Kansas City Royals

Whit Merrifield’s 10th-inning single saves the day in series finale with the Yankees

Despite the New York Yankees’ six-run rally, including a three-run ninth inning, and despite the Royals leaving the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, doom and gloom never penetrated the home dugout at Kauffman Stadium.

The Royals just needed one fortunate play or bad hop to make something happen. One break to walk off with a win and put a little hop in their step as they walk onto a flight to Chicago for a Monday afternoon game with a division rival.

“We knew we were still in it and, obviously, had a chance,” Royals center fielder Billy Hamilton said. “That’s just something about this team that I really like, we’re going to keep battling to the end. We never once got down once they tied the game up. In that situation, that’s big. You could hear the dugout saying, ‘We’re not out of it.’”

It was all within reach. First they needed someone to get on base.

The lightning-fast Hamilton, having gone 1-for-4 with three strikeouts, drew a one-out walk to light the fuse that led to Whit Merrifield’s walk-off RBI single for an extra-inning win as the Royals beat the Yankees 8-7 in front of an announced 21,499 at Kauffman Stadium, avoiding a three-game sweep.

Hamilton went to the plate in the 10th inning with one thing in mind.

“Definitely not to strike out,” Hamilton said. “I had three of them today. As a player you know for a fact that if you had that many strikeouts, it’s in the back of your head. I don’t care if you say it’s not at all. It’s definitely in the back of your head. My main goal right there was just do whatever I can do to get on base.”

Hamilton stole second base on the first pitch of Nicky Lopez’s at-bat. Hamilton now has 10 stolen bases this season, second-most on the team behind American League leader Adalberto Mondesi.

Lopez ripped a ball on the ground down the third-base line that Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela made a great play to snag and then threw across the diamond to get Lopez for the second out.

Merrifield smoked a two-out rocket down the third base line that took a sharp hop, veered up and over Urshela and bounded into left field. It went plenty far enough for the speedster Hamilton to score from second base.

“The old saying better lucky than good,” Merrifield said. “That just worked out for us today. That hop went our way. He made a nice play on Nicky’s ball to save the game at the time, but it’s nice to have one bounce our way for once.”

Merrifield had gone 0-for-5 going into his crucial at-bat, but he caught the pitch from Yankees reliever Jonathan Holder just right to power it down the line with the perfect amount of spin.

“I pounded it right into the ground. It was a pretty poor swing, but I’ll take it,” Merrifield said before giving a shout-out to senior director of groundskeeping Trevor Vance.

Martin Maldonado, Hunter Dozier, Jorge Soler and Ryan O’Hearn each hit home runs as the Royals built a 7-1 lead through five innings.

The Royals succeeded in getting to one of the hottest starting pitchers in baseball, Yankees right-hander Domingo German. German entered the day with just one loss in nine previous starts (10 appearances), that having come against the Royals on April 18. He led the majors with nine wins.

German allowed five home runs in 10 appearances — not an outrageous number in homer-happy Yankee Stadium — but the Royals smacked German around for four homers in five innings.

Royals starter Danny Duffy allowed four runs on five hits and one walk in six innings, though he allowed only one earned run.

A Mondesi error with two outs extended the sixth inning and led to a three-run home run by Yankees shortstop Gleyber Torres. That home run made the score 7-4.

Royals relievers Wily Peralta and Jake Diekman held the Yankees scoreless in the seventh and eighth innings.

However, Ian Kennedy gave up three ninth-inning runs on four hits (all singles) and a walk to tie the score. The first run came on a DJ LeMahieu RBI single with two outs. Kennedy then walked slugger Luke Voit to load the bases.

With the lead down to two runs with the bases loaded and two outs, Aaron Hicks’ ground ball through the right side scored two runs to tie the score, 7-7.

“You want your pitchers to come in and get ground balls,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “That’s just about exactly what he did. We just weren’t in a position — and it wasn’t anybody’s fault — they were positioned perfectly, but we just weren’t in a spot to catch them.”

The tie remained until Merrifield’s RBI single in the 10th inning.

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Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Royals and Major League Baseball for The Star. A native of the Northeast, he’s covered high school, collegiate and professional sports for The Lowell Sun, Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin, Allentown Morning Call and The Salt Lake Tribune. He’s won awards for sports features and sports columns.