With perhaps the most-dominant pitcher currently on the planet, Max Scherzer, set to start against the Royals on Saturday, it behooved them to make the most of their scoring opportunities on Friday night in the nation’s capital.
A pair of two-run innings and three hits with runners in scoring position in the first five innings gave the Royals a lead to work with, and they stifled a Washington Nationals team that had won 8 of 10, four in a row and logged the best record in the majors since May 24.
Well, the Royals appeared to stifle the Nationals ... until the ninth inning. Royals closer Ian Kennedy, who’d converted nine consecutive save chances and 10 of his last 11, gave up two runs in the bottom of the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
The Nationals missed out on a chance to get the winning run in from third with one out in the 10th, and the Royals scored three runs in the 11th — two unearned runs courtesy of a throwing error — to steal a 7-4 win in the opening game of a three-game set in front of an announced 25,213 in a 4-hour, 40-minute contest at Nationals Park on Friday night.
While Royals pitchers walked 11 batters, the Nationals (45-42) stranded 19 men on base.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen that before,” Royals left fielder Alex Gordon said of the 19 men left on base by the Nationals. “We gave them chances to get runs in. I guess good for us for stepping up and making the pitches count when we needed them.”
Kennedy gave up hits to the first three batters of the ninth, including a Ryan Zimmerman RBI double that caromed off the third base bag and into the left field corner, to pull the hosts within a run. The next batter, Brian Dozier hit an RBI single to right-center field which allowed Zimmerman to score the tying run on a close play at the plate.
The Royals’ half of the 11th started off with an infield single by Nicky Lopez, a single by Martin Maldonado after a failed bunt attempt, and then Terrance Gore got hit by pitch while in the batter’s box with the sole purpose of laying down a sacrifice bunt. Adalberto Mondesi’s RBI single put the Royals ahead 5-4, then Alex Gordon’s dribbler toward first base resulted in a wild throw to the plate by Zimmerman.
Maldonado and Gore, who subbed into the game in the 10th inning, scored on the throwing error to give the Royals (30-59) a three-run cushion going into the bottom of the 11th as some Nationals fans started filing out of the ballpark. Wily Peralta pitched a scoreless 11th inning.
“It was big for us, especially after yesterday kinda giving up the lead and then giving it up again today,” Gordon said. “We could’ve put our heads down and took a loss. Give us credit for putting together a good inning and making something happen.”
Royals starting pitcher Brad Keller came one strike away from having made it through six complete innings. With two outs and a 3-2 count on Yan Gomes, Keller throw a ball outside to Gomes. That marked his 111th and last pitch of the night.
Kevin McCarthy gave up a hit to load the bases, but then got a harmless inning-ending bouncer back to the mound for the final out of the sixth. The Royals held a 4-1 lead at that point.
In the seventh after McCarthy gave up a pair of walks and an RBI double, Royals manager Ned Yost turned to left-hander Tim Hill with runners on second and third. Hill hit pinch hitter Victor Robles with the first pitch to load the bases.
That’s when Yost summoned Jake Newberry from the bullpen. Newberry, who’d given up six earned runs on five walks and 14 hits in his previous 11.1 innings, struck out slugger Matt Adams (13 home runs, 36 RBIs) swinging to end the threat and get the Royals out of the inning.
Jake Diekman pitched a scoreless eighth inning out of the Royals bullpen, and Kennedy struggled in the ninth to send the game into extra innings which pressed Brian Flynn and Peralta into action out of the bullpen.
“We had a lot of guys I didn’t want to use today,” Yost said. “Newberry got a big out for us. I didn’t want to use Wily for the third straight day but he was up to it.”
Offensively, Mondesi led the way for the Royals. He went 3 for 6 with two RBIs, two runs scored, a double, triple and a stolen base. Alex Gordon (2 for 5, RBI) and Jorge Soler (2 for 4, RBI) also had two hits apiece and drove in at least one run.
“We kept fighting,” Yost said. “There was a lot of stuff that could have slowed you down but they kept after it. We made some big pitches.