Lopez tosses eight perfect innings in stellar win
Starter falls three outs shy of first perfect game in franchise history
MINNEAPOLIS -- The celebration could be heard from outside the closed door of the visiting clubhouse at Target Field as the Royals screamed the name of one of their newest teammates over and over with music blaring.
Lopez flirted with perfection on Saturday and nearly made history as he walked away with the best start of his young career.
After eight perfect innings, Lopez walked the leadoff batter in the ninth and surrendered a hit to the following batter in a dazzling 4-1 win over the Twins. Bret Saberhagen had thrown the most recent no-hitter by a Royals pitcher when he blanked the White Sox on Aug. 26, 1991, and Lopez nearly hurled the fifth in franchise history. Kansas City has never had a perfect game.
• Perfect games broken up in 9th inning or later
"It's a dream come true," Lopez said. "I feel like we did everything offensively and defensively. … I think my heart accelerated a little but it was just hard to finish. But it was good."
He walked Max Kepler to lead off the ninth, and Robbie Grossman followed with a single.
"I was just looking to have a good at-bat and give my team a chance to do something," Kepler said. "We're yelling in the dugout to jinx it. I definitely had some extra adrenaline running through me, because I was excited for him. It's the ninth inning, you want to get down and dirty and grind out a good at-bat for your team."
"First of all, the kid pitched a great game," Grossman said. "We didn't want to end up on the wrong side of history. I'm glad I got the hit and at least give us a chance at the end."
With Lopez at 110 pitches, Royals manager Ned Yost came out to get his starter, and Lopez exited to a standing ovation from the Target Field crowd. Wily Peralta came on in relief and surrendered a sacrifice fly to Ehire Adrianza before recording the final two outs.
"I just sat there," Yost said. "I didn't want to move. My heart started pounding, I think, in about the eighth inning. … I didn't want to get Peralta up as long as he had the perfect game going. As soon as he walked the first hitter, I got Wily up in case he lost the no-hitter."
Making Lopez's outing more impressive, he struck out just four batters and relied on generating soft contact from Twins batters.
"I think for him tonight, it was everything. Every pitch," Royals catcher Salvador Perez said. "He didn't miss high today. He was missing the corner, off for the fastball two-seamer, the slider. The curveball was a great key today for him. So it was completely every pitch tonight."
In his previous outing on Sept. 2, Lopez was extremely effective, in large part because he was able to generate a ton of swings and misses. Lopez drew six whiffs with his slider alone, and 12 in total that day, while notching eight strikeouts. On Saturday, though, Lopez generated just six swings and misses as the Twins put 21 balls in play.
"He threw the ball really well tonight, but he threw the ball just as well in his last start," Yost said. "I don't really see much different except we made some plays and he didn't give up a hit until the ninth inning. ... He wasn't getting the swings and misses, which is good, because that helps his pitch economy stay down. You're getting three- and four-pitch decisions, and it puts you in a position to go out in the ninth inning under 100 pitches."
While Minnesota starter Jose Berrios was solid in his own right, the Royals were able to scratch across a run against the Twins' ace when Raul Mondesi singled in the sixth, then stole two bases before eventually scoring on Hunter Dozier's single.
"Once I finished my six innings, it was nice to see. It was fun to watch him, what he's doing out there, and it's a victory for Puerto Rico," said Berrios, who was teammates with Lopez in the World Baseball Classic.
Lopez received some defensive help from left fielder Alex Gordon, who made a difficult sliding catch in deep left field to rob Jake Cave of extra bases in the fifth. An inning later, Gordon drifted back to the warning track and made a shoestring catch on Adrianza's deep fly ball to end the sixth.
The Royals only recently acquired Lopez from the Brewers in a three-player trade for Mike Moustakas on July 27. Before joining the Royals, Lopez had worked strictly out of the bullpen for the Brewers this season and had not made a Major League start since 2015.
"Oh, he's the man," Royals first baseman Ryan O'Hearn said. "Great teammate, upbeat guy. Just a guy you want to pull for, a guy you want to root for. Couldn't have happened to a better dude. The way he pitched tonight was just unbelievable."
Lopez said that after he exited the game, he immediately thought about his son, Mikael, who was born with familial Mediterranean fever disorder and spent the first 2 1/2 years of his life in the hospital.
"Every second, every minute I think of him," Lopez said. "That's my biggest motivation. After everything we've been through, I'm just gonna give everything I can on the field and try to bring wins to the team. It's awesome."
Lopez is the fifth pitcher to lose a perfect game in the ninth inning since Felix Hernandez recorded the 23rd perfect game in baseball history in 2012. He joins Yu Darvish, Yusmeiro Petit, Max Scherzer and Rich Hill.
HE SAID IT
"He was smiling [and Perez] was smiling. They were a lot calmer than I was, even though you couldn't tell, because I do a good job of hiding it. I was rooting. I never managed a no-hitter. I had them against me before, so I was really rooting for him, and Salvy was smiling and easy going. I asked Salvy, 'How did you keep so easy going and calm and stuff?' And he goes, 'I didn't even know he had a no-hitter.' He was his own natural self until about the eighth inning. That's when he looked up there and saw no hits." -- Yost, on Lopez's disposition throughout the game
The Royals will close out their three-game set with the Twins at 1:10 p.m. CT on Sunday at Target Field. Ian Kennedy will make his first start in nearly two months as he returns from the disabled list after recovering from a left oblique strain. The Twins will send right-hander Chase De Jong to the hill to make his season debut.