By the end of the first inning against the Twins, the Royals had already doubled their run total from Friday night with two runs home.
“This is a team that in the past we’ve had trouble beating, and after last night, they just beat us down and beat us up,” manager Mike Matheny said. “For us to come back, we talked about this a little bit pregame about having the kind of team that answers back when it hasn’t been playing the kind of baseball that we know we can play.”
Kansas City scored one run in its previous 12 innings entering Saturday’s game, a far cry from the nine runs it tallied in four innings against Matt Shoemaker. The 11-3 win at Target Field made the Royals winners in six of their last eight games — a stretch that has seen a somewhat quiet offense at times.
The offensive outburst was led by no other than Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez, who each drove in three runs. Kansas City’s top five hitters in the lineup were responsible for nine RBIs, with Ryan O’Hearn rounding it out with a home run. No. 6 hitter Andrew Benintendi continued to flash signs of his improved approach at the plate with a pair of homers.
“I was trying to take care of my at-bats from last night, in the last few days and today,” Benintendi said. “I thought the ball might be carrying a little bit more today because of the weather, but I was fortunate to get a few up in the wind.”
The Royals were aggressive against Shoemaker. Six of their eight hits off the right-hander were on two strikes, with one resulting in an odd bases-clearing hit in the fourth that rolled only 105 feet away from the plate.
Merrifield’s broken-bat grounder up the middle that extended the Royals’ five-run lead was rather puzzling. The ball left his bat with a 65.3 mph exit velocity and bounced softly up the middle several times before it trickled into no-man’s land in the outfield. Benintendi and Michael A. Taylor scored standing up, but Nicky Lopez scored tumbling across home plate. Lopez traveled 165 feet more than the ball did to reach home.
“It was softly hit and then got through and I know the infield was playing in but when I touched second, I noticed that they weren’t really running full speed to the ball,” Lopez said. “So, I didn’t break stride. I just kept going and picked up [third-base coach Vance Wilson] and he wheeled me in.”
As the Royals outran Minnesota’s defense, they also made more hard contact than the Twins. Kansas City recorded 15 hard-hit balls compared to Minnesota’s eight.
Both of Perez’s hits registered as hard hits for the Royals. His first of the day was a first-inning double that drove in the first Royals run, then he tacked on two more RBIs with a 434-foot homer to center field in the third.
His two-run homer broke a Target Field record, as Perez now leads visiting players with 18 home runs at the ballpark that opened in 2010.
When he was asked about Perez’s ability to drive the ball at Target Field, Matheny kept it simple: “Because he’s a good hitter.”
“But I got to tell you, that ball — that’s amazing how far he hit that ball,” Matheny said. “This is a big yard. … You’re talking right-center for it to go up as high as it did. That’s just rarefied air for me.”
This is the second time in the Royals’ past eight games that they’ve scored at least nine runs. In the other six games, Kansas City has narrowly outscored its opponents, 17-16, picking up five wins.
It’s worked, however, as the Royals sit atop the AL Central with a 1 1/2 game lead. The starting rotation has limited runs where it can, with Danny Duffy pitching another lights-out performance as he improved to 4-1, and the offense has shown up when needed, like in Saturday’s 12-hit showcase.