Jeff Francoeur walked past the media scrum circling Chris Getz after the Royals continued their recent roll Wednesday night with a 3-2 victory over the Oakland Athletics and boomed over everyone: “Chris Getz! At-bat of the year!”
It just might have been.
“I don’t know if that’s the best at-bat of the year,” manager Ned Yost hedged, “but it’s darn sure in the top five. An 11-pitch at-bat against a tough left-hander to drive in the winning run was a great job.”
The Royals trailed 2-1 with two outs in the seventh inning and had done little against Oakland starter Brandon McCarthy since scoring a tainted run in the first inning.
Then, inexplicably, a few tumblers dropped into place.
Eric Hosmer sliced a double to left, and Lorenzo Cain, after battling back from an 0-2 count, sent a drive to left that eluded Yoenis Cespedes at the wall for a game-tying RBI double.
“I was just trying to battle, man,” Cain said. “That dude (McCarthy) had been carving me up all night. Sinking it and cutting it. He’d drop the curveball in there every now and then. He left me a pitch to hit, and I was lucky enough to hit it. I’ll take it.”
Cespedes appeared positioned to catch the ball, which would have ended the inning with the Royals still trailing by one run. Instead, he appeared to flinch at the wall and lose track of the ball.
“To me,” A’s manager Bob Melvin said, “it looked like it hit the middle of the wall. I’m not sure.… When it went over his head, I didn’t think at the time he had a chance to catch it.”
Cain hit the ball well and initially believed it might have enough carry to clear the wall.
“I was hoping,” he said. “I was watching (Cespedes). I wasn’t watching the ball. It looked like he had a good read on it the way he was running. He jumped at the fence and, luckily, I got it high off the fence. I’ll take it.”
Melvin promptly pulled McCarthy to get a left-on-left matchup against Getz with Sean Doolittle – and had no regrets afterward, saying McCarthy “didn't have enough at that point.”
Doolittle jumped ahead 0-2 before Getz battled his way back to a full count while, in the process, fouling off six pitches. On the 11th pitch, Getz sliced an RBI double into the left-field corner for a 3-2 lead.
“It’s one of those at-bats,” Getz said, “where you kind of get more comfortable as time goes on. You’ve seen everything. Then, eventually, I was fortunate enough to sneak one in there.”
The rally rewarded rookie Will Smith (4-4) for what might have been his most impressive start. He limited the A’s to two runs and five hits in seven innings – and did so without his best stuff.
“I had zero fastball command today,” he said. “I was struggling with that, but I kept battling through it. Sal (Perez) called a great game, and there was some amazing defense. Our defense is unreal.”
Yost went further.
“The thing that’s so impressive about tonight’s game,” he said, “is you’ve got a young pitcher on the mound without his best stuff, and he’s competing his tail off and keeping his club in the game. That’s a tremendous sign for a young pitcher to be able to do that.”
Smith got the victory after Aaron Crow and Greg Holland closed out the game. Crow worked a one-two-three eighth inning with two strikeouts before Holland pitched around a leadoff single in the ninth.
Holland’s save was his fourth in four chances since becoming the closer following the July 31 trade that sent Jonathan Broxton to Cincinnati for two minor-league pitchers.
McCarthy fell to 6-4 after allowing three runs and seven hits in 6 2/3 innings and – let’s be fair – he deserved better. The Royals scored an unearned run in the first inning and benefited from Cespedes’ misplay in their two-run seventh.
The Royals grabbed a 1-0 lead in the first inning after Alex Gordon led off with a single. Escobar’s grounder to second resulted in a force, but Escobar stole second – on a pitchout – and went to third when the throw by Derek Norris was into the runner.
The ball caromed to the left side of the infield.
Billy Butler followed with a grounder to third, and reached first on a fielder’s choice when Josh Donaldson chose to throw home. Escobar easily beat the throw for a 1-0 lead.
Chris Carter opened the Oakland second by yanking a double into the left-field corner, which led to the tying run when Smith permitted successive one-out singles to Donaldson and Brandon Moss on 1-2 off-speed pitches.
Smith avoided further trouble in the second, but the A’s took a 2-1 lead in the fourth when Donaldson’s two-out liner hugged the left-field line long enough to remain fair for a homer.
“I was praying it would go foul,” Smith said, “but it didn’t.”
It stayed that way until Hosmer and Cain hit those two-out doubles in the seventh and set up what might – or might not – be the at-bat of the year.
“To be in that position, thanks to Cain and Hosmer…,” Getz said. “Those guys came up with some clutch hits, and I was able to sneak one in there.”
The Royals have now won 10 of their last 15 since closing a miserable July with a victory. They also moved 1½ games clear of last-place Minnesota in the American League Central Division.
Things are looking up.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Yost parroted. “Things have stabilized, and we’re definitely going in the right direction. I’ve got a real good feeling about where we’re at right now.”