The baseball mosh-pit took place just to the right of second base on Tuesday night. Lorenzo Cain was somewhere near the bottom.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, Cain came through with a two-out, game-winning base hit off Washington Nationals closer Jonathan Papelbon, busting out of an early-season slump and carrying the Royals to an improbable rally in a 7-6 victory on at Kauffman Stadium.
For three of the last four nights, the Royals offense could not score. On Tuesday night, they came up with three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning, escaping from what would have been a painful loss.
The Royals improved to 13-11 entering a series finale on Wednesday afternoon. They kept their heads above water in a throwback comeback.
Trailing 6-4 entering the ninth, the Royals opened the inning with a broken-bat single from Alex Gordon and a line drive down the left field line from Salvador Perez.
Terrance Gore pinch-ran for Perez and stole second on a close play at second base. Mike Moustakas, who was battling a swollen thumb, pinch-hit with one out and singled up the middle, scoring two runs.
That set the stage for Cain, who had struggled for much of April. He came through with a drive to left-center.
The rally rendered the rest of the night moot. The Royals squandering a 3-1 lead? No issue. The defense breaking down in the sixth? No problem.
The specifics: With the Royals leading 3-2, reliever Luke Hochevar had opened the sixth inning by allowing two singles to center, sandwiched around a fly ball to left field. On the second single, Washington’s Ryan Zimmerman sprinted first to third, and center fielder Lorenzo Cain had no throw.
That brought up Ramos, the Nationals’ catcher, who skied a baseball toward the wall in right. Either way, the game was about to be tied, but Dyson couldn’t come down with the baseball, and the Nationals suddenly had runners at second and third with one out.
Washington’s Danny Espinosa followed with an RBI grounder to second base, and Chris Heisey landed a knockout uppercut, tripling off the center field wall to stretch the Nationals’ lead to 5-3.
The Royals surrendered another run in the eighth, when reliever Dillon Gee gave up a homer to designated hitter Jayson Werth. The insurance run provided cushion as the Royals threatened in the bottom of the eighth.
The Royals put runners at first and third with one out after singles from Alcides Escobar and Lorenzo Cain. The offense scratched across just one run after a fielder’s choice from Eric Hosmer and groundout from Kendrys Morales.
Hochevar had escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fifth, coming on with two outs and inducing a grounder from Bryce Harper, last year’s National League MVP. But his first appearance since battling elbow tightness ended with him allowing three runs while taking the loss.
For the second straight day, the Royals were playing without third baseman Mike Moustakas, who was resting a swollen thumb. The offense, which had gone scoreless in three of the last four games, still managed to put three runs in the bottom of the third.
The first run scored after Escobar dropped a single into right-center against Nationals starter Tanner Roark. Hosmer offered the most important hit, coming through with a two-out, two-run single that shot past Nationals second baseman Daniel Murphy.
For a moment, the Royals could forget about their woeful hitting with runners in scoring position — they began the night hovering just over .200 in those clutch situations.
But then Roark settled in and retired 14 of the next 15 Royals hitters. Roark allowed four earned runs before departing with one out in the eighth inning.
The Nationals’ Anthony Rendon had opened the scoring against Royals starter in the top of the first, clubbing a 411-foot homer over the Royals’ bullpen in left field. Rendon, the second batter of the game, saw six pitches as the count went full. He jumped on the seventh — an 89 mph fastball — and sent it soaring to deep left.
Young allowed another homer in the top of the fourth, this time a no-doubt shot from Murphy that landed on the second deck of the party porch in right field.
In his last two starts, Young has allowed just seven hits in 10 innings. But four of those balls have left the yard.
In the end, it did not matter. For one inning, the Royals looked like the Royals again.