Sports

Kendrys Morales’ walk-off homer rescues Royals in victory over Braves in 13 innings

Kansas City Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales follows through on the game winning home in the 13th inning for a 4-2 win over the Atlanta Braves during Sunday's baseball game on May 15, 2016, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals designated hitter Kendrys Morales follows through on the game winning home in the 13th inning for a 4-2 win over the Atlanta Braves during Sunday's baseball game on May 15, 2016, at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. jsleezer@kcstar.com

There they were on Sunday evening, surrounding a flat-screen television in the corner of the clubhouse, a layer of celebratory fog still wafting through the air, a soundtrack of cackles and laughter filtering through the room.

In the moments after a 4-2 victory over the Atlanta Braves on Sunday afternoon, after Kendrys Morales crushed a decisive walk-off homer in the bottom of the 13th inning, after Wade Davis had blown a save in a stunning ninth inning, after a Gatorade bath and a party at home plate, the Royals had found a television tuned to MLB Network and were watching one grown man punch another in the face.

The scene had played out in Arlington, Texas, where Rangers second baseman Rougned Odor leveled Blue Jays right fielder Jose Bautista with a vicious right hook, setting off a brawl in Texas and tremors throughout baseball. By late Sunday evening, a group of Royals stood transfixed and entertained, catching up on the skirmish for a moment — but only for a moment. As the group clustered in the corner of the room, catcher Salvador Perez reached up toward the television.

“OK,” he said, authoritatively. “Turn it off.”

And why not. The story in this room was fantastic enough. Teetering on the brink of disaster, the Royals shook off a rare Davis wobble and accomplished something they had not done in 21 days: They won a series.

With their third walk-off victory of the year, the Royals took two of three from the struggling Braves in front of a crowd of 33,861 that had thinned considerably by the 13th inning. They claimed a series win for the first time since taking two of three from the Baltimore Orioles on April 24. They improved to 18-19 on the season entering a three-game set with the Boston Red Sox on Monday night.

All it took was 4 hours and 16 minutes, nine pitchers (which matched a club record) and a walk-off homer from Morales, who entered the day batting just .203 this season.

“I just want to go sit on the couch, man,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.

The decisive stroke came 256 minutes after the first pitch. With one man on and two outs in the bottom of the 13th, Morales saw a 3-2 fastball from Atlanta reliever Jason Grilli and unleashed a violent uppercut of a swing. The baseball jumped off the bat, soaring toward center field.

Upon contact, Morales knew he struck it well, he said, but he did not know if it had enough juice. Seven innings earlier, he had driven a ball to the wall in right field. It died at the warning track.

This time, Morales focused in on the flight of the ball.

“He thought the first one was gone,” said Royals catching coach Pedro Grifol, who translated for Morales. “But it didn’t go.”

This time, the baseball cleared the center field wall, landing an estimated 414 feet from home plate, the fifth homer of the season for Morales and his third walk-off blast. As he circled the bases and turned toward home plate, his teammates were waiting for him, their hands telling him to take it cautiously, an homage to the freak broken leg that Morales suffered while celebrating a walk-off grand slam in 2010.

“Not real good jumping,” Morales said, smiling as Grifol translated.

The 13th inning rally had begun with a single from shortstop Alcides Escobar, who matched a career high with four hits. Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez stuck with left-hander Eric O’Flaherty against Alex Gordon and Eric Hosmer, but with two outs and Escobar on second, Gonzalez summoned Grilli, a right-hander who ensured that the switch-hitting Morales would bat left-handed.

When the day began Morales was batting just .150 (15-for-100) as a left-handed hitter this season.

On Sunday, he located a pitch to drive and didn’t miss.

“A great at-bat there,” Yost said. “Kept fouling off tough pitches until he could get a pitch he could drive over the center field wall.”

The late runs were necessary because Davis could not protect a 2-0 lead in the top of the ninth, blowing his first save since July 12 of last year. In most ways, the sequence defied baseball logic.

Davis had not allowed a run in 2016. He had only surrendered three hits. The Braves scored two runs on three hits and a walk. One of the lightest-hitting offenses in baseball came to life against one of the most bankable relievers in the sport.

“Nothing comes easy,” Yost said.

After Davis blew the save in the ninth, the Royals had just two pitchers remaining in their bullpen: Left-hander Scott Alexander, who had thrown 29 pitches on Saturday night, and right-hander Chien-Ming Wang. The situation seemed dire.

