Royals reward fans with 'one we won't forget'

KC rallies from shaky start for historic win on Opening Day

April 2nd, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- The Royals spent their offseason bolstering their lineup and making sure there were no glaring holes entering the 2021 season. They spent Opening Day flexing that offensive depth.

Kansas City set a club record for runs scored on Opening Day in its 14-10 win over the Rangers on Thursday at Kauffman Stadium, eclipsing the 11 runs scored in 1979 against Toronto. The Royals’ 15 hits surpassed the previous record of 14 against Minnesota in 1969, and it all happened in a 4-hour, 26-minute game -- the longest nine-inning game in Royals history.

“Best Opening Day I’ve ever been a part of,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “To watch how those guys responded right away, and then to keep coming. It was a beautiful thing to watch.

“This is one we won’t forget.”

Sitting in the Kauffman Stadium stands for the first time in 550 days, fans -- a limited capacity sellout of 9,155 -- were able to give a standing ovation to retired left fielder Alex Gordon, who threw out the first pitch to second baseman . They cheered loudly for right fielder , who was making his Major League debut, and screamed even louder when he roped an RBI single in his first at-bat.

And then the fans got to watch the Royals’ lineup show its potential. Despite Opening Day starter allowing six runs on nine hits in 1 1/3 innings, the Royals jumped on Rangers starter Kyle Gibson, erasing a five-run deficit in the bottom of the first.

“I throw them in a hole real early, down five runs after the first inning, and they come out swinging, walking, five runs right back on the board,” said Keller, who retired four of the 14 batters he faced, marking the shortest Opening Day start in club history. “Brand new game going back out there in the second.”

The Rangers took back the lead in the second and third, and the Royals were trailing, 8-5, when they began to chip away. launched his first home run in a Royals uniform in the third inning -- right after he had notched his second outfield assist of the day, throwing out David Dahl at home for a double play.

Matheny thought he noticed the crowd’s energy lift on Taylor’s homer as the Royals began to hit their way back into the game, but Taylor was so focused on getting out of the box that he didn’t hear much.

“I wish I did,” Taylor said. “I was going full bore right there, didn’t think the ball was going to get out, so I was thinking three out of the box. And then once I saw it go over, I just blacked out.”

To lead off the fourth inning, crushed a game-tying home run 435 feet to dead center field with an exit velocity of 113.4 mph, according to Statcast. That exit velocity was harder than any Royals homer in 2020, and it was the Royals’ 10th home run of 113 mph or more since tracking began. Soler has six of those.

The Royals added to their score with three runs in the seventh inning and Merrifield’s leadoff home run -- his third hit of the day -- in the eighth. Nine of the Royals' 10 batters were on base at least once; Carlos Santana was on base five times with a single, three walks and reaching on an error.

“You saw it right from the top, taking walks, working deep counts, taking a good two-strike approach,” Matheny said. “Just what we were hoping for. Good job with situational hitting, let alone causing damage. That mix we were hoping for -- tough at-bats, put the pitchers on their heels, work the walks and then hand it over to the guys to do some damage. Man, that was special. It really was special.”

Hanser Alberto grounded out in his only at-bat of the night after replacing Hunter Dozier (right thumb contusion) at third base in the eighth inning. Dozier’s thumb swelled during the game to prompt his removal, and he told Matheny it wasn’t sore, just that the swelling needed to go down. The Royals will see how he feels after Friday’s off-day before making a decision for Saturday.

The Royals' lineup made sure the bullpen could keep K.C. in front, with right-hander Carlos Hernández (1-0) settling in for three innings, allowing two runs and striking out five. Reliever Wade Davis notched his first save as a Royal since Sept. 28, 2016.

But this Opening Day was all about the lineup flexing its power and depth -- and keeping the momentum it had from the offseason, through Spring Training and into the season.

“Any time you’re down five runs, let alone in the first, and the team shows the resilience to fight back, and then go down and fight back again -- you can ride something like that for a solid month,” Matheny said. “Any time you get down, here we come. It doesn’t matter, keep taking the at-bats. Just very rare do you have games like that, let alone on your first game of the season in front of your home crowd.”