Everything about this season so far has pointed to the Los Angeles Dodgers being a special team. Well, the Kansas City Royals got an up-close view of just how overwhelming the Dodgers can be when they’re clicking on all cylinders.
Royals starting pitcher Brad Keller struggled out of the gate and the Dodgers jumped on him for five first-inning runs. The Royals never recovered from the early deficit and fell 13-3 to the Dodgers in front of an announced 29,689, the largest KC crowd of the season on Salute to the Negro Leagues night at Kauffman Stadium.
“The first fastball that came out of his hand was a far pull to the left,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said of Keller. “He never really got a real good feel for it. When he did, he caught the middle of the plate. These guys will make you pay for it.”
Matheny called it “fortunate” that Keller got through the first inning. The Royals had several relievers unavailable in the bullpen.
The Dodgers (79-33) clinched the series victory and extended their winning streak to 12 games. They also became the first National League team to win 12 straight games by multiple runs since the Pittsburgh Pirates had a 13-game streak in 1922. That Pirates streak was snapped exactly 100 years ago on August 13, 1922, according to STATS LLC.
The Royals (47-68) will need to win on Sunday afternoon if they are to avoid a three-game sweep.
Both teams wore throwback uniforms in honor of the Negro Leagues as well as the 75th Anniversary of Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier in baseball. The Royals wore 1945 Kansas City Monarchs home uniforms, and the Dodgers wore 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers uniforms.
Keller’s night ended after three innings and 74 pitches. He allowed eight earned runs on nine hits, three walks and a wild pitch. Three of the nine hits against him were home runs, with Dodgers hitters Mookie Betts, Will Smith and Gavin Lux all getting in on the action.
“I just didn’t make any good pitches,” Keller said. “I feel like I got to two strikes and wasn’t able to put them away. I put too many fastballs over the plate, and they did damage on it.”
Keller (6-13) gave up one home run in each of his three innings before he turned it over to Carlos Hernández, who was recalled from Triple-A Omaha before the game. (Hernández filled Joel Payamps’ roster spot; the Royals placed Payamps on the family medical emergency/bereavement list.)
The first two batters scorched balls off Keller and sent them back in the direction from whence they came. First, Dodgers star Betts smashed a solo home run to center field that traveled an estimated 421 feet. Next, Trea Turner lined a ball that hit Keller in the lower leg and caromed toward right field.
Each of the first two balls put in play were smoked with exit velocities over 100 mph, Betts’ blast coming off the bat at 103.9 mph and Turner’s liner at 108.9 mph.
The Dodgers put the first seven batters of the inning on base via a total of five hits and two walks. After Betts’ homer, the next four hits were singles, and the Dodgers methodically kept the heat on Keller.
Keller threw 38 first-inning pitches. He didn’t record an out until the eighth batter he faced, and by that point the Royals already had Hernández warming in the bullpen. Four Dodgers hitters drove in runs, and another run scored on a wild pitch.
“You never want to throw 40 pitches in an inning,” Keller said. “You never want to put the team in a spot like that, down five-nothing after the first.”
The inning ended when Cody Bellinger hit a fly ball to left field and Brent Rooker threw out Justin Turner at home plate when Turner attempted to tag up and score from third.
The Dodgers added two runs in the second inning on Smith’s homer, and they added another in the third on Lux’s solo blast. Keller gave up just two hits in the second inning and two in the third. Neither inning extended nearly as long as the first inning, but the damage done in that first cut short Keller’s outing.
“Obviously, I want to find a way to throw (fewer) pitches and get deeper in the ballgame,” Keller said. “Especially, make the adjustment that I made going into the second and third inning quicker.”
Keller, who described the home-run pitches in the second and third as “mistake pitches,” said after the first inning he went to his breaking ball more frequently and was able to keep hitters off-balance a little more than they were in the first.
After Hernández entered the fray in the fourth, the Dodgers added two more runs on a Max Muncy homer. The Dodgers led 10-2 through four innings, and they scored in five of the first six innings.
Dodgers starting pitcher Andrew Heaney allowed two runs in three innings. He left the game with a left-arm contusion after being hit by a comebacker that was lined back up the middle by Bobby Witt Jr. in the third inning.
Both of Heaney’s runs came on a two-run triple off the left-center field wall by Michael Massey in the second inning.
Royals outfielder Rooker, who made his first start since being called up earlier this week, had two hits, including a double, and drove in a run. Witt also had two hits.
The Royals finished the game with infielder Nicky Lopez on the mound, pitching for the first time in his MLB career. Lopez gave up two runs on a pair of home runs by Joey Gallo and Bellinger in the ninth inning.
Former Royals infielder Hanser Alberto pitched the bottom of the ninth for the Dodgers. Alberto made one relief appearance in similar circumstances for the Royals last season.
The last time the Royals used a position player on the mound was when center fielder Michael A. Taylor pitched on July 9. Taylor aired it out and got his velocity up to as much as 94 mph in that outing. However, he did not play the field for several games following that outing due to shoulder soreness.
Lopez said he stuck to “knuckleballs.”
“Obviously, it was in the back of my head too,” Lopez said of not wanting to risk injury by seeing how hard he could throw. “I wanted to, but in the back of my mind was: Hey, I might have to play tomorrow too. What’s a little bit more important? I was just trying to throw strikes and help the team. If it allows us now to burn another pitcher, that’s what I want to do.”
Matheny, who doesn’t like to use position players as pitchers, said Lopez agreed to go “nice and easy” when he took the mound.
“Unfortunately, that turned into a couple home runs, but he saved some guys that were beyond not ready to go today,” Matheny said. “We needed him to go finish that. I’m grateful that he was willing to do it.”