KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The man treats moments like they are his stage, and his stage alone: Two on, two out, a baseball game on the line? The Kansas City Royals could do worse than turn to Kendrys Morales.
In the final at-bat of a 4-3 victory in 10 innings over the Angels, Morales did what he has done more than any other Royal this season: He drove in a run. It took a single to left field off Los Angeles reliever Trevor Gott. As the ball settled into the grass, Ben Zobrist raced home from second to complete a stirring comeback.
The Royals had tied the game in the previous frame. Now they walked off, joyous, to complete a 10-game home stand marked by eight victories. Kansas City took three of four from the Angels this weekend.
In the ninth, Kansas City benefited from the inaccuracy of Angels closer Huston Street. Street issued a leadoff walk to Eric Hosmer and then intentionally walked Mike Moustakas in order to face Drew Butera, who was batting in place of the ejected Salvador Perez. Except Butera walked, Alex Rios hit a sacrifice fly and the Royals tied the game.
They nearly won it in the next at-bat. Paulo Orlando lashed a drive into the right-center gap. He raised his arms as he ran down the line, sure the ball would fall for a hit. Instead Mike Trout ripped the ball out of the sky, tumbling into the grass as he did, ushering this game into extra innings.
The night nearly grated on them. Wade Davis paid for a hanging curveball to outfielder Kole Calhoun in the eighth inning of a tied game. Before a game against Toronto on Aug. 1, Davis had not given up a home run since Aug. 24, 2013. Now he has given up two in his last four appearances.
An inning earlier, Perez argued with umpire Quinn Wolcott, furious at Wolcott’s calling of balls and strikes, and received the first ejection of his career.
The offense lay fallow after the first inning, and the team nearly wasted a seven-inning, two-run effort from Yordano Ventura. Ventura gave up two runs in the sixth, unable to hold an early advantage, but he struck out seven.
A national audience gazed upon Kansas City during the game. ESPN chose to feature this contest for “Sunday Night Baseball.” The Royals (70-47) treated it like any other evening. Yost declared batting practice optional, as he has for the majority of this home stand, in hopes of saving energy for October.
These past 10 days provided an instructive course of the Royals’ plans for the final seven weeks of the regular season. Yost has managed like there is a tomorrow, with conservative usage of his bullpen and an increased interest in resting his regulars. And yet the team continues to win — in almost every game, they are the most talented team on the field.
That reality held during these 10 games against the White Sox, Tigers and Angels. The two losses felt like flukes. Yost declined to remove Edinson Volquez at a perilous juncture against Detroit, operating in a passive fashion that would seem inconceivable in the playoffs. Davis and Greg Holland combusted a night later and to waste a four-run lead.
On Sunday, both teams combated the malleable strike zone of Wolcott. It was not the best weekend for Wolcott. Three of his calls in the field were overturned before Sunday’s game even began. Then both clubs suffered from balls that were called strikes, and vice versa.
The inconsistency led Perez to berate Wolcott after a strikeout in the seventh. Yost ran out to break up the argument, but he arrived moments too late. Wolcott tossed Perez. The frustration would only build from there.
The first inning presented a rematch between Ventura and Trout, the reigning American League MVP. Back in April, Ventura jawed with Trout during a game at Angel Stadium, which served as a prologue for Ventura’s bizarre, early-season foray into ill-tempered outbursts and ill-timed suspensions.
Their return encounter produced no histrionics. Ventura retired Trout on two pitches in the first inning. Trout flied out to right field. When the two tangled again in the fourth, the Royals led by two.
Kansas City produced a first-inning rally in typical fashion. Alcides Escobar smacked Hector Santiago’s first pitch of the night for a single. Zobrist stung a liner to left field. Out there stood former Royal David DeJesus, who misjudged the ball’s flight. The RBI double cleared his head.
Zobrist moved to third on a grounder by Lorenzo Cain. Angels manager Mike Scioscia shifted his infielders closer to the plate, looking to smother any grounders and prevent the second run. Instead, Hosmer rolled a single past shortstop Erick Aybar. Hosmer drove in a run in his 10th consecutive game, which is the longest such streak in the majors this season.
Handed a lead, Ventura cruised until the sixth. He allowed only two hits in his first four frames. DeJesus doubled in the third inning and took third on a passed ball. Ventura responded by striking out catcher Chris Iannetta with a 99-mph fastball. He picked up a grounder off the bat of another former Royal, Johnny Giavotella, to end the inning.
Ventura defused another threat two innings later. He gave up a leadoff single to Aybar. He walked Iannetta two batters later. Up came Giavotella once again. Giavotella could only produce a grounder to second base, unable to drive another 99-mph heater from Ventura.
But Ventura stumbled in the sixth. Calhoun smashed a leadoff triple. Trout had a chance to drive in Calhoun, but Ventura took care of that for him. He bounced a cutter in the wrong batter’s box, and Calhoun scored on the wild pitch.
Ventura did not fold. He composed himself in time to stun Trout with a curveball, who stared at the bender for the third strike. A groundout by first baseman Albert Pujols left Ventura one out away from retaining the lead.
It was not to be. David Murphy drove a hanging change-up into the right-field seats to tie the game. Ventura recovered to log seven innings.