KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For the first time this season, the Royals won a series. They beat the Tigers 4-2 on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium in a game that lasted 2 hours and 16 minutes, thanks in part to another sterling outing from starting pitcher Jakob Junis and the speed of second baseman Whit Merrifield.
Merrifield jumpstarted the Royals’ offense in the first inning. He rolled a ground ball down the line that would have been an easy out.
Instead, Tigers third baseman Niko Goodrum deflected it into left field. Merrifield pumped his arms, but his sprint around the bases seemed effortless. He wasted no time coming into the bag at second. He slid the final few feet and was standing to pull off his batting gloves when the throw from outfielder JaCoby Jones hit cutoff man Jose Iglesias.
Merrifield later scored on Mike Moustakas’ sacrifice fly.
Merrifield hasn’t had the chance this season to flaunt much of his speed, which he turned into 32 doubles, six triples and an American League-best 34 stolen bases last season. Opponents have tempered it. He entered Sunday with four steals, tied for 26th in baseball with 13 others, and had been caught stealing twice. His double in the first inning was his seventh of the year.
But against Boyd on Sunday afternoon, the script flipped. Merrifield flaunted fleet-footedness, which MLB’s Statcast system clocked at 29 feet per second. He is tied for third among all second basemen in sprint speed.
And although Boyd did little to hold runners, allowing Merrifield to nab two bags in the third inning without putting up much of a fight, Merrifield matched a career high with three stolen bases in the game.
Merrifield’s aggressiveness sparked a three-run third inning in which the Royals reached base four times in a row with two outs. Merrifield was the first, singling on a ground ball. He stole second base ahead of Jorge Soler’s five-pitch walk. The pair scored easily when Moustakas smacked a double into the wall in center field.
Then Salvador Perez skied a fly ball to left field. Iglesias, blinded by the sun, backed up to into the outfield to attempt a catch but lost sight of the ball. He dropped to the grass and covered his head in anticipation. The ball landed a few feet to his left.
By the time Jones scooped it up, Moustakas had scored the Royals’ fourth run.
It was all the insurance they needed, as Junis and his electric slider limited the Tigers to two runs and eight hits in seven-plus innings. The Royals, after taking three of four from the Tigers, improved to 11-23.