KANSAS CITY -- Before this year, the Royals had never won on a walk-off balk.
In 2023, they’ve done it twice.
Down six runs after the top of the third, the Royals completed their comeback in the most chaotic of ways to beat the White Sox on a 7-6 balk-off on Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium. After Bobby Witt Jr.’s double tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, Chicago intentionally walked MJ Melendez to load the bases for Edward Olivares against reliever Gregory Santos.
Except Olivares was not ready to get in the box -- and the timer was ticking down.
“Everyone was yelling, ‘Let’s go,’” Olivares said. “I didn’t have my batting gloves on. I forgot about the time.”
Olivares stepped in the box at exactly eight seconds to avoid an automatic strike called for violating the pitch timer. It actually might have worked to Olivares’ advantage, rushing Santos. As the pitch timer ticked down to one second, Santos never came set, instead continuously moving through his delivery to fire a pitch before time ran out.
Rather than stepping off the mound for a disengagement, Santos had given Kansas City a win.
Third-base umpire Rob Drake called the balk, and Maikel Garcia jogged home for the winning run as Santos walked off the mound without argument.
“He rushed it,” White Sox manager Pedro Grifol said. “The [pitch timer] was down to, like, one second. He rushed it, and it was a balk. Clearly a balk. … Step off. You've got two disengagements per hitter, doesn't matter where the runners are. He just forgot it."
It was just 32 games ago that the Royals recorded their first balk-off, beating the Mets in 10 innings on Aug. 1. That makes Kansas City the first team to win on two walk-off balks in a single season in the Live Ball Era (since 1920), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
“Something we practice a lot, clearly,” joked Michael Massey, who went 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs.
The Royals were down 6-0 following the top of the third inning after the White Sox hit three homers off right-hander Brady Singer in his first start since Aug. 25. Kansas City skipped his turn in the rotation because of arm fatigue, but Singer’s fastball velocity was still down about one mph on Tuesday.
“Physically, I feel fine,” Singer said. “Obviously, the fastball is not doing what I want it to do. The sinker isn’t working very well, and the [velocity] is down a little bit. That’s kind of the frustrating part. The body feels good, just kind of not able to make it happen.”
Singer has allowed six homers in his past three starts after allowing only three in his previous nine starts. He got through five innings on 59 pitches (42 strikes), but the Royals’ offense had work to do.
It helped that the ball was flying on both sides Tuesday. Homers from Massey, Nelson Velázquez and Melendez helped Kansas City chip away at the deficit. Three scoreless innings from Angel Zerpa were an even greater help.
“You don’t chip away unless the pitching keeps them right where they’re at,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “The three from Zerp, that was really big. We’ve put him in some tough situations. He’s come as a one-inning guy, he’s thrown outings like today, we’ve started him. He’s very resilient, always willing to do it. But that shouldn’t be underestimated, [for him] to be in different roles as a young player in the big leagues.”
A scoreless ninth inning from Jackson Kowar set up the walk-off heroics, which began with Nick Loftin reaching on an error to lead off the bottom of the ninth.
“Putting the ball in play was huge,” Quatraro said. “… And then what do you do? We had a feeling they were going to walk MJ, and Oli was struggling to get his stuff on, so he’s barely in the box. And that led to them not being ready. It worked to our advantage, even though it could have gone the other way.”
It all earned Kowar his first Major League win, which did not go unnoticed by his teammates. A cinnamon and who-knows-what-else shower awaited the right-hander when he got into the clubhouse postgame.
It only added to the chaos of a wild Tuesday night.
“I was hoping no one would remember, because it's been, like, three years since I debuted,” Kowar said. “… You usually don’t think you’re going to backdoor one like that. But we’ll take it. Especially a series win, that’s a big bonus for us. And keep it going tomorrow.”