The youth-infused Kansas City Royals started their 11-game homestand by taking three of four against the Boston Red Sox, a club that just traded for former Royals star Eric Hosmer and entered the series at Kauffman Stadium harboring playoff aspirations.
Royals starting pitcher Brad Keller bounced back from a forgettable outing in Chicago in the aftermath of the trade deadline and tossed six strong innings, while rookie catcher MJ Melendez drove in a career-high six runs in a 13-5 win over the Red Sox in front of an announced 14,949 Sunday afternoon.
One day after rookie first baseman Nick Pratto lifted the Royals to victory with a walk-off home run, all 12 RBIs recorded in Sunday’s game for the Royals came from rookie hitters.
That matched a club record set in Game 2 of a doubleheader on Aug. 21, 1995, according to Bally Sports Kansas City’s Dave Holtzman.
“You take three of four from any team, I don’t care who it is, it’s hard to win a game in the major leagues, let alone three out of four,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “So for us to watch the excitement of doing it — hanging in there late last night and having one of these guys come through for us and something he’s never experienced before (and) a number of them have a good day today — they’re just hungry.
“I don’t think it was from a lack of hunger before. It’s just a different group, and they’re fun to watch. But they’re doing all the work, too.”
Rookies Nate Eaton (2 for 3, double, triple, two runs scored) and Michael Massey (2 for 3, double, walk, two RBIs, two runs scored) also enjoyed big days at the plate, while rookie outfielder Kyle Isbel doubled, tripled, scored twice and drove in three runs for the Royals (44-65).
Rookie shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. (1 for 4, walk, RBI) also drove in a run.
“I think that’s a testament to the guys that have been here, helping us young guys feel welcomed,” Massey said. “We’re super-comfortable in the clubhouse and I think that that’s transferring over to the field. They’re doing a great job of kind of helping us with approaches and, ‘Calm down. Take a deep breath,’ all that stuff. I think a lot of the credit goes to those guys.”
Eaton and Massey had played in just six big-league games apiece until Sunday. They helped the Royals go 6 for 8 with runners in scoring position as KC tallied its most runs in a home game this season.
“Honestly, I think the term hitting is contagious is really true,” Massey said. “When you’ve got runners on base, defenders are out of position. You’ve got guys on third base with less than two outs, they’re playing infield in and it kind of opens up the field.”
Massey got the offense started in the third inning with a smash over the head of Red Sox center fielder Jarren Duran that one-hopped off the wall. Massey advanced to third on a ground ball to second by Eaton, and Isbel got hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners.
Then, with runners on first and third, Red Sox starting pitcher Kutter Crawford committed a balk. Massey was awarded home plate and Isbel second base, giving the Royals a 1-0 lead.
Melendez lined a single into center field and Isbel scored from second to give the Royals a 2-0 advantage.
They held the lead the rest of the day. They added three more runs in the fifth on Melendez’s three-run home run, his third homer in his last four games.
Keller allowed one run on four hits and three walks in six innings. The only run came on a solo homer by Rafael Devers to lead off the sixth inning. Keller also struck out four.
“It’s huge,” Keller said of taking the series. “We’ve got a long homestand versus really good teams. So to start it off like this with (Saturday) night’s win being so thrilling and then today just all these guys coming in and exploding, it’s just huge.
“We’re trying to build on momentum. Obviously, having all these young guys up here and playing and having so much fun doing it is just kind of contagious.”
The Red Sox (54-56) scored two runs off of the Royals’ bullpen and pulled within two runs in the seventh, but the Royals scored two more runs in the bottom half of the inning and then continued to add on with six runs in the eighth.
The Red Sox added two inconsequential runs in the ninth inning against reliever Luke Weaver.
Did taking three of four from the Red Sox teach this young group something about itself, or perhaps confirm what it already believed?
“I think it’s just really confirming what we already thought,” Melendez said. “I knew that we could do this. It was just a matter of time, getting comfortable, putting good at-bats together, good timing with the at-bats and the pitching on the same days. … I think we’re just all putting it all together, and it’s something that’s going to be really fun to watch.”