DENVER -- The Royals’ night at Coors Field on Friday could be encapsulated in one at-bat. It took place with two outs in the top of the eighth inning, when Ryan O’Hearn came to the plate as a pinch-hitter. He connected with a changeup thrown by Rockies reliever Carlos Estévez, and what O’Hearn did next was the result of sheer emotion.
O’Hearn flipped his bat, helicopter style, toward the visitors’ dugout as teammates jumped out onto the field to celebrate.
“I just kind of blacked out,” O’Hearn said, following his team’s 14-10 series-opening win. “I wasn’t trying to be swaggy with the bat flip or anything. Whatever it looks like, that’s what it looks like.”
What it looked like was catharsis. It looked like the release of pent-up frustration over a 3-for-24 start to his season. It looked like the representation of everything Kansas City’s hitters felt as they produced a season-high 14 runs on 18 hits – the most hits the club had logged in a game since Aug. 6, 2020 -- capped by O’Hearn’s 445-foot home run into the second deck in right field.
The Royals let out some repressed feelings. Not through words, but with their bats.
“There was probably some frustration there taken out on that ball,” O’Hearn said. “It felt good to hit that ball.”
To say the Royals had a big night at the plate is an understatement. Yes, it’s Coors Field where their offensive outburst took place, but 14 runs and 18 hits is big anywhere, especially for a club that entered the game ranked 29th in baseball in runs scored, 29th in OPS and last in weighted runs created plus.
It’s the type of game that could portend better days ahead.
“To see hard-hit balls that had some carry, it’s really the first time all season,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Eighteen hits, is that right? That’s just a beautiful thing.”
Nearly everyone up and down the lineup contributed. Andrew Benintendi went 3-for-6 and was a double shy of the first Royals cycle since 1990. Hunter Dozier had a career-high five hits -- four singles and a double. Michael A. Taylor was 3-for-4 with a double. Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez each had a pair of hits, and Bobby Witt Jr. picked up his second career triple.
Entering the day with a .203 batting average with runners in scoring position, the Royals went 6-for-17 (.353) in that situation against the Rockies.
Prior to the game, Matheny didn’t shy away from saying he was hoping for big things from his lineup in the thin air of Denver, though he said he thought Coors Field was playing a little differently now than when he was a player in the pre-humidor days.
After the contest, he was happy to have been proven wrong by his hitters.
“This is all I ever remember from playing here,” he said. “That’s why I said to the guys, ‘Buckle up boys.’”
In the postgame clubhouse, there was a jovial vibe. When media surrounded O’Hearn’s locker to ask him about, among other things, setting the franchise record for pinch-hit home runs with his fourth -- Merrifield shouted the first question from across the room:
“Walk us through the bat flip!”
O’Hearn obliged. And it was fitting because the bat flip was the moment that defined this game, and a moment the Royals hope to look back on as a key marker, perhaps even a turning point, in their season.
“That was a full 360-helicopter,” O’Hearn said. “I didn’t practice that one. It was a ‘show-and-go,’ we’ll do it live.”
Truth be told, O’Hearn couldn’t have practiced that bat flip if he tried. It had to be in the moment, a true “show and go” with all that he and the Royals have been grinding through offensively.
While he couldn’t say what would happen in the days to come, O’Hearn didn’t see a ceiling for this group at the plate moving forward.
“It’s big,” he said. “It’s big, because it’s in us. This is a good place to hit. We’ve just gotta get the offense going over the next three days and carry it into … who knows how long?
Only time will tell. But one thing is certain.
“We needed a game like this,” Dozier said. “We know we have a good team. We know we’re gonna be able to hit. Hopefully tonight’s just the start and we’ll have more to come.”