OMAHA, Neb. — Royals second baseman Nicky Lopez had a homecoming party at TD Ameritrade Park.
Lopez played his collegiate career at Creighton, which plays its home games in this park, and he looked awfully comfortable in the Royals’ 7-3 victory over the Tigers on Thursday night in the series finale. This was the first MLB game played in the state of Nebraska.
Lopez drilled his first big league homer leading off the second inning against lefty Matthew Boyd, a shot that curled into the right-field bullpen just over the fence. Coincidentally, Lopez played 75 collegiate games at TD Ameritrade Park and he hit one home run, that coming in his 75th and final game here. That home run was in virtually the identical spot.
“My first home run here was against Nebraska my junior year,” Lopez said. “It was the same exact spot that it was today. It was kinda cool — first game back since I got drafted. So it was cool.”
The problem was, a technical breakdown caused ESPN to lose the video feed during Lopez’s home run.
“The funny thing about it is, I said, ‘Nicky, is your dad sitting home watching this?’” manager Ned Yost said. “And he said, ‘Yeah!’ And I said, ‘I hate to tell you, but the TV truck just broke down and they weren’t televising it.’ That was a bit of a shame.”
The Royals, though, were able to secure an in-house video of the home run and get it to Lopez.
Lopez said he had plenty of support among the sellout crowd of 25,454.
“I knew there were a lot of people — a lot of college friends, college coaches, and then people around the community here,” Lopez said.
Lopez also singled and scored in the fourth.
Whit Merrifield, who has fondly recalled all week his College World Series walk-off winner for South Carolina in 2010 at Rosenblatt Stadium, belted two doubles, one of those producing two runs in the fourth.
“It was a great crowd,” Merrifield said. “It was great to see a sellout. I thought they did a great job putting this on. Even flew my old college coach out to watch the game.
“We saw [the College World Series players] a little bit in the tunnel. It was cool to come back. It was a different stadium and different feel, but just talking [about it], reliving it, talking to people, people asking questions about what that night was like, it was cool to relive it — because [my teammates] get sick of hearing about it.”
Right-hander Homer Bailey was the beneficiary of the run support. He tossed six scoreless innings, giving up just two hits while striking out six. It was his best start since April 13, when he threw seven scoreless innings against the Indians, clinching the Royals’ last series win prior to Thursday — they were 0-14-2 in series decisions in that span.
The Royals also won a rubber game for the first time since May 30, 2018, against the Twins.
“We needed to get [those streaks] over with,” Yost said. “But we talked about this yesterday that we needed to score some runs to support this pitching we’re getting. Homer was very efficient. He had everything working. He threw the ball extremely well.”
Yet the night belonged to Lopez.
“It was good to see him break out a little bit and have some good at-bats,” Yost said. “He got his first Major League home run. That was cool. It’s always cool to see someone hit their first big league home run, and for him to do it here, I think it was even more special.”