Friday night was a good night.
Bubba Starling made his long-awaited Major League debut, Whit Merrifield and Martin Maldonado homered, and the Royals bullpen were able to hold off the Tigers late to win 8-5.
Earlier today, the Royals called up 2011 first-round pick Bubba Starling from Class AAA Omaha. In his MLB debut eight years after graduating Gardner Edgerton High School, Starling finished 0 for 3 with a walk and a run scored.
“You know, you get out there and you look up, and you’re like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m playing center field for the Kansas City Royals,’” Starling said. “Very, very special stuff. It’s stuff you dream about. I’ll cherish this the rest of my life.”
Starling managed to make his debut a day to remember. In his first plate appearance, he drew a walk on five pitches. Starling then managed to score his first run two batters later, when a throw went behind Tigers first baseman Brandon Dixon on what could have been an inning-ending double play.
Martin Maldonado broke the 5-5 tie with a go-ahead home run that crept just over the left-field fencing. Jorge Soler added a no-doubter not too long after that to help extend the lead.
The bullpen allowed only one run over the final seven innings after Danny Duffy needed to exit early with a minor injury. Jorge Lopez led that charge, throwing three scoreless innings.
“I felt like I was on time with my deliveries,” Lopez said. “I didn’t give anything to the hitters. My mind was focused on the target, and I kept my mind on what we were trying to do.”
Duffy managed to get through the first two innings just fine but the third inning was when it all unraveled. A 71-mph comebacker struck his throwing hand off the bat of Victor Reyes. Duffy left the game two batters later after a walk and a couple of hard-hit balls, though X-rays taken at the stadium were negative. Duffy left the game with six hits, four earned runs, two walks, and three strikeouts.
Down two after his departure, the Royals responded with three runs in the bottom of the third, all of them with two outs. Soler drove in one with a double into the gap before first baseman Cheslor Cuthbert directed a change-up 400 feet into the left-field seats to give the Royals a 5-4 lead.
On the mound, Lopez and the bullpen kept the game tight. In his most productive outing of the season, Lopez threw three shutout innings, allowing just two base runners while striking out three. Of the 41 pitches he threw, 31 found the strike zone. The bullpen gave up just three hits while recording the final 21 outs of the game.
“The bullpen just came in and did a wonderful job,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “But Lopez, when he came in, I told him, ‘We have second and third. I don’t care about the runner on third. Let’s just see if we can hold this guy.’ And that’s exactly what he did.”
The Royals are currently undefeated to begin the second half of the season. Who knew? Sure, it may not last but if this team can play respectable baseball from here on out, then it may be enough to get the fans back to Kauffman Stadium. While their record doesn’t show it, this team has made strides this season. Tonight went on to show that when the Royals bullpen is able to do their job and keep a game tight enough for the offense to break through, they will win more baseball games than they will lose. And that is what everyone in Kansas City is hoping for, a baseball team that can win games and give the fans something to cheer for.