In the most bizarre ending so far this season and under perhaps the unluckiest circumstances imaginable, the Royals losing streak extended to 10 games as Whit Merrifield’s franchise-record hitting streak was snapped on Thursday afternoon.
The Royals were victims of a four-game series sweep at the hands of the Seattle Mariners, losing 7-6 in 10 innings in front of an announced 10,231 at Kauffman Stadium.
Along the way, the Royals may have lost their starting center fielder Billy Hamilton to injury and squandered maybe the best pitching performance of the season by Jorge Lopez in a cruel twist of fate and swirling winds.
“It’s not easy, but you’ve got to keep reminding yourself it’s a long season, 162 games is a long season,” Merrifield said. “We’re … 12 games in, so what’s happening can’t continue throughout the whole season. It just can’t. Those balls aren’t going to fall all year for our opponents. It’s just a matter of when’s it going to turn, and hopefully it’s tomorrow.”
Merrifield’s streak stopped at 31 games, one game longer than Hall of Famer George Brett’s previous franchise record. Merrifield, who entered the day batting .340, went 0 for 6 with four fly outs and two strikeouts.
His last chance to extend the streak came in the 10th inning with two outs, but he struck out chasing a 98-mph fastball which ended the game.
“Of my last nine outs, I feel like I’ve made six good swings on good pitches in the zone to hit, and either hit on the barrel at somebody or just missed it underneath or off the hands just a hair,” Merrifield said. “That’s kind of what makes streaks like this so rare. That’s just how baseball works.”
For the second game in a row and in a span of less than 24 hours, Royals hitters Jorge Soler and Hunter Dozier hit home runs in the same game. Dozier’s second-inning solo line-drive homer scored the game’s first run, while Soler blasted a two-run homer with Alex Gordon aboard with two outs in the third inning.
When Adalberto Mondesi’s leadoff blast in the fifth inning hit the back wall of the Royals bullpen, it gave the Royals a 4-0 advantage — their largest lead in a game since they led the Chicago White Sox 4-0 through five innings on March 30.
Lopez didn’t allow a baserunner until the fourth inning when Domingo Santana’s roller picked up just enough steam to squeeze between third base and shortstop and find the outfield grass. Lopez left with the Royals ahead 4-2 after the Mariners had pushed two runs across in the sixth inning.
Dee Gordon’s solo homer to start the sixth set a major-league record as the Mariners became the team to hit at least one home run in the first 15 games to start a season. They’d been tied with the 2002 Cleveland Indians, who homered in their first 14 games.
The Mariners pulled within one on Gordon’s RBI triple off the glove of a diving Terrance Gore in left-center field in the seventh.
Soler (RBI double) and Dozier (RBI single) gave the Royals a 6-3 lead through seven innings. Even after Royals reliever Wily Peralta gave up a run in the eighth, when a half swing by Santana flared a ball just onto the grass in shallow right field, the Royals still led 6-4.
Royals reliever Brad Boxberger came within one out of securing the victory with two men on in the ninth.
Hamilton, who’d just entered the game as a defensive replacement, appeared to momentarily have the deep fly ball off the bat of Mitch Haniger. But the ball drifted and tailed away from Hamilton in the wind.
Hamilton’s momentum carried him violently into the outfield wall in center field just after the ball caromed off the webbing of his glove for a two-run triple.
Hamilton remained hunched over on the warning track after the play. Hamilton was taken off the field on a cart. The Royals said after the game that he was having an MRI on his left knee.
Boxberger and Royals manager Ned Yost said they thought off the bat that Haniger’s hit was a fly ball that would end the game. Merrifield, playing right field, gave a fist pump when he saw the ball go up because he could feel the end of the losing skid.
“It’s just the way we’re rolling right now,” Boxberger said of the recent slide. “It’s just a matter of coming out tomorrow and a new day, new team we’re facing. It’s just a matter of going out there and trying to win tomorrow.”
Mariners slugger Daniel Vogelbach’s sixth home run of the season, a smash to left-center off of Glenn Sparkman in the top of the 10th, provided the margin of victory.
“It hurts,” Yost said. “It’s not fun. It’s not a fun way to lose a game. We have to battle our way through it. I thought we had it.”
In the bottom half of the inning, Lucas Duda lined out on a ball that appeared smoked towards the right-center field fountain. Instead the wind slowed the ball until it came harmlessly to rest in the glove of Mariners center fielder Mallex Smith.
“I guarantee Duda hit that ball better than Haniger hit his,” Merrifield said seeming almost mystified. “It’s just ... wrong part of the field.”