KANSAS CITY -- The Royals have a new single-season home run record holder.
Designated hitter Jorge Soler pounded a fastball from Tigers left-hander Daniel Norris into the left-field seats, a three-run blast in the third inning that was his 39th this season. The Royals went on to a 6-5 win on pinch-hitter Ryan O'Hearn's one-out walk-off homer in the ninth inning in the series opener on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
Soler’s homer, on a 2-2 count, moved him past former Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas, who in 2017 hit 38 homers to break Steve Balboni’s 32-year-old record of 36 in 1985.
“There’s a lot of emotions going on right now,” Soler said through interpreter Pedro Grifol. “Maybe when I get home it will sink in. But it hasn’t yet.
“I didn’t really feel the pressure when I got to 38 because I knew we had a lot of games left. The only time I felt any pressure was those 10 days I didn’t hit a home run [after hitting No. 37]. But once I tied the record, the pressure was off because of the number of games we had left.”
The Royals were able to retrieve the baseball and present it to Soler.
“I’ll put it in my house, in a special place,” he said, smiling.
Soler’s homer off Norris was projected by Statcast to travel 431 feet at 104 mph.
“I had taken two changeups and then he threw a fastball, and then a slider,” Soler said. “I thought he might try to sneak a fastball by me then, but I was ready.”
Norris added, “His first pitch of the at-bat, I got him to swing through one up. So I wanted to go back up there and see if he would chase it again. He was ready for it."
The home run was certainly tagged, but at first it didn’t appear to be a no-doubter. But Royals manager Ned Yost knew better than to doubt it.
"I've seen great power hitters,” Yost said, “but I don't know if I've seen guys that hit like him.
"Everyday I go out for early BP to watch him swing. He'll hit balls that I think, ‘OK, that ball is not going out’ and it goes over the second wall. I think that balls are not going out because he had so much loft to his drives. He's so strong. It's like, ‘Is that ball going out?’ Boom, it's in the fountains. I'm amazed every day with the display of power he puts on in batting practice. For me, I enjoy watching it.
“He's up there with the best power hitters I've ever seen.”
The mood in the dugout after the dinger was downright giddy, said starter Mike Montgomery, who turned in another outing by giving up just one run in 5 2/3 innings. Montgomery and Soler were teammates with the Cubs briefly.
“Everybody was fired up,” Montgomery said. “Everybody was super happy for him. I know him from our Chicago days. I knew back then he was a special player. When he came over here, I had no doubt he was going to do some big things. I’m just happy for him. He’s a good guy and a really good hitter. So he deserved that.
Soler already was having a solid season when the All-Star break came, but he wasn’t completely satisfied.
“Right around then, I wanted to get more disciplined,” Soler said. “I was striking out too much. When I got to two strikes I was an easy out. They weren’t throwing me strikes and I was swinging at stuff out of the zone. I went home and decided I needed to walk more and be more disciplined. That’s what I’ve done.”
Indeed, since the All-Star break, Soler is seventh in the Majors in on-base percentage at .412.
Overall, Soler’s breakthrough season has been remarkable. Acquired from the Cubs for closer Wade Davis at the 2016 Winter Meetings, Soler has endured two injured-filled seasons.
But healthy this season, Soler has displayed the type of power and run production the Royals envisioned when they acquired him. His 39th home run also pushed him to 100 RBIs this season.
Soler has talked this season about hoping to justify the Royals’ trading a big-time closer like Davis for him. Mission accomplished?
“Yeah, I feel good,” Soler said. “Thank God. And I think the organization feels pretty good, too.”
As for the previous record holder, Soler said he has been texting with Moustakas for weeks as he approached the record. Moustakas told MLB.com he couldn’t be happier for Soler.
"I've got to go [text] him again,” Moustakas said. “I've texted him a bunch this whole time. Absolutely, I'm happy for him. Especially what he's been through last year, to be able to come back and do what he did -- it's an accomplishment in itself to hit that many home runs, but to break the record is unbelievable. He's such a great dude. I obviously spent a lot of time with him and I couldn't be happier for him. It's awesome."