Porter hits 'surreal' first HR to continue storybook journey

September 17th, 2023

KANSAS CITY – The movie script keeps writing itself for .

Porter’s journey to the big leagues began when he was in high school, when he was a clubhouse attendant for the Royals’ Rookie league team in Surprise, Ariz. While playing baseball for Valley Vista High School and travel ball, he faced another Arizona kid with big league dreams: Joel Kuhnel, who played over at Sunrise Mountain high school in Peoria, Ariz.

Fast forward to Saturday night at Kauffman Stadium after Porter was unexpectedly thrown into his home debut in the fifth inning because Salvador Perez exited with non-concussive head impact.

Here was Porter facing Kuhnel in the eighth inning – and going deep for his first big league home run in the Royals’ wild 10-8 win over the Astros, clinching a fourth consecutive win and series victory over the American League West leaders.

“Arizona athletics,” Porter said. “Talk about surreal. What are the odds? Unbelievable. When he came in, I was like, ‘No way that’s Joel Kuhnel.’”

Porter quickly shook off his disbelief as he locked into the at-bat. Down 0-2, Porter got a slider in the zone and sent it over the fence in left-center field for a 400-foot solo homer. He sought out and waved to his family in the stands as he rounded the bases, then was greeted by an ecstatic Royals dugout.

“That one was nuts,” Porter said. “It’s something I’ll remember forever, and I’m happy my family was here to be part of it.”

“Nuts” is actually an apt way to describe this Royals win given the back-and-forth nature of Saturday’s game. Royals starter Cole Ragans kept the Astros scoreless through four innings while the Kansas City offense built an early lead against J.P. France, who registered just two whiffs on 39 swings in his 4 1/3 innings of work.

But the Astros got to Ragans in the fifth and delivered a big blow in the seventh after he put two on base with no outs. That ended the lefty’s outing, and two pitches later, reliever Collin Snider left a slider in the middle, which Altuve sent flying to the left-field foul pole for a three-run, game-tying homer.

“Four-pitch walk is unacceptable,” Ragans, who was charged with five runs on six hits with seven strikeouts in six-plus innings, said. “That’s pretty bad. I didn’t see exactly where the cutter was to [Mauricio] Dubón, I know he didn’t hit it real hard, but I think I might have left it a little more over the plate than I wanted. 

“But the offense picked us right back up. Relentless all night.”

In the bottom of the seventh, Nelson Velázquez worked a one-out walk and went to third on Michael Massey’s single. Then Kyle Isbel laid a bunt down that Astros reliever Hector Neris could not get a handle on – tumbling into a somersault as a run scored without an out made.

“I thought that was a huge momentum swing,” Isbel said. “Q gave me the sign, and it was my job to get it done. The first pitch I tried to bunt was probably a little too high, the second one was probably higher. But I got it done.”

The Royals used their speed to tack on; third baseman Alex Bregman rushed a throw on Dairon Blanco’s sharp grounder that scored a run and set up Nick Pratto’s sacrifice fly.

A tie game had turned into a three-run lead for the Royals, and Porter’s insurance home run mattered greatly because the Astros scored two more in the ninth inning off Carlos Hernandez.

“It’s been rough so far,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “We can’t walk these guys, they’ve got too much speed. We have to make them earn it.”

The Royals aren’t playing for the standings this September, but the Astros certainly are. This could have been a big series for Houston to gain ground in its division.

Instead, they ran into a Royals offense which only struck out once Saturday night but drew six walks. Kansas City is tied for second in the Majors – behind the Astros and tied with the Orioles – in batting average (.274) this month and third in OPS (.817).

“Every win is big for us,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “Building confidence, understanding we can play with teams like this. … When you’re going to beat good teams, you’ve got to take their punches and be able to come back because it’s rare when you face a good team with a good offense [you] keep them down the whole time. Being able to battle back, expand, battle back – that’s the kind of thing you’ve got to do if you’re going to beat good teams.”