In the news business, a wise veteran once told me, twice is a coincidence but three times makes for a trend story. And that’s just part of why it seems safe to say otherwise-might-be-a-major-star Adalberto Mondesi’s third appearance on the injured list this season, not to mention sixth in four seasons, certifies his unreliability as a looming predicament for the Royals to navigate.
So as the Royals began a curiously circuitous nine-game road trip through New York, Texas and then Boston on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium, here they were, resetting again after another abrupt loss of the tantalizing Mondesi.
“Just a shame. A shame for Mondi. A shame for us,” manager Mike Matheny said before the game, later adding that there was no denying this team looks different with him on the field. “It’s a fact.”
A reality affirmed as much by the eye test of his poetry in motion at shortstop as the gaudy numbers (nine extra-base hits, including four home runs, and nine RBIs in 10 games) even in what might be called a cameo role this season. It’s not hard to make a case that there’s a reason the Royals are 6-4 with him playing and until Tuesday night 26-34 without him.
But it turns out they’re not calling off the rest of the season on account of Mondesi’s other oblique injury, which comes with Andrew Benintendi already on the injured list with a right rib fracture. And it happens that other teams have to contend with injured players, too.
And while Mondesi may present a dilemma to be reconciled in the future, there remains a right-here, right-now to play for — especially for a franchise whose last two full seasons before the pandemic-shortened 2020 were marked by 100-plus losses and for a team trying to change that vibe and trajectory.
So even as Matheny was acknowledging Mondesi’s impact, he had a substantial message to add to it.
And even if it ultimately was something he kind of has to say, well, the point sure seemed to resonate Tuesday in what became a 6-5 Royals victory over the Yankees.
As Matheny spoke of the “shame” it was for all concerned that Mondesi is hurt again, he quickly added, “We don’t stick around in that space very long” and instead think about who’s got an opportunity with Mondesi out.
And even as he said all involved “hurt for the player,” he added, “But I’m not going to hurt for our club. Because what we do now is we go.”
Instead of ringing hollow, those words reverberated across and through their third win in four games after losing 11 of 12 to improve to 33-38.
It was one night, yes, but nonetheless a victory forged by what could well have been a drooping team that prevailed through a series of precarious scenarios all game.
Like being down 2-0 when Brady Singer loaded the bases with walks in the fourth inning but kept afloat by Kris Bubic throwing one pitch to induce a tame groundout to start a key 2.1-inning stint.
Or with the response to New York’s go-ahead run in the seventh inning after Luke Voit’s fly was ruled a triple touched by fan in the field of play just beyond Jarrod Dyson’s outstretched reach in left (“Hopefully, we’ll get a better explanation,” Mathey said, “but that made no sense to me.”): The answer was a four-run eighth enabled by five hits, the situational sort of stuff Matheny has been preaching but has been in short supply for long periods.
And then putting it away with a helter-skelter Greg Holland save with two men on in the ninth.
But if this night was a bit about grit, it also was about seizing the moment. And no one embodied that more than Ryan O’Hearn, who was brought back up from Class AAA Omaha in the corresponding move when Mondesi was placed on the 10-day injured list.
Since he’d been optioned on May 28, when he was hitting .189, O’Hearn had hit 12 home runs in 19 games to lead minor-league baseball. And he retained that touch Tuesday by hitting a homer off Gerrit Cole in his second at-bat to tie the game and grinding out an infield single in that four-run eighth.
Afterward, he might have been more proud of that than the home run he said he said wasn’t trying to hit.
“I don’t know if you guys saw,” he said, smiling, “but I was moving pretty good down the line.”
More to the point, O’Hearn knows he’s at a crossroads of sorts in terms of where he fits in the Royals future. He turns 28 next month and knows the word “potential” is becoming increasingly less relevant than performance.
“I need to make it happen,” he said.
The trick is that making it happen isn’t so much about trying harder as trying … easier. He knows that, too, and thinks this time in Omaha he got into a comfort zone of swinging easy and feeling mentally free that can sustain him now.
At least for one night he embraced opportunity created by the absence of Mondesi and converted that for the Royals, whose season, for all its oddities and wretched stretches, also has featured the best record in baseball until May 1 and remains to be defined no matter when Mondesi returns … or for how long.
Because in the meantime, the Royals have to try to control what they can control, as Matheny put it after this game.
And as much as Mondesi can change things in an instant (in any number of ways of looking at that), there’s still plenty worth following here.