KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The moments piled up, one after another, in Kansas City’s storm of a sixth inning on Monday: The crash-landing of Mike Moustakas’ game-tying two-run homer off advertising signage in right field. Omar Infante craning his neck upward as his two-run triple splashed into center. Mike Jirschele wheeling his arm to send Infante home after a throwing error.
And, at last, the number “7” flashing on the Kauffman Stadium scoreboard, signifying the number of runs scored in the definitive inning of an 8-3 lightning strike against the Orioles. The day prior, the Royals (76-48) unleashed a four-run blitz to steal a game from the Red Sox. This time they terrorized another American League East opponent to open a four-game series.
“That’s what this offense is capable of,” Moustakas said. “We never quit. We’re capable of doing a lot of damage with two outs. I think we proved that tonight.”
All seven runs occurred with two outs. The flurry converted Kris Medlen from a hard-luck loser into a winner in his first start as a Royal. His night finished after the top of the sixth, and he retreated to the Kansas City dugout to watch his teammates batter Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez.
Moustakas stepped to the plate with Eric Hosmer at third base. On Sunday, Moustakas delivered the go-ahead strike against Boston. Now he detonated a fastball from Jimenez for his 14th homer in 2015. The crowd howled his nickname as Moustakas crossed the plate.
Salvador Perez kept the rally alive with a single. Alex Rios whacked a double into left field, but Jirschele, the third-base coach, elected to hold Perez, a plodding runner, at third. So the Royals turned to Infante, their weakest hitter. Orioles manager Buck Showalter stuck with Jimenez.
The matchup benefited Kansas City. Infante lofted a flyball over the head of center fielder Adam Jones. Both runs scored. A relay throw from second baseman Jonathan Schoop bounced away, and Jirschele sent Infante home. This time, unlike on Sunday, no miraculous throw could stop him at the plate. Infante added another triple in the eighth.
“That’s three triples in the last two games for Omar,” manager Ned Yost said. “Good to see him swinging the bat.”
As insurance, Lorenzo Cain notched a two-run single three batters later. In the first five innings of the game, the Royals managed four hits and one run. The sixth inning burst the contest open and made Medlen a winner.
On Oct. 3, 2013, the last time he stood on a big-league mound as a starting pitcher with Atlanta, Medlen already classified as a baseball survivor. He had transformed himself from a junior-college infielder to an undersized minor-league reliever to a reliable major-league starter. As he faced Los Angeles in the National League Division Series, a ligament from his hamstring stood in place of his right elbow’s failed ulnar collateral ligament.
On Monday, 690 days later, as he made his first start for Kansas City, Medlen had only strengthened his case. Now a ligament from his right wrist occupied the crucial space in his elbow, the recipient of the second Tommy John surgery that cost him the entirety of the 2014 season and left him available to the Royals this past winter.
“I’ve said it every interview I’ve done: I’m so thankful for the opportunity to be part of this team,” Medlen said.
In his first audition for a spot in this team’s playoff rotation, Medlen intrigued with his potential. He struck out six and walked none. The Orioles victimized him with a pair of big hits, a two-run home run in the first inning and an RBI double in the fourth, but otherwise Medlen operated swiftly and effectively.
His efficiency allowed him to extend his night. Manager Ned Yost did not intend to let Medlen throw many more than 70 pitches. Medlen required 69 to complete the six frames, enough for a quality start.
Over the weekend, Yost removed Jeremy Guthrie and his 5.65 ERA from the starting rotation. Medlen will stretch himself out to 100-pitch limit during his next two or three outings, pitching coach Dave Eiland said.
“I know it’s going to be an adjustment for him,” Yost said. “We’ve got to get (his pitch count) built up. But we’ll see. I’m intrigued.”
Medlen asked Eiland not to tell him how many pitches he would be allowed to throw on Monday. He intended to challenge his opponents, regardless.
Medlen chose a fastball for his first offering. The radar gun clocked the pitch at 92 mph. The baseball never reached the glove of catcher Salvador Perez.
Manny Machado, a budding superstar, blasted the ball toward the center-field wall. Cain gloved the baseball, crashed into the fence and rolled onto his back with the baseball in his bare hand. Stunned by the display, Machado tipped his helmet to Cain.
Inside the Baltimore dugout, manager Buck Showalter was less impressed. He challenged the call. A replay proved him right: Cain never held onto the ball with his glove, as he let it bounce into the wall before wrapping it up in his arms like a football. The umpires awarded Machado a double.
“It came out of my glove,” Cain said. “I had it, and it came out. Next thing I knew, I was hitting the wall. I looked down, and the ball was in my chest. So I actually didn’t see it hit the wall, until I saw the replay.”
The Orioles do not lack aggression. On the first pitch of the game’s third at-bat, Medlen flipped a curveball on the inner half of the plate to Adam Jones. The pitch dipped toward the shins, but Jones hammered it anyway. His two-run shot cleared the left-field fence and bounced off the top of the fountains.
“It felt terrible coming out of my hand,” Medlen said. “It was one of those ones that you know he’s going to smack once you let it go.”
Kansas City cut the deficit in the half in the third, thanks to singles by Ben Zobrist and Cain. Cain looped an opposite-field hit over the head of first baseman Chris Davis. Zobrist read the ball’s flight and legged his way to third. He placed himself in position to score on Hosmer’s subsequent RBI groundout.
The Orioles returned the favor in the fourth. Medlen tried his curveball again with Jones. This time, Jones only singled. When a changeup to designated hitter Steve Clevenger bisected the plate, Clevenger smacked a run-scoring double.
From there, Medlen gave up no more hits. His teammates came through immediately after his exit.
“He gave up a couple early runs, and then pretty much shut them down after that,” Moustakas said. “You can’t ask for much more from a guy in his first start in two, three years. He came out and gave us a chance to win. I think that’s all he wanted to do. He did a fantastic job for us.”