Kansas City Royals rookie MJ Melendez stepped into the box against Jake Diekman, a notoriously tough reliever against left-handed hitters, with the score tied in the seventh inning. On a 1-2 pitch, Melendez blasted a go-ahead home run and shouted to his teammates in the home dugout on his way to first base while pointing demonstratively towards the ground.
Melendez’s 14th home run of the season, which moves him within two of the team lead, put the Royals in front for good on their way to an 8-3 win over the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday night in front of an announced 15,463 in the third game of a four-game set at Kauffman Stadium.
“I was just really hyped up for the team, really excited,” Melendez said. “I knew once we got that lead, we weren’t giving it back.”
The teams will wrap up their series on Thursday afternoon. The Royals (46-66) moved to one game above .500 in their last 51 games (26-25).
With the score tied 3-3 in the seventh, the White Sox turned to Diekman, a recently-acquired left-hander and a former Royal who’d held lefty batters to a .185 batting average this season. Entering the night, he’d allowed just one homer to a lefty this season.
Melendez had hit two home runs this season against lefties entering the day and had posted a high batting average against southpaws (.282 compared to .212).
“That whole at-bat, (I was) just kind of waiting for that pitch, waiting for a hanging slider,” Melendez said. “Obviously, his fastball is very good. Just trying to pick a pitch, pick a spot, try to do some damage and I got a good pitch to hit.
“Right when I hit it, I kind of knew. But here at Kauffman you never really know. Once it finally landed, I saw the right fielder look up at the wall. I was super pumped up.”
Melendez said his message to the dugout was simply, “Let’s go!” He has four home runs in his last seven games, all on the current homestand.
Favorite photo from the @Royals game last night ended up being a sequence of photos. @mjmelendez7 hit a bomb to right field to break open the game and his reaction was indicative of the energy the team has been playing with. Fun baseball to watch. pic.twitter.com/8KpgbSbsEG
— Jason Hanna (@JasonHannaphoto) August 11, 2022
The Royals had 15 hits (10 by rookies) and they’ve now homered in eight consecutive games.
“I love how they just add on too, just grinding at-bats — that’s been the fun part to watch about this offense,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “They just don’t want to stop. They’ll hand it off to the next guy. They’ll take their free base if you give it to them. The next guy might do some damage.”
Bubic duels with Cueto
Royals starting pitcher Kris Bubic allowed three runs (one earned) on seven hits and three walks in 5 2/3 innings. He also struck out six. All three runs came in the sixth inning.
Bubic faced a bases-loaded situation with one out in the second inning, but stranded three men on base.
The Royals hit into inning-ending double plays in three of the first four innings against White Sox starter Johnny Cueto, a member of the Royals’ 2015 World Series championship team.
“That’s Cueto,” Matheny said. “You’re never going to see the same pitch twice, all day. There’s a reason he’s been in the league as long as he’s been. He gets out of some binds. He knows how to tease the zone. These guys had never faced him before. For them to be able to put anything together is impressive.”
The Royals got on the board in the third when Witt laced an RBI single into left field with two outs for his team-leading 57th RBI of the season.
Bubic, who felt he had his best fastball of the season, and the Royals held onto that one-run margin until the sixth inning.
Bubic gave up a leadoff single followed by a one-out walk and a single to load the bases. Gavin Sheets then blistered a potential double play ball to second base that Michael Massey couldn’t glove cleanly and two runs scored.
The ball hit sharply (106 mph) to Massey was originally ruled a hit, but it was later changed to an error.
Then with two outs, Bubic went to a full count against Josh Harrison before he gave up an RBI single on the ground into left field. Bubic exited the game after that hit, and reliever Wyatt Mills recorded the final out of the inning, stranding two runners.
The Royals answered two batters later after Witt beat out an infield single and Perez lined an RBI double into the right-center field gap. Perez’s double snapped a streak of 27 consecutive RBIs for the Royals by rookie batters, dating back more than four games.
With two outs in the sixth, Massey made amends for the error when he lined an RBI single into center field to score Perez and tie the game 3-3.
“Anything to help the team win,” Massey said. “I obviously wanted to make that play in the top of the sixth for Kris. He pitched his butt off and gave us a chance to get out of that inning with that double play ball. I just missed it. To be able to come up big in the next inning felt really good.”
After Melendez’s go-ahead homer in the seventh, the Royals tacked on a pair of insurance runs on Isbel’s two-run single. Then Melendez and Perez also added RBI singles to bring the total to eight runs.
“Massey stepped up there,” Bubic said. “Obviously, a hard-hit ball so it’s tough. He came through the next inning. That’s what really good players do. You turn the page. That was really exciting to see from him.
“From all the guys up and down the lineup to put up 15 hits tonight, it’s amazing to go out there right now and to know that lineup is going to put up competitive at-bats and keep us in the ballgame even when we don’t pitch that well. It was awesome to see them respond like that, and hopefully we keep it going.”
The Royals bullpen contingent of Mills (1/3 inning), Josh Staumont (one inning), Dylan Coleman (one inning) and Luke Weaver (one inning) didn’t allow a hit or a walk over the final 3 1/3 innings.