Kansas City Royals’ walkoff victory shows how this team can grow. Next stop: St. Louis

Through six innings on Sunday at Kauffman Stadium, the Royals were behind 2-0 — which ought not to be an insurmountable deficit but had proven as such all season given their appalling 1-35 record after trailing to that point.

But first they rallied to tie Washington with an opposite-field home run by MJ Melendez and an 111-mph, 452-foot laser shot from Edward Olivares that shattered a piece of the left field scoreboard and, in fact, left it smoking.

“Sorry but not sorry,” he said, smiling.

Then they won it in the bottom of the ninth when Michael Massey lined in Melendez, who was on second courtesy of first baseman Dominic Smith letting the ball through the wickets and right fielder Lane Thomas bobbling it and Melendez somehow regaining his stride after stumbling coming out of first.

“Obviously almost didn’t make it,” observed manager Matt Quatraro — who also correctly pointed out that it all fell into place because Melendez hustled out of the box.

For that matter, Massey initially thought his shot to right was going to be caught but was grateful topspin brought it down.

Vinnie Pasquantino nearby probably had it right when he scoffed at luck and said Massey had “raked” the ball.

But this result directly against the gravity and momentum of the season at least took some indulgences of sheer serendipity.

So in this agonizing year that the Royals are euphemistically saying is all about “evaluation,” alas, the victory seems much more likely a blip than the start of any sort of trend.

Improving to 16-38 instead of falling to 15-39, after all, is the difference between being on trajectory to 48 wins instead of 45. This trudge remains the second-worst start in club history (14-40 in 2006).

And if the Royals are able to muster a second win in a row on Monday in St. Louis, it will be just the fifth time they’ve won back-to-back outings all season … with a three-game winning streak yet to happen.

It’s easy to dismiss this day, in other words.

Just the same, there’s still a purpose to playing the rest of the season. And the all-too-rare result offered at least a fleeting snapshot of how the Royals are hoping to achieve some traction ahead:

Consider the fine start by Daniel Lynch, one of the vaunted 2018 draftees making his 2023 debut, and key hits by Massey — who has been in the major leagues less than a year — and Melendez — who has been in the bigs just over a year.

Such moments in time, fans can only hope, will beget more from the core group that also features Bobby Witt Jr., Pasquantino, Nick Pratto and whichever others getting considerable time now emerge.

And whatever elusive starting pitchers might materialize.

Belief without evidence is one definition of faith.

But some evidence sure makes for a fine way to gain faith.

“It’s nice to break through,” said Quatraro, suggesting the young team has played hard to the end all season. “They’re hungry, they’re aggressive. They’re young players that want to win,

“Sometimes it takes getting that win to believe you can continue to do it.”

Teammates give Royals second baseman Michael Massey an ice-water bath in celebration of his walkoff single to right field on Sunday afternoon against the Washington Nationals at Kauffman Stadium.
Teammates give Royals second baseman Michael Massey an ice-water bath in celebration of his walkoff single to right field on Sunday afternoon against the Washington Nationals at Kauffman Stadium.

Asked to elaborate, he added, “We’ve talked about this a lot. The majority of these games are close in the middle innings (and) some of them, like today, in the late innings. And it’s just a matter of swinging those games in your favor.

“Now, it’s much easier said than done. But until you do it, you don’t know if you can do it. Until you do it a couple times, you don’t know how that can snowball.”

The idea of it snowballing from here, of course, is far-fetched no matter how encouraging Sunday might have been.

Lynch, after all, was the first Royals starter in eight games to register an out as late as the sixth inning, and the club remains in the dregs in statistical categories across the board.

But tempting as it is to be entrenched in cynicism, this is also true:

If the Royals are going anywhere at all in the next few years, it’s going to be by and through activating the potential within the guys who came through on Sunday …. among plenty of others.

For a microcosm of what that could come to mean, maybe Massey is the best illustration.

He hit just .115 in the first 17 games of the season and just appeared overmatched. Since then, he’s hitting .297 (27 for 91) with 11 RBIs and has three multi-hit games in the last five.

More to the point, perhaps, was how he processed his approach with two outs in the ninth and the chance to end the game.

As the Nats conferred on the mound, he said, he found himself assessing what they were talking about and processing his own increasing experiences in such situations.

That left him feeling “selectively aggressive” — and driving in the game-winning run.

“Any time you get the result is just feedback of your process,” he said, later adding, “Obviously, our process is working.”

Time will tell in the long-term arc. And it’s easy to be skeptical that much at all is working right now.

Even so, you can’t make any second steps without some firsts.

And Sunday at least made for another potential-perhaps-possibly-maybe stepping stone to better days ahead.