KANSAS CITY — Mission accomplished. Well, sort of.
The Royals went into their final game of the season Sunday against the Indians at Kauffman Stadium hoping left-hander Eric Skoglund would finish the season strong, and that Whit Merrifield and Salvador Perez would achieve some notable goals.
The Royals lost, 2-1, and finished the season at 58-104.
Skoglund was solid through five innings, giving up just three hits and two runs (one earned) while walking two and striking out three.
“I thought he was flat today,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He wasn’t very sharp. But he grinded it out. Even without his best stuff he kept us in it.”
Merrifield came into Sunday hoping to grab the Major League hits and stolen bases titles. He did just that. With his eighth-inning single, Merrifield beat out Atlanta’s Freddie Freeman for the Major League lead with 192. Merrifield also won the Major League stolen base title with 45 after winning last year’s American League title with 34.
“It was all on my mind [in the last at-bat],” Merrifield said. “A lot of times when you get a hitting streak going it can take you out of your approach and turns you into swing mode. That’s what happened my first three at-bats. The last at-bat I just went back to a batter approach — see the ball and get the barrel to it. I was fortunate to do that and found a hole. I was pretty excited.”
Merrifield became the first Royal ever to lead the Majors in hits and stolen bases. And only two players since 1945 have led the Majors in those two categories — Ichiro Suzuki (2001) and Dee Gordon (2015).
“It’s special to get both titles,” Merrifield said. “…To say I’ve done it more than anyone else in the league is really special. This is my last chance at the stolen base one. I don’t think [Adalberto Mondesi] is going to let 45 fly next year. He’ll have that by the All-Star break.”
The last Royal to lead the Major Leagues in hits was Willie Wilson in 1980 with 230.
“It’s a monster accomplishment,” Yost said. “Leading the Majors in steals is huge. But leading the Majors in hits is monstrous. You look at his journey … he has become a star.”
Merrifield ended the season on a career-high 20-game hitting streak.
Perez had an opportunity to make Major League history. He could have become the first player ever to increase his home run total in each of his first eight seasons.
But Perez, who had 27 home runs last year and 27 this year, went 0-for-4.