'It’s who we are': KC displays fight, heart in W

Lopez’s aggressive baserunning pays off as Salvy delivers game-winning knock

August 17th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- As soon as Nicky Lopez singled up the middle in the bottom of the eighth inning Monday night, Royals first-base coach Rusty Kuntz was at Lopez’s side, whispering the details of what Lopez needed to do to get in scoring position for Salvador Perez.

On Astros reliever Yimi García’s low and outside slider to Perez, Lopez was off and running for his third stolen base of the game, providing the speed and baserunning the Royals needed in their series opener against Houston.

Perez provided the rest.

The Royals' catcher delivered an opposite-field single to score Whit Merrifield from third and Lopez from second in the Royals’ 7-6 win over the Astros on Monday night at Kauffman Stadium, snapping Kansas City’s four-game losing streak.

After suffering a sweep by the Cardinals in three tough losses this weekend, this was the kind of game the Royals needed to win.

“We talked about it before the game and made sure guys understood: It’s who we are,” manager Mike Matheny said. “Don’t lose sight of it. We played three games that I felt were very uncharacteristic the last series. We didn’t display the kind of fight. It wasn’t like us. We talk about teams having short memories, it’s pretty amazing how these guys forget about the last one and come back and keep going.”

Perez delivered the game-winning hit, but it was Lopez who had his hands -- and legs -- all over Monday night’s game. The shortstop stole three bases in the final two innings to score the go-ahead run in the seventh and game-winning run in the eighth. It was Lopez’s first career multi-steal game and the second three-steal game this season for the club, joining Merrifield on June 19 in Boston.

“That’s the Kansas City Royals’ game for as long as I can remember,” Astros manager Dusty Baker said. “Not only are they aggressive, but they got speed. They’re leading the world in stolen bases.”

Before he could manufacture a run, Lopez needed to take a run away from the Astros. After Royals starter Carlos Hernández -- who gave up four runs in six-plus innings -- exited with a runner on second base with no outs in the seventh inning, reliever Jake Brentz struck out Jason Castro and then got a ground ball to Lopez.

The slow-rolling ball allowed Lopez to see the runner taking off for third, so he flipped the ball to Emmanuel Rivera for the fielder’s choice out. And it paid off when Jose Altuve lined his third single of the night before Brentz could end the frame without a run scored.

“Before that at-bat, I told Rivera, ‘Hey if he runs, I’ll come to you with it,’” Lopez said. “I’m used to playing second base, so it was kind of like a second-base flip.”

That play kept the game tied when Lopez came to bat in the bottom of the seventh. He worked a five-pitch leadoff walk against reliever Ryne Stanek, then promptly stole second base.

Then he stole third base.

Then he came home.

Carlos Santana poked a single that beat the drawn-in and shifted infield, scoring Lopez easily and giving the Royals the lead.

“He’s getting smarter on the bases,” Matheny said. “He’s trusting Rusty more. Rusty Kuntz is special with how he prepares these guys and what they’re looking for. … It’s that kind of smart basestealing, smart baserunning that Rusty brings that these guys want to learn.”

After the Astros re-tied the game on Aledmys Díaz’s RBI single in the eighth, Kuntz was next to Lopez again in the bottom of the frame, setting him up to get to second for Perez’s game-winning knock.

“Nicky has been amazing,” Perez said. “Especially today, gets to second base, ‘OK, I got to get to third base. I got Salvy and Carlos behind me.’ Things like that. He knows what he can do and cannot do …

“My job is bringing those guys in.”

The Royals stole four bases Monday night, including the three from Lopez and one from Merrifield for his Major League-leading 34th of the season.

“I was able to get the green light, and each and every pitch, [Kuntz] does a good job of whispering in my ear what to look for,” Lopez said. “We got to good counts and good opportunities to run, and he said, ‘Hey, if you got it, go.’ I learn from the best. [Kuntz] knows his stuff.

“And when you see Whit steal all those bags, you kind of steal a thing or two. No pun intended.”