Mike Moustakas locked his eyes on the diamond as Sunday’s ninth inning began, his body coiled like a spring, his mind unwilling to admit the unlikelihood of him appearing in the game again. With the Royals trailing the Red Sox by two runs, Moustakas was scheduled to bat eighth, and so he watched his team’s subsequent flurry with keen interest.
“I was hoping that it would get to me,” Moustakas said. “If it gets to me, we’re in pretty good shape.”
Even on a day riddled by oddities, the inning opened in bizarre fashion, with second baseman Omar Infante cut down at the plate when third-base coach Mike Jirschele sent him home after a triple near the Green Monster in left field. A pinpoint throw by Boston left fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr., did not deter the Royals. Five of the next six batters reached base against reliever Junichi Tazawa, so when Moustakas stepped into the box, the bases were loaded and the game was tied.
The deciding at-bat of this 8-6 Kansas City victory lasted 10 pitches. Moustakas fouled off six of them, including five in a row before the barrel of his bat blistered a 94-mph fastball into the right-center gap. Two runs scored on Moustakas’ third hit of the day, to go along with his RBI double in the fourth and his solo homer in the sixth.
“Moose, he’s the star for me today offensively,” Yost said, adding, “He just kept battling, kept battling, kept battling, until he got a pitch that he could drive. And didn’t miss it.”
Another out at the plate bookended the frame. Kendrys Morales was thrown out trying to score from first on Moustakas’ hit. So Moustakas pointed to the sky and retreated to the dugout, three outs away from the jubilation of Sunday’s outcome. The Royals salvaged a four-game split at Fenway Park and overcame passive bullpen deployment from Yost.
To set the table for Moustakas, Eric Hosmer had tied the game with a two-run single. The hit altered the narrative of the game, which had previously centered around Yost’s refusal to rescue starter Edinson Volquez in the sixth and the seventh, and then on Bradley’s throw to nab Infante.
Yost operated with a reduced bullpen on Sunday. Luke Hochevar felt sick before the game. Ryan Madson was unavailable due to his recent usage. Yost did not want to use closer Greg Holland, who pitched only twice on this road trip. Wade Davis earned the save in the ninth.
So Yost stuck with Volquez past his expiration date. After yielding two runs in the second, Volquez did not allow a hit until the sixth. Then he allowed a succession: A double by third baseman Pablo Sandoval, a sacrifice fly by slugger David Ortiz, a double by first baseman Travis Shaw, a game-tying single by outfielder Rusney Castillo.
“They made adjustments in the sixth,” Volquez said. “And I left a couple pitches over the plate, and they put good swings on the ball.”
As Volquez wobbled, the bullpen stayed idle. Yost let Volquez start the seventh, where he promptly gave up a go-ahead double to Bradley. At last, Yost turned to lefty Franklin Morales, who threw away a swinging bunt by Sandoval, which allowed a second run to score.
In order to record their 33rd comeback victory of the season, the Royals required a sustained rally against Tazawa. The opening at-bat was not auspicious.
Infante skied the second pitch of the ninth toward the Monster. The ball did not appear to make contact, but Bradley could not locate it. It bounced off the warning track, ticked off Bradley’s hand and rolled toward center. Infante hustled around second and saw Jirschele’s arm waving.
“I really thought when I sent him that he was going to score easily,” Jirschele said. “I really did. But when he came up and threw a missile to home, and it was right there. … Wrong.”
The throw skipped off the grass and into the glove of catcher Ryan Hanigan. Exhausted by the sprint, Infante slid a few feet shy of the plate. The field was muddied after hours of mist and fog. Infante came up short. Hanigan tagged him out.
Despite the circumstances — down two runs, with none out and the top of the lineup soon to bat — Yost did not criticize Jirschele’s decision. He supported his coach.
“Are you going to fire me now?” Jirschele asked after the top of the ninth. “Or after the game?”
“Dude,” Yost responded, “I was screaming, ‘Send him!’ That’s not on you.”
Earlier in the game, the phone line connecting the dugout to the Royals’ replay coordinator, Bill Duplissea, went dead. So Yost challenged the call at the plate as something of a Hail Mary, hoping for the umpires to rule Hanigan had blocked the plate. The review did not help, as the call was upheld.
So Drew Butera came to bat with one out. He guided a single to right. Alcides Esocbar did the same. Escobar was almost picked off on a lineout by Ben Zobrist, and he nearly overran second base on a single by Lorenzo Cain. Despite the skittering process, Kansas City had loaded the bases for Hosmer.
Hosmer fouled off a fastball. He expected Tazawa to follow up with a splitter. Hosmer planned to take the pitch to the opposite field, which he did, shooting a single into left, setting up a chance for Bradley to throw once more.
Butera scored with ease. As Escobar came around, Jirschele did not hesitate. He sent him.
“A good third-base coach will make the defense make the play,” Yost said. “Because eight times out of 10, they’re not going to. You’ve got to make them make the play. You can’t go safety-first all the time.”
Jirschele’s decision paid off. The throw from Bradley drew Hanigan toward the first-base line and Escobar did not even need to slide.
“I knew there was a chance that it could happen again,” Jirschele said. “But I wanted to make him make the play. With two outs there, you’ve got to be aggressive in that situation.”
After Kendrys Morales walked, Moustakas came to bat. In the weeks leading up to this weekend, he watched his statistics plummet. He entered Thursday with a .194 average in his first 31 games in the second half. But he homered that night. After sitting on Friday, he hit an opposite-field single and walked on Saturday.
Moustakas credited a subtle tweak in his approach. He straightened his back and lowered his hands. He wanted to transfer responsibility for his swing from his body to his hands, and let them “command the bat.”
The success carried into Sunday. As he dueled with Tazawa, he waited for a mistake. It arrived in the form of a belt-high fastball. Moustakas laced it, the Royals celebrated and they departed Fenway Park with another victory in their pocket.
The team turned their clubhouse stereo off after their usual postgame celebration. The players ate dinner and watched another game on television. A comeback like this once incited joy. Now it feels routine.
“That’s the thing with this team,” Hosmer said. “You can’t ever count us out until it’s over.”