Kansas City Royals

Royals drop series finale to Indians despite Bubba Starling’s first big-league blast

Bubba Starling’s first homer for the Royals comes in a loss

Kansas City Royals outfielder and former local high school star Bubba Starling's first homer in the majors came in the ninth inning of a 5-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on July 21, 2019.
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Kansas City Royals outfielder and former local high school star Bubba Starling's first homer in the majors came in the ninth inning of a 5-4 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on July 21, 2019.

Royals rookie outfielder Bubba Starling had nothing to work off of, other than a scouting report.

Cleveland Indians closer Brad Hand’s entry into the game typically serves as the signal to drive home safely. At that point, the outcome is a formality and resistance is futile.

Starling, a former fifth overall draft pick and local multisport star at Gardner Edgerton High, kept his plan of attack simple with his team down two in the ninth. Starling wanted to “see it up” and get a good pitch.

Starling saw it up and got all of it. He pulled a 2-2 fastball from Hand over the left-field wall and into the waiting glove of a spectator decked out in Royals gear for the first major-league home run of his brief career. The ball was retrieved after the game.

“I missed a few early on his fastball and wanted to stay on it in case he tried to blow one by me,” Starling said. “I stayed on it and put a good swing on it.”

Unfortunately for Starling and his teammates, that solo homer only pulled the Royals within a run. Despite Starling’s blast, the Royals fell 5-4 in front of an announced 23,564 in the final game of a three-game set at Progressive Field. Hand, voted to his third consecutive All-Star Game this summer, converted his AL-leading 27th save in 28 tries.

The victory gave the Indians (57-41) the series win after the Royals evened it Saturday night. The teams will see each other again very soon. The Royals play two in Atlanta on Tuesday and Wednesday, but then they’ll start a four-game series Thursday against the Indians in Kansas City.

“It was pretty cool,” Starling said of collecting his first homer. “Unfortunately, we came up short there. I’m more worried about wins and losses. Hopefully, we can get ‘em in Atlanta.”

Outfielder Jorge Soler had a standout game both offensively and defensively for the Royals (37-62). He came into the day tied for third in the AL in home runs, and he hit his 27th of the season. Soler, who went 3 for 3, also made a home run-robbing catch.

Cheslor Cuthbert went 2 for 4 with a double and two RBIs.

Royals pitcher Glenn Sparkman put together a career night the previous time he took the mound, checking off his first complete game, first shutout and a career-high in strikeouts July 20.

Sunday, Sparkman (3-6) allowed five runs on nine hits and two walks in 5 2/3 innings. Two of the nine hits he allowed were home runs.

The Royals led 2-0 going into the bottom of third when Humberto Arteaga’s throwing error put the leadoff man on base. Two batters later, Francisco Lindor snapped Sparkman’s scoreless innings streak at 15 when he blasted a two-run home run into the right-field stands to tie the score.

Soler’s catch in the fourth inning, ranging back and to his right before he jumped and reached over the wall in right-center field to snatch a home run away from Jason Kipnis, kept the score tied.

The score stayed that way until the sixth inning, when Jose Ramirez hit a deep drive to right-center field that nobody was bringing back. The solo homer gave the Indians their first lead, and Kevin Plawecki’s RBI single later in the inning made it a 4-2 lead.

“I felt good, was down early in the game — kept everything low in the zone,” Sparkman said. “Even both home runs, they were still under the zone. They’re just good hitters, and they went out there and got them.”

The Indians tacked on another run with two outs in the fourth. First baseman Lucas Duda jumped and unsuccessfully tried to haul in a high chopper hit by Lindor.

However, second baseman Whit Merrifield darted over and snared the ball up the first-base line. Merrifield quickly wheeled and threw to first, but Duda was turned away and not looking for the throw, which sailed past him.

While it went down as a single, the throw appeared as though it would’ve been in time to get the runner for the third out of the inning. Oscar Mercado followed with an RBI single, which marked the end of the day for Sparkman, and the Indians took a 5-2 lead into the seventh inning.

Cuthbert’s RBI single in the eighth got the Royals within two runs, 5-3. Starling’s homer closed the scoring in the ninth.

Royals manager Ned Yost downplayed the idea that the Duda play cost the club a run after the game.

“(Duda) just took for granted that the ball was down the line and got by him,” Yost said. “He just didn’t even think that Whit would be there. … I don’t know if he would’ve made the play to begin with. Whit grabbed it and threw it to the inside. I don’t know if he would’ve made the play to be honest.”

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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.