th save in 18 chances. And career save No. 100.
The Royals used their speed to grab a 1-0 lead against Cardinals starter Kyle Lohse, 6-2, in the second inning. Escobar sliced a sinking two-out liner to right and hustled his way to second when the ball eluded a diving Craig.
Escobar then stole third without a throw, which allowed him to score when Dyson beat out a squib single to third.
The Royals stretched their lead to 2-0 after Gordon opened the third inning with a double into the left-center gap. He went to third on a Getz sacrifice but remained there when Hosmer hit a weak hopper back to the mound.
But Jeff Francoeur picked up Hosmer by lining a two-out RBI single into center.
The Royals scored what proved to be the winning run in the seventh after singles by Getz and Hosmer put runners at first and third with no outs. Francoeur’s drive into short center turned into a sacrifice fly when Getz beat Beltran’s throw to the plate.