Just when the Royals seem to be teetering this season — making you ready to shrug and say, “Well, OK” — they somehow manage to keep pulling you back in, don’t they? Even when Greg Holland blows a save.
So here we go again.
Mike Moustakas crushed a walk-off homer in the 13th inning Thursday afternoon for a remarkable 7-6 victory over the Seattle Mariners in a 4-hour, 17-minute marathon at Kauffman Stadium.
“Unbelievable,” Moustakas said. “That was my first walk-off anything. I don’t think I ever hit one in the minor leagues, either. So it’s a pretty cool feeling.”
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His blast came on an 0-2 pitch from Chase Ruffin (0-1) and occurred just two pitches after Moustakas sent a drive to deep right that just hooked foul.
“I knew off the bat it was foul,” he said. “I hit it pretty good, but I knew I got out in front of it a little too much. It stayed straight for a little bit, but it hooked toward the end. I knew it wasn’t going to hold up.
“The second one, I got a pitch down, and I was able to stay through it a little better, and it ended up getting out.”
An amazing finish to a roller-coaster afternoon.
The Royals fell into a 5-0 hole, rallied to take a 6-5 lead and were within one strike of a victory when Holland surrendered a homer to one-time Royals fan favorite Raul Ibanez.
“I really felt like that was the only bad pitch I threw all inning,” Holland said. “That happens sometimes.”
Holland last surrendered a run on on July 23 and had not blown a save in 31 previous chances since May 6.
The Mariners then threatened in the 11th,12th and 13th innings before Moustakas brought the Royals rolling out of the dugout for a post-game celebration at the plate.
“As soon as Moose hit (the long foul),” manager Ned Yost said, “I was hoping it would stay fair. When it didn't, I turned to (Eric Hosmer) and said, `Why is fate tempting us right here? Why does it tease us like this? Why?’
“Normally, anytime somebody does that — hits a long foul-ball homer and they’ve got two strikes — that’s it. I can't remember one time I've ever seen a guy back it up and hit one fair.
“When he hit it fair, it was like, Wow. Pretty special.”
The Royals (73-67) closed, temporarily, to within five games of Tampa Bay for the American League’s final wild-card berth. The Rays played later Thursday against the Angels in Los Angeles.
“We’re right in this thing,” Moustakas said. “There are still games to be played, and there’s still room to be made up. We’re going to grind this thing all the way down to the end. Whatever happens, happens.”
The Royals finished with 19 hits, which matched a season high. Billy Butler matched a career high with five hits. Emilio Bonifacio matched a career high with four hits.
Salvy Perez was three for three before departing, as a precaution, because of mild dizziness shortly after taking a hard foul ball off the mask. Moustakas was hitless in three at-bats before his homer.
“I was trying to get the fastball down and in,” Ruffin said. “He turned on it pretty good. The one he hit out was supposed to be in. I left it in the middle.”
The victory completed a 9-8 stretch for the Royals that included just one game against a club with a winning record. They now enter a stretch of 15 straight games against opponents with with winning records.
“Every game is crucial,” Yost said. “Every game is extremely important. We've seen our players do this the majority of the year. They continue to fight. It doesn't matter how far down they are. They continue to get after it.”
It didn’t start well.
Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie surrendered three runs in the first inning, including a two-run homer by Justin Smoak. The Mariners built a 5-0 lead through four innings.
“I did not have very good stuff,” said Guthrie, who pitched through the sixth. “I gave them a big advantage, but we’ve shown all season (that) we can come back from deficits. It was a real team win.
“They win in spite of you sometimes. That’s how it was today.”
Alex Gordon’s two-run homer ignited a three-run fifth against Seattle starter Joe Saunders before the Royals took a 6-5 lead with a three-run seventh against relievers Brandon Maurer and Charlie Furbush.
Will Smith protected that lead through the eighth and Holland got two quick outs in the ninth before Ibanez went deep.
“Anytime you get into the ninth inning with your closer on the mound and the lead,” Yost said, “and they tie the game, you darn well better find a way to win it to protect him, especially as good as Holly's been for us all year.”
Louis Coleman (3-0) got the victory by stranding the go-ahead run at second base in the top of the 13th after Smoak led off with a single against Donnie Joseph.
Pinch-runner Endy Chavez moved to second on Dustin Ackley’s sacrifice. After Nick Franklin flied to short center, the Royals brought in their eighth pitcher — Coleman, who retired Franklin Gutierrez on a grounder to short.
The Royals seemed well-positioned for a comeback victory after Butler thundered home from third for the go-ahead run on Justin Maxwell’s one-out sacrifice fly in the seventh inning for a 6-5 lead.
“They told me to go,” Butler said, “and I was going to run as hard as I could. We’re playing well. We’re down by five, and we battled back. That speaks a lot for the character of this team.”
Had Smith and Holland closed it out from there, rallying to win from a five-run deficit would have matched the Royals’ biggest comeback of the season.
Yes, it still matches it, but that part was mere prologue, trumped by Ibanez’s homer and trumped again by Moustakas’ homer.
“That's probably the most excited I've been in a long time,” Holland said, “because a lot of teams would be in the dugout completely drained after something like (Ibanez’s homer) happens.
“But we weren't. We still expected to win.”