The Kansas City Royals know a thing or two about come-from-behind victories, but Francisco Lindor and the Indians turned the tables on the Royals on Thursday night, plating two runs in the bottom of ninth for a stunning 5-4 walk off victory.
Most impressively, the Royals entered the game with the best bullpen in the Major Leagues – by far.
KC’s bullpen ERA this season is 2.39, well ahead of runner-up Washington at 2.63. In their last 6-0 home stand, the resurgent Royal’s pen allowed just three runs in 18.2 innings for a 1.45 ERA. The team also had a 1.51 ERA from their bullpen since May 10th, allowing 12 earned runs over 71.1 innings.
Just not tonight.
Mike Napoli kick-started the comeback with a lead-off single in the eighth against Kelvin Herrera, who came into the game with a 1.04 ERA (3 ER in 26 IP) and has held righties to a .163 average this year (8-for-49). After Yan Gomes narrowly avoided a double-play ball to put runners on the corners with two out, rookie Tyler Naquin singled to right to score Napoli to get the Tribe within a run.
Tommy Hunter, who got a huge double-play ball to escape a Royals rally in the top of the eighth, then set the Royals down in order in the ninth to set the stage for the Indians’ rally.
Let’s take a brief detour to examine the Royals’ recent history of comebacks.
2015 World Series Game 1 against the Mets – Alex Gordon hits a game-tying home run in the bottom of the ninth, and the Royals win 5-4 in 14 innings.
2015 World Series Game 4 against Mets – The Royals plate three in the top of the eighth to turn a 3-2 deficit into a 5-3 victory.
2015 World Series Game 5 against Mets – The Royals score two in the top of the ninth to tie and ruin a hero’s night by Matt Harvey. They score five more in the twelfth to win the Series.
2015 ALCS Game 2 against Blue Jays – The Royals score six runs in the seventh and eighth to win the game 6-3 and take a commanding 2-0 series lead en route to their second straight World Series appearance.
2015 Division Series Game 4 against Astros – Six outs away from losing the series, the Royals rally for seven runs in the last two innings to turn a 6-2 deficit into a 9-6 defeat.
2014 Wild Card Game – Someday someone will write a book about this game. The greatest “what if” game in recently baseball history. The Royals trail 7-3 heading into the eighth in the one game play-in. They score three in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie. They give up a run in the twelfth but score two to advance to the next round and eventually their first World Series in 30 years. How different baseball would be if they didn’t come back.
Anyway, it’s 2016 and on June 2, 2016, it was the Royals’ turn to watch the comeback unfold.
Regular Royals’ closer Wade Davis had the night off and was replaced tonight by Joakim Soria, who has 203 saves in his own nine year career. But Carlos Santana greeted Soria with a single and advanced to second on an error by the right fielder Paulo Orlando, ironically just inserted for defense,
A bunt by Jason Kipnis moved Santana to third and Lindor then bashed a triple past a diving Orlando to not only tie the game but put the winning run only 90 feet away. Napoli then finished what he started – scoring Lindor with a sacrifice fly and giving the Indians their second consecutive walk-off victory.
Carrasco returned after over a month off to recover from a hamstring strain and was, well, adequate. Limited to 80 pitches in his return, Carrasco pitched through a few jams and allowed nine hits over five innings, along with three runs allowed. Carrasco brought easy mid-90 heat on his fastball, though, and will be a welcome addition to the rotation.
Tonight’s win cooled off a red hot Royals squad and put the Indians four games above .500 and 1.5 games behind KC in the AL Central. Something tells me this battle, along with the Tigers and White Sox, will continue back and forth all summer.