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Merrifield sets stage for Mondesi's clutch HR

Royals second baseman pushing for MLB lead in hits, SBs
September 29, 2018

KANSAS CITY -- Of all the Royals having a strong finish to 2018, second baseman Whit Merrifield likely is leading the way.Merrifield had two more hits, two RBIs and two stolen bases on Saturday night in a 9-4 win over the Indians at Kauffman Stadium. Raul Mondesi's three-run home run

KANSAS CITY -- Of all the Royals having a strong finish to 2018, second baseman Whit Merrifield likely is leading the way.
Merrifield had two more hits, two RBIs and two stolen bases on Saturday night in a 9-4 win over the Indians at Kauffman Stadium. Raul Mondesi's three-run home run off Andrew Miller in the sixth broke a 3-3 tie.
The number of accomplishments continue to pile up in Merrifield's young career as he virtually locked up leading the American League in hits and stolen bases. He would become the first Royals player in franchise history to do so. And Merrifield has a good chance to lead the Major Leagues in hits and stolen bases.
Merrifield now has 191 hits, five more than Boston's J.D. Martinez, for the AL lead. Merrifield is tied with Atlanta's Freddie Freeman for the Major League lead. Merrifield also leads the AL in steals with 44, which is six ahead of Tampa Bay's Mallex Smith. And Merrifield is one ahead of Washington's Trea Turner for the MLB lead.

"That would be pretty exciting for me," Merrifield said. "To do it in the whole league, that would be a thrill, especially after the fluke year that I had last year. That's exciting for me. Willie Wilson, Bo Jackson, all these guys that were speed demons that also could hit. The fact that nobody's done that, that'd be pretty cool."
Added manager Ned Yost, "When Mondi got here, Whit really took off, really took off stealing bases. I don't know [if it's a coincidence]. I don't know what it is. It was looking like he wasn't going to lead the league in stolen bases. He is more of an opportunistic base stealer. But he just really took off with Mondi in the lineup."
And with his first-inning single, Merrifield extended his hitting streak to 19 games, tying a career high he set last season.
The Royals were trailing, 3-1, when Merrifield drove a two-out line drive to right, which former Royals outfielder Melky Cabrera misplayed -- Cabrera came in on the ball, then drifted back and the ball clanked off his glove. It was scored a double.
The big blow for the Royals came in the sixth. With two out and Alcides Escobar on second and Merrifield on first, Mondesi pounced on a first-pitch slider from Miller and drove it into the left-center field seats. It was Mondesi's 14th home run in 74 games this season.

"That was a big hit for Mondi," Yost said. "The last six weeks for him has really been special, what he's accomplishing in all phases of the game, offense and defense. The play he made to end the game was unbelievable. Speed, defense, power. Very impressive."
Mondesi's skill set at times simply wows his teammates, too.
"I feed off him," Merrifield said. "I don't know how much feeding he does off me, but I feed off him. He's the most dynamic player I've ever seen. I feed off him for sure."
Mondesi's blast, which traveled a projected 427 feet with an exit velocity of 103 mph, according to Statcast™, made right-hander Jakob Junis a winner in his final start of 2018. Junis gave up seven hits and three runs through the first three innings.
But Junis found his groove after getting a double-play grounder off the bat of Michael Brantley in the fourth. Junis retired the last seven hitters he faced and recorded his team-leading 14th quality start. He walked one and struck out six.
"I'm pretty happy how I finished this September and the whole season," Junis said. "I had a bumpy stretch in the middle, but these last two months, I can't complain. I think I finished strong."
Escobar, who could be finishing out his career with the Royals, had three hits and an RBI.
SOUND SMART
Rookie catcher Meibrys Viloria had his first three-hit game of his big league career.

HE SAID IT
"Nothing he can do. His bat was in the zone. You have to get your bat out of the zone. But you never see a play like that. It's just a freaky play." -- Yost, on the batter interference call on Alex Gordon when Indians catcher Yan Gomes' right hand hit Gordon's bat on Gordon's follow through as he was attempting to throw out a runner at second base. Gordon was ruled out

UP NEXT
Royals left-hander Eric Skoglund (1-5, 5.40 ERA) will start the season finale at 2:15 p.m. CT on Sunday against the Indians at Kauffman Stadium. Skoglund, making his 13th start this season, went 2 1/3 innings on Tuesday in Cincinnati in a rain-shortened start. Since coming back from the disabled list on Sept. 7, Skoglund has a 1.17 ERA. Righty Carlos Carrasco (16-9, 3.35 ERA) will start for the Tribe.

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB.