Royals in awe as Whit breaks 'insane' record

August 15th, 2021

KANSAS CITY -- might not have made a big deal publicly about the franchise record he broke on Saturday night, but his teammates and others were sure not to let it go unnoticed.

When Merrifield took the field to begin Saturday’s game against the Cardinals, he was playing in his 422nd consecutive game, setting a new Royals record after tying Alcides Escobar on Friday night.

“To play 422 games in a row is insane,” shortstop Nicky Lopez said. “A lot of people take it for granted. But when you look at it and break it down, it’s like, ‘Wow.’”

Merrifield went 2-for-4 in the Royals' 9-4 loss, demonstrating why he's earned the nickname "Two-Hit Whit" over the course of his streak. He piled up a double, a walk, two RBIs and a run scored.

“That was special," Merrifield said. "It was really cool. It was a moment that I’ll always have with me. My wife and brother were here and got to see it as well. So just a special moment that I’ll always remember.”

Merrifield’s streak is the longest streak by any player in the Majors since Hunter Pence played in 468 consecutive games for the Phillies and Giants from April 24, 2012-Sept. 28, 2014. Merrifield’s streak began on June 25, 2018, and he’s appeared at six different positions since, including first base, second base, left field, center field, right field and designated hitter.

“To be able to get yourself mentally ready to go and play every day, day games and night games, 12-inning games, it’s not easy,” outfielder Ryan O’Hearn said. “For him to put together 422 games, it’s impressive. It’s part of being a leader on a team. Not necessarily in a vocal way, but guys see how he goes about his business and how he’s ready to play every day. That’s impressive. It’s something that a lot of us look up to.”

Merrifield has taken over a bigger leadership role in the Royals clubhouse this season, and a lot of it is leading by example. Taking the field every day is the biggest part of that.

“It’s something you idolize and you want to do,” Lopez said. “Ultimately, when I’m up here and established, I want to play 162. I want to play every single day of the season. He does it. One of his biggest fans. He’s a battler and warrior. He’s one of our leaders in the clubhouse. It’s something to look up to, and he does it the right way.”

And a little bit of Merrifield has rubbed off on Lopez, too. When he took a foul ball off the jaw earlier this week, he stayed in the game against the Yankees and fired the last out of the inning to first base on a sharp grounder up the middle.

“I’m playing for not only me but the rest of the team too,” Lopez said. “When I do take a ball off the face or foul a ball off my foot, you kind of think about those guys. I’m not the only one who’s feeling like crap right now.”

Passing Escobar specifically is special for Merrifield, who played with the Royals shortstop from 2016-18. In fact, the first 11 games of Merrifield’s streak overlapped with the final 11 games of Escobar’s streak from June 25-July 7, 2018.

The last time the Royals fielded a lineup that did not include Merrifield or Escobar was Sept. 25, 2015, the day after the club clinched the American League Central title.

“I always admired Esky, his ability to show up every day and strap it on and play as hard as he did every day,” Merrifield said. “To be able to say I played as many, hopefully more games, in a row as he did, watching him go through what he did is cool.”

Royals rumblings
A six-man rotation in the works for the Royals right now leaves them a pitcher short in the bullpen, so there might be days where starters are wearing spikes and available in case the Royals get into a bind. On days where a starter is scheduled to throw his bullpen, he might wait until after the game in case he’s needed. But that will be in emergency cases only, manager Mike Matheny said.

“You’re a guy short in the bullpen, and we’re going 17 games now more in a row coming off as tough as a spot we’ve seen our pitching staff in,” Matheny said. “We’re always going to make sure guys are feeling right, but if we got some bullets to spend on a bullpen, and we could use them if we get pushed in a corner, then we’ll do it.”