Infante’s Slam and Dominant Bullpen Propel Royals past Angels 8-6

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Back off the ledge, Royals fans. At least for one night.

Omar Infante hit his first career grand slam, Ned Yost pulled his starter before it was too late, and the Royals’ bullpen dominated in an 8-6 win over the Los Angeles Angels on Friday night. In front of over 35,000 people, Kansas City’s bats came alive in a huge third inning that propelled the Royals to a series-opening victory.

Just minutes into the game, Mike Trout clobbered a record-breaking homerun to open the scoring. Trout jumped on a 3-1 fastball and hammered it to deep left center, splashing into the second level of iconic Kauffman Stadium fountains. The distance of the long ball was a jaw-dropping 489 feet, which is the longest distance recorded in ESPN’s nine years of measuring home runs.

Vargas surrendered a second home run when C.J. Cron launched a big fly of his own in the second inning. After working scoreless third and fourth frames, Vargas got into trouble when the first six batters to face him in the fifth all hit safely. Ned Yost pulled him after a single by Trout loaded the bases with nobody out and three runs already home. His final line: 4.0 innings, nine hits, six runs, and one strikeout. It was Vargas’ shortest outing of the season, and just the second time in 2014 he failed to go at least five innings.

Fortunately for Vargas, the Royals came up huge offensively in the third frame. Alcides Escobar doubled to open the inning, and he scored when David Freese misfired a throw trying to field Jarrod Dyson’s bunt try down the third base line. Dyson advanced to second on the error and scored on a Lorenzo Cain single, which tied the game at two runs apiece.

From there, an Eric Hosmer single and a Billy Butler walk loaded the bases for Alex Gordon, still with nobody out. The Royals’ left fielder came through with a sacrifice fly to give the team a 3-2 lead, but after Salvador Perez reached with a single of his own to load the bases once again, Omar Infante had ideas of his own. Infante smoked a chin-high fastball just over the fence in left field for his first career grand slam, blowing open the game and capping a seven-run frame for the Royals. Butler would add another run with a fourth-inning RBI single, giving Kansas City an 8-2 advantage.

Through 79 games, the Royals have seen their second basemen record 45 RBI’s (38 from Infante). As a comparison, Kansas City second basemen last season drove in just 52 runs.

The offensive fireworks came as a surprise to many fans who had anticipated a pitching duel between Jason Vargas and Scott Shoemaker. The pitchers combined to allow 14 runs on 20 hits – and four home runs. Fortunately for Kansas City, the Royals’ bullpen was as sharp as it had been all season.

Michael Mariot was the surprising choice by Ned Yost to put out Vargas’ fire. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Albert Pujols managed to drive in the Angels’ fourth run of the frame on a sac fly, but Josh Hamilton fouled out and Howie Kendrick was retired on a liner to Lorenzo Cain in right field. Cain’s impressive running grab prevented the Angels from tying the game.

Mariot would work back into trouble in the sixth inning after walking Eric Aybar, and when Freese reached safely after Infante couldn’t handle a sharp grounder, Yost reached into his bullpen once again. From that point on, it was lights out for Kansas City. Kelvin Herrera entered the game and quickly got out of the jam via a strikeout and a groundout. Herrera returned for the seventh and worked a perfect frame of relief, striking out Trout looking on a 100 mph fastball in the process.

After seeing both Wade Davis and Greg Holland hiccup last week, Royals fans perhaps were overanxious while wondering if an 8-6 lead would be enough. The worry was all for not, as the duo, labeled “Shake and Bake” by some fans, slammed the door on Los Angeles. After Davis retired Kendrick via groundout, the two would combine to strike out the Angels’ final five hitters.

Davis, who received the loss on Wednesday night after hitting a batter with the bases loaded in a tie game, looked just fine. Holland came into the game having allowed home runs in back-to-back appearances for the first time in his career. It didn’t matter – he earned his AL-leading 23rd save in 24 chances. After he re-wrote the Royals history books with 31 straight save conversions last season, it’s perhaps time to start paying attention to another run of his. Since blowing a save chance on May 5 in San Diego, Holland has converted his last 16 opportunities.

Herrera’s dominant appearance was perhaps the final nail in the “who should be the seventh-inning guy” debate. The three-headed monster of Herrera, Davis and Holland combined to retire all 11 batters they faced (who were also the final 11 batters of the game), striking out eight of them in the process.

Friday night, save for a couple home runs allowed by Vargas, was exactly the type of game the Royals thrive in. Dayton Moore and Yost have repeatedly said that when the offense is able to produce, the defense and the bullpen will do the rest. For the first time in their last nine games, Kansas City produced more than five runs.

It’s quite clear how good the Royals can be. Games like this only prove it. Assuming that the starting pitching will continue to be fine, all they need is for the offense to provide. We saw first hand what the defense and bullpen will provide night-in and night-out. If the offense can maintain production, another hot streak might be just around the corner.

Up next: the series continues on Saturday afternoon when Yordano Ventura (5-6, 3.20 ERA) takes the mound for Kansas City. His opponent is the winless Hector Santiago (0-7, 4.41), who is making his first start since June 15. While Santiago has struggled recently, his record is slightly misleading, as he has been the frequent victim of poor run support. Still, this is a matchup that the Royals need to exploit. Taking the series from the Angels would be a great way to begin a turnaround.

One more thing – in 12 hours, I will be the proud owner of a James Shields bobblehead. I wonder if I’ll be able to sleep out of anticipation.

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Author: Ryan Landreth

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