KANSAS CITY, Mo. – After downing St. Louis 5-0 on Friday evening, Kansas City claimed the best record in the major leagues at 27-14. The mark is temporary, but it only reinforces their might.
The Royals cast themselves as underdogs during their jaunt to the World Series last season. They relied on scrap and pluck. They manufactured runs and clenched their knuckles white en route to victory. The team expected to maintain this veneer as they defended their American League crown in 2015.
The events of this season’s first quarter have shattered that narrative. You cannot call yourself an underdog when you stand atop the 29 other clubs in baseball. After downing St. Louis 5-0 on Friday evening, the Royals claimed the best record in the major leagues at 27-14. The mark is temporary, but it only reinforces their might.
The Royals retained all the elements of their October run. Friday reinforced all that they have added as they captured the first game of the I-70 Series. Their new designated hitter, Kendrys Morales, blasted two home runs and supplied all of the Kansas City offense. One of their new starters, Chris Young, blanked the Cardinals. Their bullpen is deeper than before, with Franklin Morales and Ryan Madson each contributing scoreless innings.
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In all, the team has allowed just one run in the last 36 innings. The performance from Young continued a string of useful starts. Young, 4-0 with an 0.78 ERA, ducked and dodged for six more scoreless innings. In four outings as a starter, across 22 2/3 innings, he has allowed only one earned run. On Friday he overcame shaky command and stranded seven Cardinals.
He relied upon his 85-mph fastball and accompanying slider to fool his opponents. Young possesses an uncanny knack for missing the barrel of a bat. Infielders caught eight pop flies during his stay. The last came with two outs in the sixth, when first baseman Eric Hosmer settled beneath a harmless parachute fluttering into foul territory.
The club shuffled its rotation hours before the game to deal with Danny Duffy’s bout of shoulder stiffness. Duffy felt uncomfortable during a bullpen session on Thursday. The team scratched him from his start today and scheduled him to pitch Tuesday at Yankee Stadium. Edinson Volquez will start in Duffy’s place and Yordano Ventura will start on Sunday. Volquez and Ventura learned about the switch during a meeting at 3:45 p.m.
A few hours later, waves of fans in blue and red filtered into the stands. This ballpark has played host to a renaissance to start the season. In the first 21 home games, the stadium averaged 10,250 more fans per game than in 2014. The club could break its record for attendance, 2,477,700, set in 1989.
“Our fans, they’re special,” general manager Dayton Moore said. “From Day 1, they’ve been incredibly supportive. We’re just really glad that we’re able to put a product on the field that they can enjoy. Because they’re responding.”
Royals fans outnumbered Cardinals on Friday evening. The first inning offered a chance to differentiate. The partisans in red sat on their hands as Morales’ drive soared over the right-field fence. Those in blue jumped to their feet.
The rally started four batters earlier. Alcides Escobar opened the inning with his sixth walk of the season. Lorenzo Cain stroked a single to right.
With two outs, Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn flirted with the outer edge of the strike zone. His first five pitches veered away from Morales. His sixth did not. Morales walloped the 93-mph fastball.
The St. Louis lineup posed a challenge for Young. The Cardinals are a well-rounded bunch. They compensate for a lack of power with the ability to take walks and spoil good pitches. Young yielded two broken-bat singles in the first three innings.
The second of those led off the third. Kolten Wong dumped a single into right. Young could not touch the outside half of the plate in a walk to All-Star infielder Matt Carpenter. Up came Matt Holliday, St. Louis’ 35-year-old outfield cornerstone.
Young fooled Holliday with a slider at his shoes. Holliday chopped a grounder toward third base. Mike Moustakas tagged the bag and completed the double-play peg to first. Two pitches later, first baseman Matt Adams flied out to right. Young maintained the scoreless ledger.
In the bottom of the inning, Lynn made another mistake to Morales. After Cain hit a single, Lynn flipped a slider over the heart of the plate. Morales unloaded for his second home run of the night. He became the first Royal to deliver a pair of homers in one game since Erik Kratz did it last Aug. 18.
Wong and Carpenter pestered Young again in the fifth. Wong accepted a one-out walk, and Carpenter dropped a bunt for a hit. Once again, Young faced Holliday with two on. This time Holliday lofted a fastball to the right-field warning track for the second out. With the count full against Adams, Young threw a slider in the dirt. Adams failed to check his swing and Young escaped once more.