In the bottom of Tuesday’s eighth inning, as the Royals prepared to complete a 3-2 victory over the Orioles, a solitary reliever rose and occupied a bullpen. For the second time in three days, Wade Davis would pitch the ninth inning in place of closer Greg Holland.
Manager Ned Yost had revealed on Monday that Holland suffered from a “cranky” right arm, which manifested in the form of stiffness in his elbow and shoulder. Holland has not pitched since Saturday, when he initially requested a day of rest but eventually completed an eight-pitch, one-out save. Yost decided to practice caution with Holland on Tuesday.
“He could have pitched tonight,” Yost said. “But when you feel good, I want to give you one extra day [to rest]. We’ve got the guys down there that can cover the load.”
These are the luxuries afforded a first-place club cruising toward home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. When their closer is unavailable, the Royals can turn to another All-Star reliever.
Davis finished Sunday’s victory in Boston. Two days later, he stepped into Holland’s place again. He dispatched all three batters he faced, striking out a pair, for a spotless ninth.
Yost insisted on Monday that Holland’s unavailability should not incite alarm. He did not require an MRI on his arm, Yost said. As Holland convalesced, so did fellow reliever Ryan Madson, who has also not pitched since Saturday. Madson is unlikely to pitch on Wednesday, Yost said.
With neither reliever available on Tuesday, the Royals (77-48) still did not miss a step. The outcome lacked drama, but Kansas City did not mind. Yost managed his 900th game as a Royal. The victory pulled his record here to 450-450, an impressive feat considering his record at the helm heading into 2013 was 198-253.
“I think that’s cool,” Yost said. “Did I ever sit and really want to get the record back to .500? Yeah. Because that meant that we were winning a lot of games.”
Danny Duffy (7-6, 4.13 ERA) allowed two runs in 5 2/3 innings, with Luke Hochevar replacing him for the last out of the sixth. Duffy struck out five.
“I was working my fastball really well,” Duffy said. “It had a lot of life today.”
Kendrys Morales opened the scoring with a massive home run in the second inning. Mike Moustakas capped a two-run rally in the third with an RBI single.
Duffy returned to action after an inefficient outing in Boston over the weekend. Through three innings that day, Duffy threw 78 pitches. He managed to complete five frames, but Yost lamented Duffy’s inability to discover any consistency before the fourth inning.
“He just has to find a rhythm to it,” Yost said before Tuesday’s game. “You go out and execute your pitches. Don’t over-throw. You just stay in your delivery and execute your pitches with your good stuff.”
On Tuesday Duffy found a brisker pace. He needed only 42 pitches to complete three innings. He yielded only one hit. Along the way, he twice struck out Manny Machado, Baltimore’s 23-year-old wunderkind at third base.
The Royals also handed Duffy a one-run advantage in the second. Morales pulverized an elevated fastball from Baltimore right-hander Miguel Gonzalez. The ball landed in the fountains in right-center field.
Inside the dugout, Eric Hosmer saw the splash, looked over at Ben Zobrist and winced. Zobrist laughed and shook his head. The estimated distance on the homer was 429 feet.
Zobrist started a rally of his own an inning later with a walk. He took the free pass for the 14th time in 24 games as a Royal. When Cain reached a full count against Gonzalez, Zobrist broke for second with the pitch and sprinted to third on Cain’s groundball single.
Hosmer brought Zobrist home with a groundout to second base. But the critical part of the play occurred in the middle of the base paths, where Cain hit the brakes to prevent running into an out. His pause allowed Zobrist the time to score. Cain managed to break for second before the Orioles could tag him out.
“I was just trying to slide in, get underneath the tag,” Cain said. “Fortunately I got in under. It ended up being the winning run. So it was definitely nice to have.”
The night before, the Royals unleashed a seven-run deluge on Orioles starter Ubalado Jimenez, all with two outs in the sixth inning. Kansas City led all big-league clubs in two-out hitting heading into Tuesday, with a .284 batting average and a .437 slugging percentage.
After Hosmer grounded out, the batters created another run. Morales walked. Moustakas continued his recent revival by punching a curveball into left to plate Cain.
The Orioles returned the favor in the fourth. A two-run sequence began in the most infuriating sort of fashion for Duffy – with a two-out walk. After dusting off outfielder Adam Jones and first baseman Chris Davis to start the frame, Duffy put former All-Star catcher Matt Wieters at first base on five pitches.
“The first 3 2/3 innings, he was fantastic,” Yost said. “Then he ended up walking a hitter, and he kind of lost his concentration.”
Duffy gave up singles to the next three batters he faced. Steve Pearce pounced on a slider. Caleb Joseph brought home Baltimore’s first run when he lined a 96-mph fastball. Jonathan Schoop rolled a grounder through the left side of the infield to cut Kansas City’s advantage to one.
Two innings later, the lead appeared in peril. Wieters hit a one-out single and Duffy grazed Pearce with an inside fastball. Yost let Duffy face one more batter, and Duffy picked up a groundball out. In came Hochevar.
Joseph smacked a fly to right field, but Alex Rios tracked it down for the third out. The bullpen carousel had begun to spin. When Hochevar gave up a two-out double an inning later, Yost sent in Herrera.
The matchup pitted Herrera, a first-time All-Star, against a fellow All-Star, outfielder Adam Jones.
“I was just trying to throw the ball down in the zone,” Herrera said. “Trying to get bad contact from him.”
Herrera never needed contact. Jones swung through all three of Herrera’s fastballs. The last registered at 100 mph. Herrera came back out for the eighth, then turned over the lead to Davis in the ninth. The outcome was never in doubt.
“That’s what they do,” Yost said. “That’s what they do so well. And they did it again tonight.”