Royals resilient as ever, but fall short despite spirited 4-run 9th

May 27th, 2024

MINNEAPOLIS -- The never-say-die Royals came within one swing of authoring the comeback of the year on Monday afternoon, but the Twins finally got the 27th out to close out a thrilling 6-5 victory at Target Field.

The Royals saw their eight-game winning streak snapped in Sunday’s series finale with the Rays, but even in losing two straight, they’ve shown they won’t go away quietly. Trailing by three against Tampa Bay, Kansas City loaded the bases with two out in the ninth before Bobby Witt Jr. grounded out. Twenty-four hours later, the Royals entered the ninth down, 6-1, but made sure everyone stuck around for the final pitch in the opener of a four-game set with Minnesota.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all. We talk about the character of these guys, how hard they work, how much they stay in it. It doesn’t surprise me,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “We put good at-bats together. The early part of the game, [Twins starter] Joe Ryan just pitched really well against us, and that happens. He’s really good.

“Our guys didn’t give up and we gave ourselves a chance.”

Indeed, Ryan continued his dominance over the Royals with another masterful performance, allowing one run on four hits with no walks and nine strikeouts over seven innings. He’s now 6-0 with a 1.49 ERA against Kansas City in his career.

And yet, the ninth-inning rally almost rendered Ryan’s line meaningless. The Royals entered the final frame with five total hits. Then, they doubled their hit count over a span of seven batters.

Twins reliever Cole Sands retired two of the first three hitters he faced in the ninth. Then came the onslaught. Adam Frazier singled. Hunter Renfroe doubled home a run.

Sands was replaced by Twins closer Jhoan Duran, but the comeback continued. MJ Melendez reached base when an 0-2 curveball clipped his foot. Dairon Blanco followed with a perfectly placed chopper for an infield single, keeping the bases loaded while making the score, 6-3.

Then, Maikel Garcia – who extended his hitting streak to 14 games an inning earlier – hit another infield chopper. Twins third baseman Willi Castro fielded it, but threw wildly to first. Two more runs scored, and the potential go-ahead run stood at second base for Witt.

Blanco had put Duran’s fastball in play. Garcia got on top of Duran’s splitter. Which would he throw Witt? Duran started with the splitter, and Witt was just ahead of it. He topped the ball back to the mound and Duran made the play for the final out.

“The guy’s throwing 100 miles an hour with a 97 mile an hour split, you’ve got to be ready to hit, and it’s really hard to differentiate between those pitches,” Quatraro said. “If we had that chance to win with Bobby at the plate a lot, we’re going to take our chances with that.”

The comeback almost got Alec Marsh off the hook after an up-and-down start. Sure, he gave up a season-high five earned runs, and he also gave up two home runs in a game for the first time this season.

But the start was also a reminder of how far Marsh has come in a short time. Last year, his rate of 1.9 home runs allowed per nine innings was second only to Jordan Lyles (2.0 HR/9) on the Royals. Marsh had cut that down to just 0.6 HR/9 this season (three homers in 43 innings pitched) before Monday, his ninth start of the season.

The Twins stung him twice with the long ball, as Jose Miranda and Trevor Larnach put the Twins on top, 5-0, with two swings of the bat.

Still, there was plenty to like about Marsh’s outing. He completed seven innings for the second time this season, throwing a career-high 103 pitches. He struck out seven batters for the third time in his past four starts, matching a season high. And, Marsh limited the damage with two scoreless frames after the second homer.

“​​I get one or two of those pitches back, we might win that game, so moving forward, just taking the positives out of that one,” Marsh said. “I love that I was able to get seven and save some of the arms in our bullpen, because we’re going to need them the rest of the series, especially after having a long game in Tampa.

“So that’s huge, that’s a positive. My ability to go deep into games is showing up more often, which I really like.”