KANSAS CITY, Mo. (TNS) — Royals starter Danny Duffy stood on a damp mound at Kauffman Stadium on Thursday afternoon, a comfortable opening-day lead on the Kauffman Stadium video board at his back.
He had cruised through the first three innings, facing 10 batters while only allowing a walk and a double. He had recorded five strikeouts and touched 93 mph on the radar, something he couldn’t do comfortably when he was pulled out of his final Cactus League start on Saturday because of tightness in his left shoulder.
But in a span of 32 pitches on Thursday, Duffy lost the thread. White Sox right fielder Avisail Garcia led off the fourth inning with a double — and it wasn’t until Garcia returned to the right-handed batter’s box later in the same inning that Duffy would regain any semblance of control again.
Duffy ended up yielding five runs in the fourth and took the loss in the Royals’ season-opening 14-7 defeat.
"I didn’t have it in that fourth inning," Duffy said. "We paid the price for it. Any time you get a four-run lead on the mound you think you’re gonna get a win out of it. ... In the grand scheme of it all, I don’t expect that out of me ever."
For nearly an hour at Kauffman Stadium, the announced crowd of 36,517 buzzed with excitement for the 2018 season, despite roster moves in the previous 24 hours that included Salvador Perez landing on the disabled list for at least four weeks and former top prospect Kyle Zimmer being designated for assignment.
Because, in the first inning against former Royals starter James Shields, the Kansas City's new-look team strung together five hits to jump out to a 4-0 lead.
Jon Jay led off the inning with a single, Whit Merrifield moved him over when he found empty space underneath the glove of White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson for a hit and Mike Moustakas laced an RBI hit up the right side of the infield.
Merrifield and Moustakas crossed home plate when Lucas Duda put the barrel of his bat on an 89 mph offering and launched a 410-foot homer to the Pepsi Porch in center field. Even Alex Gordon, who spent all spring struggling to find his tempo at the plate, logged an extra-base hit with a double to left field.
But the momentum didn’t last. Shields neutralized the Royals lineup for the next five frames, working in offspeed pitches like a knuckle-curve that hovered around 77 mph and sent the Royals off-kilter. Cheslor Cuthbert was the only batter to reach base in that span, and it was only because he was hit by a pitch on the outside of his left thigh in the third inning.
"He makes adjustments on the mound as good as anybody else does," Moustakas said of Shields. "We got to him a little bit early there. ... He did a fantastic job the rest of the way out. "
Meanwhile, Duffy came undone. The White Sox batted around in the fourth. Jose Abreu and Matt Davidson hit back-to-back home runs that traveled a combined 845 feet. Anderson later hit his own 410-foot blast.
By the end of his first start of the season, Duffy had allowed seven hits, issued two walks and had thrown 46 of his 78 pitches for strikes in four innings.
He would have liked to be afforded a chance to redeem his mistakes. But with Abreu up to lead off the fifth inning, Royals managed Ned Yost decided not to push his luck.
"He wasn’t making quality pitches," Yost said. "My mindset at that point, Abreu was up and I was trying to keep the game right there."
Instead, most of the Royals’ bullpen followed Duffy’s lead. The relief corps imploded for nine runs on seven hits. Closer Kelvin Herrera, fellow right-hander Brandon Maurer and Rule 5 acquisition Brad Keller, who made his major-league debut and pitched a clean sixth inning, were the only Royals relievers of the eight who appeared in the game to emerge unscathed against the White Sox.
By the time Drew Butera became the first Royal in six innings to crack the hit column with a seventh-inning double and Alcides Escobar scored on a wild pitch in the ninth, it was too late for the Royals to salvage a dreary opening day.
Davidson got the best of both Blaine Boyer — who was in the Royals’ spring-training camp as a non-roster invitee and gave up three runs on two homers on Thursday — and Brian Flynn.
Davidson became the fourth major-league player to hit three home runs in an opening-day game. The first time anyone in baseball accomplished the feat was when Blue Jays outfielder George Bell belted three homers against the Royals on April 4, 1988.
That night, Kansas beat Oklahoma for the NCAA national championship in basketball.
"He had a heck of a day," Duffy said of Davidson.