The baseball rattled from the inner webbings of Adrian Beltre’s glove to the outer lip of the Kauffman Stadium infield to the blades of grass in the outfield. The journey did not take long. Salvador Perez scorched Tuesday’s game-winning hit, an eighth-inning rocket in a 2-1 Royals victory over the Texas Rangers, with such force that even one of the game’s premiere third baseman could only knock it down.
The laser was Perez’s only hit of the game. It was only his team’s second in 15 at-bats with runners in scoring position. But it was enough to pull this club across the finish line against one of baseball’s bottom dwellers, as the Royals (76-61) relied on a stalwart effort from Jeremy Guthrie and a patchwork group of relievers.
The outcome appeared in doubt until Perez batted with two outs in the eighth. The lineup came up empty after leadoff doubles in the sixth and the seventh. They appeared on the verge of repeating the futile sequence against in the eighth. After Mike Moustakas floated the two-base hit into right, manager Ned Yost inserted a 23-year-old rookie who arrived earlier in the afternoon.
Terrance Gore has one task here. He will pinch run and display the speed that Royals officials say no other player in the majors possesses. Except speed can only do so much: Jarrod Dyson slapped a grounder to first base, where Adam Rosales threw across the diamond to nab Gore.
Dyson did not shut down. He swiped second. He took third without even prompting a throw from catcher Tomas Telis. When reliever Michael Kirkman plunked Alex Gordon, the stage was set for Perez.
After he came through, Yost turned to a reliever who last pitched for Class AA Northwest Arkansas. Aaron Crow earned a brief demotion last week due to a combination of his ineffectiveness this season and his possession of a minor-league option. He returned in fine form on Tuesday, picking up his sixth career save.
Yost spent the evening without his full complement of relievers. The team had utilized Greg Holland, Wade Davis and Kelvin Herrera the previous three nights in a row. All there were unavailable for Tuesday.
The trio is vital to this franchise’s success. Yost grapples daily with strategies to keep them fresh.
“It’s not my challenge,” Yost said. “As much as it is our offense’s challenge. Because the offense dictates how often these guys have got to be used.”
In a save situation, Yost dislikes utilize anyone besides these three. But a sizable lead would ease his mind. The club faced a pitcher on Tuesday who hadn’t started in the majors all season. Derek Holland tore cartilage in his knee after tripping over his dog in January. He required surgery and missed five months.
On Monday, Yost asked Texas pitching coach Mike Maddux about Holland. Maddux informed him Holland looked crisp in bullpen sessions. “I imagine he’ll be pretty much what we’ve seen in the past,” Yost said, a southpaw with a fastball in the mid-90s and a wipeout slider.
Holland vied against Guthrie, the Royals’ dependable but hit-prone fifth starter. When Guthrie faced Texas on Aug. 23, he limited them to one run on five hits. Texas had that many by the fifth inning. As usual, he leaned on his defenders.
Holland could not expect similar protection. A pair of mistakes by rookie left fielder Ryan Rua gifted the Royals a third-inning run. Rua tracked down a deep flyball from Alcides Escobar into the gap to start the inning, but whiffed on the catch. Next he failed sprinting forward: Rua fell short of a bloop off Nori Aoki’s bat, which bounced past him for an RBI double.
Guthrie could trust his defense. He ended the third and fourth inning in nearly the exact same fashion. Both times, he induced a groundball that rolled near the mound. Neither time did he reach out to deflect the baseball. He let his middle infielders handle the proceedings: Omar Infante turned a double play to end the third, and Escobar did the same to finish the fourth.
Guthrie was less fortunate in the fifth. He left a fastball up to rookie second baseman Roughned Odor. A line drive slashed into left field, and Odor raced all the way to third base. He tied the game on a groundout in the next at-bat.
The offensive futility only continued for the Royals. Aoki provided a spark in the sixth. He walloped a double over Rua’s head in left. The leadoff knock gave him his first game with multiple extra-base hits this season.
Yost called for Jarrod Dyson as a pinch runner. The next three at-bats epitomized the club’s struggles. Infante popped a lazy flyout on a hanging curveball. Holland fanned Alex Gordon with a sweeping slider. Salvador Perez contested Holland for nine pitches before flying out to left.
Somehow, in the seventh inning, the Royals repeated the distressing sequence. Eric Hosmer smashed a leadoff triple to right. This time, Billy Butler struck out on a diving slider. So did Lorenzo Cain. Escobar flied out to strand Hosmer.