MINNEAPOLIS — As Royals third baseman Hunter Dozier stood next to his locker ready to chat with reporters following the 11-9 loss to the Twins at Target Field on Friday night, Whit Merrifield decided to chime in his thoughts.
“Just think what [Dozier] could do playing here,” Merrifield said. “How many homers would he hit? We’re talking [a lot of money].”
Dozier blasted two home runs, his 17th and 18th of the season, and what distinguished these is they were both opposite-field blasts. And perhaps neither one would have been a home run at spacious Kauffman Stadium.
Dozier’s first homer came on the first pitch of the fourth inning, a four-seamer from left-hander Martin Perez. That blast screamed into the right-field seats so quickly (101 mph per Statcast) that right fielder Marwin Gonzalez never moved or turned around. Still, Statcast estimated it traveled 370 feet — an easy out at The K.
His next blast, a towering shot to right-center in the fifth, gave the Royals a 5-4 lead at the time.
“It’s definitely nice hitting here,” Dozier said. “Sometimes playing at The K can get in your head. I smoked a ball there last game and a guy caught it at the warning track. It can get frustrating so it’s nice a play in a place like this where you can get rewarded.”
Royals fans have seen that kind of opposite-field power from Dozier all season.
“He’s got it,” manager Ned Yost said. “He’s got that oppo pop. This ballpark is one you can take advantage of it in. It’s not like our place where you have an extra 20 feet you have to drive the ball. It was an impressive night for him.”
Dozier wasn’t alone in a big offensive night. Merrifield, Jorge Soler and Cheslor Cuthbert each had three hits. Cam Gallagher had two hits, including his second home run in two games.
“The offense battled all night,” Yost said. “We had some really good at-bats. We fell behind, but we kept battling and had some really good ABs. Unfortunately, so did they.”
The score was tied at 6 going to the bottom of the seventh when Royals reliever Richard Lovelady walked Max Kepler on a 3-2 pitch that looked clearly in the strike zone. The Twins then poured it on, producing four straight hits off Lovelady and right-hander Kyle Zimmer.
When the smoke cleared ,the Twins had five runs and an 11-6 lead.
“Lovelady did a great job,” Yost said. “He really did. He came in and got us through an inning-and-a-third. We liked the lefty matchups with Kepler and [Jorge] Polanco. It ended up, I think, and the replay will probably show me right, Lovelady had Kepler struck out and didn’t get the call.”
Lovelady thought so as well.
“I think it changes it a lot, honestly,” Lovelady said. “I thought I made a pretty good pitch. Obviously, I’m not the person calling balls and strikes. I can’t call it a strike, but I thought it was a pretty good pitch, especially 3-2. Locked him up. Unfortunately, it didn’t go my way.”
With a first-inning single, Merrifield now has gone 134 straight games without having back-to-back hitless games. That is the second-longest streak in the American League since 1946 — Ichiro Suzuki holds the record at 180 games.