Wild pitch dooms Royals: 'That one hurts'

May 17th, 2021

Whit Merrifield had his helmet on and was strapping on his batting gloves in the on-deck circle at Guaranteed Rate Field on Sunday afternoon, ready to hit in the top of the 10th inning. The Royals were convinced they were headed to extra innings after challenging the call at home plate in the bottom of the ninth inning.

Replay review decided otherwise. And the White Sox handed the Royals a 4-3 walk-off loss to split the four-game series in Chicago.

“We were all ready to go,” catcher Cam Gallagher said. “Our replay coordinator signaled that we got him, and we were all ready to roll and move on to the next inning. I guess there just wasn’t enough evidence to overturn.

“That one hurts a lot. But we’ll recover from it.”

Gallagher was at the center of the controversial game-ending play. With the game tied, runners on the corners and two outs, Royals reliever Wade Davis threw a curveball to Yasmani Grandal that bounced in the dirt and off Gallagher’s shoulder down the first-base line. José Abreu, known for his presence in the middle of the White Sox order, ended up winning the game with his legs. He took off on the wild pitch and slid foot-first into home as Gallagher dove to tag him with an outstretched glove. Home-plate umpire Edwin Moscoso signaled safe, but Royals manager Mike Matheny challenged the call as the White Sox celebrated.

Both teams were off the field waiting for the review that took more than two minutes. The different angles showed an incredibly close play; Gallagher’s glove may have skimmed Abreu’s jersey before he touched home plate.

But there wasn’t enough evidence. New York determined the call stood, and Abreu was safe. While the White Sox celebrated the walk-off win, the Royals kept watching the replay on the scoreboard.

“I have to make a point that if we’re going to use video replay, there needs to be some accountability,” Matheny said. “I just walked in here and had two different camera angles with this guy out. Tagged before he ever even touched the plate. I don’t know what they’re doing, if they’re backing each other up, whatever it is. It’s wrong.”

Matheny said that Gallagher tagged Abreu on his jersey before Abreu touched the plate. Gallagher said he was aiming for Abreu’s leg, and the catcher didn’t instinctively try to go back and reapply the tag, a sign that he thought he initially touched Abreu.

“I gave it all I had. I picked up the ball and ran as fast as I could,” Gallagher said. “Dove out there and reached for any part of his body. I don’t want to go for their arms because they’re moving around, so I was going right for his leg and that’s what I aimed for. That’s what I thought I got.”

The call was ruled to stand, meaning there wasn’t enough evidence to overturn the call on the field.

“Bang-bang play,” White Sox outfielder Adam Eaton said. “Heck of a slide by José, and we'll definitely take it."

What led to that moment was a hard-fought battle between American League Central opponents, as the Royals were looking to take the series after coming into Chicago with an 11-game losing streak. They snapped that streak on Friday, and seemed to get their mojo back over the weekend.

On Sunday, starter Brady Singer threw 6 1/3 innings, allowing just a two-run homer to Eaton on a hanging slider in the fifth inning. He was otherwise dominant, striking out seven and working around seven hits and two walks. Singer gave way to Greg Holland in the seventh, and in the eighth, Holland escaped a bases-loaded jam to keep the Royals’ lead.

The Royals were down two high-leverage relievers on Sunday in Scott Barlow, who threw 31 pitches on Saturday, and Josh Staumont, who has thrown three of the last four days. That’s why Matheny stuck with Holland in the eighth, even as the 35-year-old reliever walked two to load the bases with two outs. On Holland’s 42nd pitch, he got Nick Madrigal to send a chopper up the first base line, and Holland made an athletic throw to first to end the inning unscathed.

“It was just a gut check all the way through,” Matheny said. “Greg, to make that play -- there’s not a lot of pitchers in the league who can make that, and especially when you’ve been run through the wringer emotionally, trying to get through what he was trying to get through.”

The lack of high-leverage depth Sunday was also why Matheny turned to Davis in the ninth. Davis allowed the tying run to score and put two on base with two outs before the game-ending play.

“We have a guy who’s been there and done that and finished games,” Matheny said. “That means a lot in this thing.”

The Royals had the lead because of key situational hitting in the first and seventh inning, and if the game had gone to extras, they would have had the speedy Nicky Lopez on second base as the designated runner. But it ended up not being enough on Sunday.

“That’s the kind of baseball we talk about,” Matheny said. “Get guys over, get them in, put pressure on. That was our game today. Just unfortunate how it played out at the end.”