In the series opener against St. Louis, he was nearly a part of history against his former team.
Mayers and the Royals were six outs from MLB’s first combined perfect game when Nolan Arenado and Willson Contreras hit back-to-back singles to lead off the eighth inning in Kansas City’s 7-0 win at Busch Stadium.
After Josh Staumont's scoreless first inning as the Royals’ opener, the zeroes kept racking up for Mayers across six brilliant frames.
As each inning passed, realization of potential history sunk in for the Royals.
“I did not know until the sixth inning,” Vinnie Pasquantino, who went 3-for-5 with two RBIs, said. “And then I looked up and went, ‘Oh. We haven’t given up a hit. And nobody’s been on first. So, OK. All right. Now we go.’”
“Every time I kept checking off where we ended the inning, I was like, ‘Man, this is getting interesting,’” manager Matt Quatraro said.
“Sixth inning comes around, you saw what was going on,” Bobby Witt Jr., who hit his 10th homer of the season in the ninth inning, added. “Seventh inning. Eighth inning. It was awesome to be a part of that.”
As for Mayers? Oh, he was aware.
“You try to keep it as business as usual, talking with [catcher] Freddy [Fermin] and [pitching coaches Brian] Sweeney and [Zach] Bove each inning about who’s coming up and how we’re attacking them," Mayers said. "[We were discussing] what the previous inning looked like and if we need to make any changes.
“But you’re definitely aware of it.”
What made it more special for Mayers was where he was pitching and who he was pitching against. His debut in 2016 did not go smoothly, with Mayers needing 62 pitches to record four outs against the Dodgers. In fact, Mayers’ four seasons in St. Louis did not always go smoothly, as he recorded a 7.03 ERA with the Cardinals.
But he might not have been pitching Monday, tossing one of the best outings of his career, without that time with St. Louis.
“That’s the organization that made me a big leaguer,” Mayers said. “I’m forever grateful for them. I wasn’t always the best big leaguer over there. … My story, it hasn’t always been easy, but everybody’s got a different way of getting here and a different way of staying here. There’s adversity, ups and downs. And drawing on my time over there has helped me tremendously.”
Mayers credits veteran Adam Wainwright, who allowed three runs in five innings, as his biggest mentor.
“To be able to go up against somebody that I looked up to for so long was an absolutely incredible honor.” Mayers said. “He shows you how to be a professional. How to go about it day by day.”
The Cardinals designated Mayers for assignment in 2019, and he signed with the Angels in ‘20. In ‘22, he was DFA’d again. The 31-year-old signed a Minor League deal with the Royals this offseason and didn’t make the team out of Spring Training.
In need of a fifth starter as injuries piled up, the Royals called Mayers up on May 17. He has a 1.35 ERA across three appearances, two with an opener.
“He’s confident in his stuff,” Quatraro said. “We knew during the year we were going to need him. We’re going to need other guys. You don’t go through a year with five starters. So we were confident that he would be able to come up here and do a good job.”
Historic game or not, Royals pitchers allowed just two hits with no walks against a powerful Cardinals lineup. Kansas City pegged Staumont as its opener to see if it can help him become more effective, and the outing ended 1-2-3 against St. Louis’ best hitters at the top of the lineup.
After going down 3-0 to leadoff hitter Lars Nootbaar, Staumont got a flyout, then struck out Paul Goldschmidt with a slider and Nolan Gorman with a 98 mph fastball.
“There’s a part of you that sits there and goes, ‘OK, here’s a turning point,’” Staumont said. “I’m not trying to go 3-0 to start that, but when you get there, you’re like, ‘This is my turn to pick myself up, reset really quickly and refocus.’”
Staumont downplayed his role in potential history Monday. But without him, the Royals wouldn’t have flirted with perfection.
“Those perfect games are just special,” Staumont said. “Very, very rarely in this game, with the hitters as good as they are and the strike zone what it is today, it’s hard to avoid those bats. And they know everything about us. It does take a certain special light.
“But I threw one inning. And [Mayers] shoved.”