But Alexander displayed his ice-cold demeanor during three scoreless innings while Wang took the win after throwing a scoreless frame in the 14th.

“That’s amazing we came out with a win, especially having two guys left in the bullpen with the day we had,” said Davis, who still appeared frustrated. “Everybody pitched really good.”

More than four hours before the walk-off homer, left-hander Danny Duffy had taken the mound in his first start of the year, tossing three scoreless innings while working with a somewhat strict pitch count of 50 pitches. For the next five innings, Yost passed the baton from reliever to reliever, a gambit that resulted in five scoreless innings before Davis’ human moment in the ninth.

“You hate to say it,” Yost said. “But it’s real demoralizing when you lose a game in the ninth inning. It is, so to be able to come back and win it in the 13th like that, was good medicine for us.”

In that sense, the day was nearly a debacle. The Braves entered the afternoon with a 9-26 record and will likely flirt with 100 losses this season. The Royals had gone 5-13 since a 12-6 start.

But by early Sunday evening, Morales had offered a cathartic reprieve from a blown save. He had bathed in Gatorade, hugged Grifol, then found a quiet corner in a joyous clubhouse.

“A lot of harmony here in the clubhouse,” Grifol said, translating for Morales. “Everybody (is) pulling for each other. We needed a win like this.”

Atlanta AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Markakis dh

5

0

1

0

1

1

.258

Beckham 3b

3

0

0

0

1

1

.295

Brignac ph-3b

2

0

1

0

0

1

.211

Freeman 1b

6

0

1

0

0

3

.277

Flowers c

6

0

1

0

0

4

.241

Francoeur rf

6

0

1

0

0

1

.240

Inciarte lf

5

1

1

0

1

3

.186

d’Arnaud 2b

5

1

2

0

1

1

.316

Smith cf

5

0

1

1

0

1

.239

Castro ss

2

0

0

0

0

0

.190

Johnson ph

1

0

0

0

0

0

.225

Aybar pr-ss

2

0

1

1

0

1

.187

Totals 48

2

10

2

4

17

Kansas City AB

R

H

BI

BB

SO

Avg.

Escobar ss

6

2

4

1

0

1

.264

Gordon lf

5

0

1

0

0

1

.222

Hosmer 1b

6

0

2

1

0

2

.336

Morales dh

6

1

1

2

0

2

.201

Perez c

5

0

1

0

0

0

.234

Cuthbert 3b

5

0

0

0

0

3

.222

Orlando rf

5

0

1

0

0

2

.298

Infante 2b

5

0

1

0

0

0

.236

Dyson cf

4

1

1

0

0

0

.217

Totals 47

4

12

4

0

11

Atlanta

000

000

002

000

0

2

10

0

Kansas City

100

000

010

000

2

4

12

1

Two outs when winning run scored. E—Moylan (1). LOB—Atlanta 12, Kansas City 7. 2B—d’Arnaud (2), Escobar (4), Gordon (5), Hosmer (8), Dyson (4). HR—Morales (5), off Grilli. RBIs—Smith (10), Aybar (5), Escobar (11), Hosmer (17), Morales 2 (16). SB—Escobar (8). S—Smith, Dyson.

Atlanta

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Wisler

7 1/3

8

2

2

0

7

3.14

Cervenka

 1/3

1

0

0

0

1

2.46

Norris

2

1

0

0

0

1

6.40

Krol

 1/3

0

0

0

0

0

3.38

Vizcaino

2

0

0

0

0

1

1.10

O’Flaherty L, 0-3

 2/3

1

1

1

0

1

4.66

Grilli

0

1

1

1

0

0

6.94

Kansas City

IP

H

R

ER

BB

SO

ERA

Duffy

3

1

0

0

2

5

2.57

Moylan

1

0

0

0

0

2

0.00

Flynn

1

0

0

0

0

1

3.86

Hochevar H, 5

1

2

0

0

0

2

3.60

Soria H, 5

1

1

0

0

0

0

4.42

Herrera H, 8

1

1

0

0

0

1

0.98

Davis BS, 1-9

1

3

2

2

1

1

1.42

Alexander

3

1

0

0

0

4

1.59

Wang W, 2-0

1

1

0

0

1

1

3.38

Moylan pitched to 1 batter in the 5th. Inherited runners-scored—Norris 1-0, Krol 1-0, Grilli 1-1, Flynn 1-0. HBP—Krol (Gordon). WP—Cervenka. T—4:16. A—33,861 (37,903).

  Comments