'Gladiator' home run helmet makes strong debut

April 24th, 2023

ANAHEIM -- returned to an excited Royals dugout after his first inning home run. He was in the dugout wearing a helmet -- not the one he’d ordinarily wear at the plate, but something that would keep everyone, shall we say, entertained.

“Our hitting coaches were watching ‘Gladiator,’” said of the home run helmet’s inspiration. “It’s kind of our mentality. Everyone against us.”

It was a new way for the Royals to symbolize their latest homer hero. And it was put to good use Sunday as they cranked out three long balls. But the Angels matched that number with home runs on three consecutive at-bats in the sixth to prevent Kansas City from taking the series with a 4-3 loss at Angel Stadium.

“It’s tough to win consistently,” manager Matt Quatraro said, “because the margin of error is so thin.”

had retired 14 in a row entering the sixth, but his hopes of protecting a 2-1 lead were quickly washed away by Los Angeles’ ambush at the top of the order.

Taylor Ward opened the inning by pulling an 80 mph sweeper on the inside corner 376 feet. Three pitches later, it was an 86 mph cutter at the bottom of the zone that Mike Trout sent beyond the right-center field wall -- his second in two games. The results didn’t change when Shohei Ohtani went 415 feet to right-center on a curveball down and away that got too much of the plate.

“Threw some bad pitches where they shouldn’t have gone,” Lyles said. “Things can turn on you quickly, especially with a good lineup.”

The Royals did their best to return the favor, while also having fun in the process.

got a chance to step into the Colosseum when he lifted a pitch from Angels’ left-handed starter Reid Detmers over the right-center field wall -- extending his on-base streak to 17 games.

“[Detmers] threw me a really nice slider that I swung and missed on,” Pasquantino said. “Then, he tried to throw pretty much the same pitch on the outside [corner]. He gave me something I was able to hit.”

Witt displayed his gladiator strength in the seventh against right-handed reliever Austin Warren with a drive over the right-center wall that barely eluded the glove of Trout and pulled Kansas City within one in the seventh.

“Every time Bobby steps to the plate, I expect something good,” Quatraro said. “He’s that kind of talent. He’s that kind of athlete.”

It was only a matter of time before Witt delivered with his fourth homer of the year. He had struck the ball well all series and came narrowly close to leading off the game with a homer to left before the ball flattened out on the warning track.

“I’m not going to change anything if I’m getting out,” Witt said. “I just got to keep making adjustments based on pitch selection, and not trying to change too much.”

Witt also admitted the original homer headgear was not the one we all saw Sunday.

“We had something else planned,” he said. “The one we ordered didn’t arrive in time. So we [were] trying to find something quick for the road trip.”

Witt nearly had enough distance on his first inning swing, but Melendez did. His second homer of ‘23 came off a hanging curve and nailed the long video scoreboard below the right-center field bleachers -- a nice carryover after a 2-for-4 performance Saturday.

However, Melendez’s afternoon ended early after the right fielder felt tightness in his lower back while jogging off the field. He was removed before the bottom of the fourth, which Quatraro called a precautionary move and doesn’t see it as a long-term situation.

“He got it worked on between innings, but it didn’t loosen up enough to make him feel comfortable,” Quatraro said.

Following an 0-6 homestand, the Royals have much more to take away from after the first leg of a 10-game road trip -- a series in which they were able to come out on top Saturday in a real test of resilience before having every opportunity to win Sunday.

“The guys played hard,” Quatraro said. “They played well. We played good baseball and we got beat.”