Starling comes through with clutch hit in Royals win
The Kansas City Royals held onto right-handed reliever Greg Holland despite reported interest from several teams at the trade deadline, and Holland secured the victory in the series opener with the Cleveland Indians on Monday night.
Holland stranded the tying run on second base as the Royals scratched out a 2-1 win over the Indians at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals scored both of their runs in the eighth inning, including the game-winning RBI single by Bubba Starling on a single up the middle.
The Royals won despite trailing after the seventh inning for the first time since Sept. 29, 2019.
"It felt great," Starling said. "Brad (Keller) went out and did his thing tonight, looked great. (Scott) Barlow, Holly, they kept us in the game. We've been missing those big hits towards the end of the games. We've been so close, been in so many games. Hopefully, we can take this and move the momentum forward."
Starling's single was his first hit since Aug. 4 against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, and he hadn't had an at-bat in a game since Aug. 23.
Maikel Franco had two of the Royals' four hits, while Alex Gordon and Starling had the other two. Hunter Dozier walked three times and scored a run. Jorge Soler walked twice and also scored.
With the Royals trailing 1-0 in the eighth, Franco belted a 1-out RBI single into left field with runners on first and second to drive in the Royals' first run and tie the score. Then Starling, who entered the game as a pinch runner for Gordon, smacked a 1-2 pitch up the middle off of submarine-style pitcher Adam Cimber for an RBI single to give his club its first lead of the night.
"It was tough, first off," Starling said. "I haven't had an at-bat. I've been going in on defense and running bases. I haven't had an at-bat in a week, but I've continued to stay locked-in in the cage. Going into that at-bat, sinker-slider guy I'm just trying to stay through the middle, milk the big part of the field
Starling spent 11 days away from the team earlier in the month as he recovered from a cold and then went to the alternate training site. He was away from the team while ill as a precaution due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
He'd primarily appeared as a late-game defensive replacement since the middle of August. He'd had just 26 plate appearances this season entering the night.
"There was just so much life, even when we were down," Royals manager Mike Matheny said. "You just always felt like we were in that game and felt like we were in that game and felt like we were about to do something. The bullpen gave us a great chance to do it late, but Brad was absolutely fantastic."
Holland came on in the ninth and pitched around a one-out double to earn his second save of the season, his first for the Royals at Kauffman Stadium since Sept. 8, 2015.
"I just try to play the game," Holland said of trade talk. "Thinking about pending free agency has never done me any good. Thinking about tomorrow or the next hitter has never done me any good. I've just got to stay in the moment and keep competing.
"It is what it is. I think any player who someone wants, that says a lot about the player. It means they're bringing something to the table. At the same token, I can't really control that. I've just got to go out there and pitch. It's nice to be wanted if I was. I'm really happy to be here. I still think this team has got a really good chance to win a bunch of games in a short window."
Neither Royals starter Keller nor Indians starter Shane Bieber allowed a run through the first six innings.
Bieber came into the night with a 6-0 record and the best ERA in the majors among qualified pitchers (1.35), while Keller was 3-1 with the third-best ERA (2.08) among pitchers with a minimum of four starts.
Keller, who began the season on the injured list after a COVID-19 infection during spring training 2.0, had a streak of 17 2/3 scoreless innings snapped in his previous start.
The Indians got their lone run against Keller with one out in the seventh. Keller gave up a single up the middle to Carlos Santana followed by an RBI double to the left-center field gap by Franmil Reyes.
Keller finished the night having allowed one run on three hits and one walk in 6 1/3 innings. He struck out four, and threw a season-high 103 pitches.
Keller left the game with his team down 1-0 thanks to an even more dominating performance by Bieber. The Indians' right-hander struck out nine and allowed only one hit in six scoreless innings.
"I felt like I finally got into a groove, but not until the fourth, fifth, sixth inning, when I finally was able to feel like I could put the fastball where I wanted to," Keller said. "After the first two innings, three innings when I was at 65 pitches with our bullpen kind of grinding a little bit, I was like we've got to kind of slow things down, get in the zone, make them hit the ball, make them put the ball on the ground and let our defense work. Our defense made unbelievable plays all night."