It was time for the Royals’ offense to wake up, and its newest members helped lead the way.
Andrew Benintendi and Carlos Santana provided a clutch combination of small ball and long ball on Sunday afternoon to give the Royals a 4-3 victory in extra innings over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field.
Two of the Royals’ biggest offseason acquisitions drove in three of the team’s four runs, with Benintendi knocking his first RBI as a Royal and Santana launching his first home run for Kansas City to help earn a two-game series split against the American League Central opponent which won nine of its 10 games last season against the Royals.
“It fires me up,” manager Mike Matheny said. “When you watch a team go down twice to a good team and the resiliency and the belief they have in themselves and each other -- they just keep coming.
“We’re going to have games where we have everything clicking. But the days that you don’t, and you even make mistakes, and you still find ways to fight and scratch and claw your way back into a game -- to me, that’s priceless.”
The Royals and White Sox bullpens had been lights-out before the eighth inning after taking over for Royals starter Mike Minor (85 pitches in four innings) and White Sox starter Dylan Cease (90 pitches in 4 1/3), who each allowed one run. Both teams had left a combined 13 runners on base through five innings, and the Royals had a couple of baserunning mistakes to waste opportunities.
In the eighth inning, Benintendi’s RBI single through the left side of the infield gave the Royals the lead, but reliever Jesse Hahn allowed a pinch-hit, two-run homer to Adam Eaton in the bottom of the eighth -- the second go-ahead homer Hahn has allowed in as many appearances.
So Santana’s contribution couldn’t have come at a better time. He took a fastball from closer Liam Hendriks over the wall in dead center field that tied the game, and reliever Greg Holland shut down the White Sox in the bottom of the ninth to send it to extra innings.
“It was great,” Santana said. “Good approach, good swing. Happy to win the game. I’m excited to get a home run.”
In the 10th, Benintendi laid down a bunt with designated runner Michael A. Taylor at third base after Nicky Lopez had executed a perfect sacrifice bunt to lead off the inning. Reliever Garrett Crochet hurried the throw on Benintendi’s ball home, spiking it near home plate as Taylor slide in safely. A run is a run, and the Royals had the lead. Reliever Kyle Zimmer made sure they kept it with back-to-back strikeouts and a groundout in the bottom of the 10th for his first Major League save.
“For our guys to keep coming late like that -- Carlos giving us a chance to keep breathing,” Matheny said. “... And then Benny getting creative on how to get a run in or at least put pressure on them.”
Benintendi entered Sunday’s game hitting .200, while Santana entered hitting .174 through six games. Both needed to come through in big spots, and so did the Royals' offense as a whole. After scoring a Majors-best 25 runs through their first two games of the season -- hitting .395 with as many walks as strikeouts (eight) and a 1.132 OPS -- the Royals’ bats quieted. In their last four games before Sunday, they scored a combined eight runs and hit .185 with 48 strikeouts and 10 walks. Whit Merrifield’s RBI single in the fifth inning Sunday snapped the Royals’ 15-inning scoreless streak, dating back to the seventh inning Wednesday against Cleveland.
Part of the problem could be the Royals’ schedule. Sunday marked their seventh game in the first 11 days of the season -- four off-days in a week and a half is rare in baseball. Especially this early in the season, the scheduling quirk hasn’t helped with hitters’ timing.
But Sunday was the Royals’ first game in an 11-game, 11-day stretch, offering a chance for hitters to get in sync this week.
“It’s hard to find that rhythm without the consistent opportunities when you’re talking about your everyday players,” Matheny said before Sunday’s game. “There are some benefits to your pitchers to give them rest, and hopefully it’ll be stockpiled for later. Position players need those competitive at-bats, and that’s what I’m looking forward to as much as anything.”
There are still worrisome trends the Royals would like to fix heading into the third week of the season -- they struck out 14 times Sunday, including four swinging from designated hitter Jorge Soler -- but there’s something to be said for the offense scratching out a win, especially against the White Sox, who had won the last six meetings dating back to Aug. 30, 2020.
“That’s the kind of win -- I talked about this on Opening Day -- that you feed off of, one that you hope has a hangover effect,” Matheny said.