As he crossed home plate, Lorenzo Cain spotted a wave of blue. The remnants of the Royals roster – those who had not been ejected or injured or otherwise removed from the premises in this 4-2 victory over Oakland – bounded over the dugout railing to greet Cain and Eric Hosmer after Kendrys Morales’ two-run double in the eighth. The sight gave Cain chills.
“I know that my team is there, backing us,” Cain said. “We’re 100 percent for each other. You need teammates like that.”
A weekend packed with takeout slides, retribution and daily drama ended with the Royals bruised but triumphant. Morales launched the double off Oakland reliever Eric O’Flaherty to key a three-run frame that gave Kansas City a series victory. A few Royals framed the outing as a cautionary statement for opposing teams attempting to bully the defending American League champions. The Athletics left Kauffman Stadium spewing obscenities and recriminations at their hosts.
It was a game marked by oddities and anger. Kansas City started only five of their regulars. Manager Ned Yost watched the final eight innings of the game away from the dugout. Danny Duffy shuttled into the clubhouse between innings to confer with pitching coach Dave Eiland, who was ejected along with Yost in the first after Oakland starter Scott Kazmir hit Lorenzo Cain with a pitch. Midway through the game, the club lost second baseman Omar Infante to a strained groin.
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So the victory may come with consequences. The Royals (9-3) could face a series of suspensions. Five members of the team were ejected, including Kelvin Herrera, who threw a 100-mph fastball behind the back of Oakland third baseman Brett Lawrie in the top of the eighth. Herrera eyed Lawrie and pointed at his own head as he left the diamond.
The pitch from Herrera incited yet another benches-clearing incident for the Royals, who continue to engage in spats. The team felt White Sox pitcher Jeff Samardzija targeted Cain on Opening Day. Yordano Ventura jawed with Angels superstar Mike Trout. A wayward fastball in Minnesota broke the hand of outfielder Alex Rios.
Yet it will be difficult to top the madness of Sunday. For the third consecutive day, the drama centered on Lawrie. He antagonized the Royals with his takeout slide of Alcides Escobar on Friday. Ventura hit him with a 99-mph fastball on Saturday and received an ejection. Herrera topped Ventura by one mile per hour a day later.
“Lawrie, he knows he did a bad thing in that situation,” Escobar said. “That’s why Ventura and Herrera” reacted. He added, “My whole team supported me in that situation. That’s why I like to play here.”
When the pitch zoomed past Lawrie, umpire Greg Gibson delivered an immediate ejection. Bench coach Don Wakamatsu corralled Herrera and guided him toward the dugout. On the way there, Herrera gestured at Lawrie. This incited Lawrie, and his posturing prompted both dugouts to empty.
Herrera indicated he did not intend to throw at Lawrie. “I just had a bad grip on it,” Herrera said. “It started raining pretty good.” He said he pointed at his head to say, “Think about it.”
Lawrie raged at this. He argued with the fans along the third-base side. He shoved a water cooler inside his dugout. His anger at Herrera did not fade after the game. He swore repeatedly and suggested Herrera should be suspended.
“You don’t throw behind someone and then walk away when you throw 100 miles an hour and say that the next time I face you I’m gonna hit you in the head," Lawrie said. He added, "That’s some [expletive] and he needs to pay for that."
Yost indicated he did not speak with Herrera after the game about the incident. Two more ejections followed Herrera’s exit.
The umpires threw out Escobar for yelling from the dugout. Because the umpires had already warned both teams, Wakamatsu was automatically ejected. He argued with crew chief Jim Joyce, who promptly threw him out a second time. “I’m already gone!” Wakamatsu replied. Hitting coach Dale Sveum managed in his place.
“The umpires did a great job,” Yost said. “This is a tremendous umpire crew, led by Jim Joyce, and they did all that they could do to control it.”
Almost all baseball clubs refer to themselves as families, but the Royals continue to demonstrate their belief in this axiom. Major League Baseball will determine the severity of their behavior on Sunday. But the players felt compelled to defend themselves, and they would not apologize for that stance.
“We stick up for each other,” Hosmer said. “We’re a family in here. No matter if we’re wrong or right, it doesn’t matter for us, we’re going to stick together as a team.”
Added Jarrod Dyson, “I love this team, the way it responds. I don’t care what anybody else thinks about the team. We’re going to fight for each other in here.”
Oakland took a less charitable view of the Royals. Kazmir referred to Herrera as “unprofessional.” Billy Butler sounded confused by the play of his former team, and said “I don’t think it was handled right.”
When Sunday dawned, the atmosphere inside the Kansas City clubhouse was placid. Players considered the previous day’s dust-up settled.
Then Kazmir hit Cain in the left leg with a 92-mph fastball.
Kazmir insisted after the game this was not intentional. The umpires agreed. This infuriated the Royals. The team wondered why no Athletics were ejected all weekend, and why Kazmir only received a warning after Ventura had been ejected without a warning the day before.
Duffy vaulted up the steps to shout at Kazmir. As Gibson walked with Cain to first base, he waved at Duffy to return to his dugout. The umpires met for 40 seconds as the Kansas City dugout stewed. Gibson issued warnings to Kazmir and both dugouts.
Turning toward the noise from the first-base side, Gibson ejected Eiland, who was yelling at Kazmir. Yost flew into a rage and left his perch. Gibson held up his right hand like a stop sign. “Don’t come out,” he commanded. Yost did not listen, and Gibson ejected him upon sight.
Yost did not go quietly. He hollered at Gibson and pointed at first base. Yost flung his gum in the grass. Joyce, who ejected Ventura on Saturday, stood between the two and grabbed Yost’s midsection to guide him toward the exit. Yost departed to a standing ovation.
Duffy blamed himself for the ejections. He felt content with his five innings of two-run baseball, but admitted he needed to “grow up a little bit.”
“I think I could have done better job of withholding my emotions,” Duffy said. “I wasn’t too happy with Cain getting hit. I’m tired of seeing him getting hit. There’s nothing else to it. I’m tired of seeing my brothers with bruises.”
After the game, Yost avoided questions about Kazmir’s intent. He heaped praise upon the umpires. “Anything that I say about any of that stuff isn’t going to make the situation any better,” Yost said. “The thing that’s important in this is what the umpires think.”
The game settled into rhythm after that. Duffy gave up runs in the third and the fifth, both on RBI singles by Ben Zobrist. Dyson brought home a run with a productive groundout in the fifth.
But when the bottom of the eighth began, the Royals still trailed by a run. Rookie Paulo Orlando coaxed a leadoff walk off Kazmir. Two batters later, Cain raked a game-tying double over the head off left fielder Sam Fuld. After Hosmer walked, Morales pounded a 91-mph fastball off the center-field wall.
The gang of Royals awaited Cain and Hosmer at the plate. They would celebrate this moment, and celebrate again when Wade Davis picked up the save in the ninth. Their methods may have infuriated their opponents. They may face suspensions in the coming days. But the victory belonged to them.
“I’m very, very proud of the way that they rallied,” Yost said. “There was a lot of stuff that happened today. You can just tell the energy, the life on our team that they were a little riled up. A game like today, trust me, it hurts a lot more to lose a game like today.”