Soler leads Royals' offensive outburst
PITTSBURGH — It remains unclear exactly who called in the favor or what deity may have heard the appeal, but there's no reason to believe any chickens were sacrificed or incantations undone — for those who use cinematic reference points such as "Major League" or "Bull Durham."
Whatever the cosmic shift, the Kansas City Royals benefited enormously from similar types of hard-hit balls and patient approaches that left them shaking their heads in a loss one night earlier against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Wednesday night, the Royals had no need for answers. The only pertinent question seemed to be "how quickly can the next man get into the batter's box."
The Royals smacked 12 hits, including five extra-base hits, on their way to the highest-scoring game of their road trip in a 9-6 win over the Pirates in front of an announced 4,226 at PNC Park.
The win earned the Royals a split of the two-game set. Jorge Soler led the way with three hits, including two doubles, two runs scored and three RBIs. Along with Soler, Salvador Perez registered three hits, including a double, a run scored and an RBI. Andrew Benintendi walked three times, doubled and drove in two runs, while Hunter Dozier had a two-run triple. Whit Merrifield had two hits and scored twice.
"We talked about it, seeing it coming with Soler," Royals manager Mike Matheny said. "That's a big piece. That was that part of the order. We've seen the top third carry us at times. We've seen the bottom third, especially early on, really do a nice job of carrying some of the weight. It was that middle third, and Soler, Benintendi and Dozier were all putting together really good at-bats, big at-bats."
The Royals (15-8) will have a day off on Thursday before beginning the final leg of their three-city, nine-game road trip against an AL Central Division rival, the Minnesota Twins. The win also clinched a winning road trip for the Royals, their first winning three-city road trip since July 24-Aug. 2, 2017, when they went 5-4 at Detroit, Boston and Baltimore. Wednesday night, they needed sustained offense as an early 6-0 lead turned into a one-run game, 6-5, in short order.
The Royals responded again with a three-run sixth after the Pirates (12-12) pulled within a run.
"A kick in the gut, and we saw what it felt like when you have a big lead and watch it dwindle away really fast," Matheny said. "A real statement of character by our guys, how they came right back out and added on three more runs."
The Royals sent seven men to the plate in the first inning, and three of them scored. Both of their hits went for extra bases. They drew two walks, one by Carlos Santana and the other by Benintendi, and both men came around to score. Along the way, they ran Pirates starting pitcher Mitch Keller's pitch count up to 47. Soler opened the scoring when he lined an RBI double into the right-center field gap at the conclusion of an 11-pitch at-bat. That was the sixth plate appearance of 10 pitches or more for the Royals this season, that's the most in the majors according to Inside Edge.
"It was a great at-bat, and it definitely felt good to win it," Soler said with assistant strength and conditioning coach Luis Perez translating from Spanish. "After all that getting that line drive at the end was rewarding."
The previous night, Soler and Dozier had the two hardest-hit balls of the game. Both screaming line drives went for outs. Soler's came off the bat at 114.5 mph and landed in the glove of left fielder Phillip Evans, while Dozier's 109.7 mph went squarely at Pirates second baseman Adam Frazier.
"It's definitely a mental test," Soler said. "You always want to go out there and make an adjustment without getting too crazy, but you just have to go out and trust your skill and keep at it."
The tables tipped in the Royals' favor on Wednesday. Soler ripped a line drive over the second baseman and into the right-center field gap. It carried to the wall as Santana scored. Then after Benintendi walked, Dozier mashed a ball into the left-center field gap that nobody caught up to until it rolled to the wall. By then, the runners had easily scored and Dozier motored his way into third base much to the delight of his teammates in what was a raucous visiting dugout.
The Royals added three more runs by the end of the fourth inning. Michael A. Taylor's bases-loaded walk forced a run in the third inning. Perez and Soler added back-to-back RBI singles in the fourth that pushed the lead to 6-0. Minor gave up three runs in the bottom of the fourth on a pair of home runs. With a man on after a lead-off walk and Minor wanting to attack the zone, Erik Gonzalez jumped on a 1-2 fastball and launched it for a two-run homer.
The next batter, Jacob Stallings, drove a 2-1 changeup to the wall in center field. Taylor made a tremendous play on the run to leap and snag the ball on the move. However, Taylor crashed into the wall with his arm still extended and the collision jarred the ball loose on the opposite side of the wall for a solo homer.
The Pirates continued to chip away at that lead until they got within a run, 6-5, in the fifth inning. Minor gave up five runs (four earned) on six hits, including two homers, and three walks in 4 1/3 innings. A two-base throwing error by shortstop Nicky Lopez hastened his exit in the fifth and led to the unearned run.
"Our offense did their job really early on, but there's a lot of game left and I think both sides knew that," Minor said. "Once they got a couple runs on the board, it looks a lot different. Then it gives them some energy and some momentum. It was my job to put a stop to that, and I didn't."
Soler and Benintendi led the onslaught in a three-run sixth inning for the Royals. Soler's second double of the night drove in the first run, while Benintendi's two-run double provided even more breathing room in the form of a 9-5 lead. The Pirates added one run against reliever Tyler Zuber in the eighth on a two-out RBI single by Evans.