MINNEAPOLIS — It might have taken Kyle Isbel longer to find the correct entrance to Target Field than it did to take the 25-minute Uber ride from where Triple-A Omaha was staying in St. Paul, Minn., on Sunday.
When the 24-year-old outfielder did find where he was supposed to be, he ended up making a major impact.
Isbel, the Royals’ No. 6 prospect, hit the go-ahead RBI single in the eighth inning of a 5-3 win over the Twins on Sunday afternoon, a 107.3 mph grounder into right field that secured Kansas City’s weekend series win over last-place Minnesota.
“I got a wakeup call at 8 a.m. from our manager at Triple-A, and he told me he’s giving me the day off today, but I’m playing in [Minneapolis],” Isbel said. “It was a hectic morning, but it was awesome.”
Isbel, who hit eighth and played center field, was called up to replace center fielder Michael A. Taylor, who went on the family emergency medical list. The Royals would have been in a bind had the Storm Chasers not been playing the Twins’ Triple-A team in St. Paul, but manager Mike Matheny was able to call Isbel on the bus ride over to Target Field and talk to him again in the clubhouse.
The Royals had a two-run lead entering the sixth inning, with starter Kris Bubic only allowing two hits and one unearned run up to that point. He worked through traffic in the third with runners on first and second, then the umpire didn’t call the infield fly rule on Rob Refsnyder’s popup to second baseman Whit Merrifield, who let it drop in front of him and turned the double play to end the inning.
But the umpires convened and brought everyone back out to the field, wanting to correct their mistake. A rules check over the headset confirmed they could do that.
“The whole point of the play is that the guy that hit is going to be out,” Merrifield said. “But when I have a ball that I feel like I can drop in front of me and pick it up, I’m trying to make the baserunners freak out. And that’s exactly what happened with Simmons. It dropped, and as soon as he saw it drop, he took off to third. I thought [the umpires] called infield fly.
“Their reasoning was, since they didn’t call it, they felt like they put the runners in a bad position. They brought it back. They apologized about it. They said it was their fault, the umpires, they should have called it earlier. … It’s a play I love. I”ve been waiting all year for it.”
But Bubic got the next batter out and didn’t face trouble again until the sixth with back-to-back singles and a walk. Brent Rooker’s two-out, two-run double off Domingo Tapia tied the score at 3-3.
With two outs in the eighth, Isbel faced right-hander Jorge Alcala with runners on first and third. He lined a fastball down in the zone sharply past a diving Luis Arraez for the go-ahead run.
“Obviously at this point, we’re not playing for a playoff spot,” Merrifield said. “But it’s important for this team to understand how to win games. That’s a real thing. It’s a real skill and mentality that teams have to figure out. That’s promising for us, something we have to continue to do and continue to expect to do.
“Izzy stepping right in and delivering in a big spot. Big for our team, big for Izzy.”
This is Isbel’s second big league stint after he made the Opening Day roster and started in right field for the Royals on April 1. But he struggled in the Majors, with a 42 percent strikeout rate in 36 plate appearances, and was demoted to Omaha in late April. Since then, his OPS climbed to .801 in Triple-A.
“He came and did a nice job for us early, too,” Matheny said. “Good defender and takes good at-bats. But he’s really turned it up here in the second half. Getting on base, hitting with some power, stealing some bases. Excited to have him back.”
Isbel’s work with Omaha focused on his chase percentage and contact rate, and he felt it click about two months ago. The numbers agree: He went on a tear in July with the Storm Chasers, hitting .296/.420/.519. Isbel continued that into August (with a .323 average and a .381 on-base percentage) and then into the beginning of September.
“I’ve just been working on not missing my pitch to hit and staying on balls in the zone,” Isbel said. “Not trying to chase, trying to be more efficient through my process. … I was working on something with my stance. I feel like it clicked and it’s really benefited me.”