TORONTO — It wasn’t always pretty, but the right players bounced back at the right time on Sunday afternoon at Rogers Centre to give the Royals a 7-6 win over the Blue Jays.
Brad Keller was handed an early lead by a Lucas Duda RBI double in the second inning, and it looked like he’d continue to cruise along, but the sun had other ideas.
With two runners on and two out, Keller forced a high pop fly into shallow right field by Luke Maile that should have ended the inning, but Jorge Soler lost track of the ball and it dropped behind him for a two-run triple. After another runner reached, Justin Smoak launched his first of two home runs off of Keller, something that the 23-year-old right-hander has avoided, as well as almost anyone in baseball up until Sunday.
“I battled the whole time,” Keller said. “I got in some trouble there in the second. After the ball dropped, I had to bear down and get some outs right there. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to and kind of let the inning spiral out of control, but after that I tried to get as deep into the game as possible.”
The Royals bounced right back, though. After back-to-back walks to lead off the next inning, the Royals strung together four singles in a row to tie the game and jumped ahead 6-5 when a run scored on a double play. Those singles all found a way to sneak through the infield, but they weren’t slow rollers by any means with exit velocities all north of 100 mph, according to Statcast.
“That was huge,” Keller said. “That basically shows that they’ve got my back and they’re going to go out there and we’re going to win the game. When they tied it up there and eventually took the lead, it made me feel a lot more comfortable on the mound.”
Both Keller and Soler did their part to clean up the mess from the second inning. Keller allowed the second solo shot to Smoak, but otherwise got back to limiting the damage and controlling base runners. Keller lasted five innings and 101 pitches, with those six runs crossing on eight hits and two walks while he struck out three.
After the game, Keller’s manager was quick to praise his reaction to the early rough patch with an eye on development and the future of this young Royals team.
“I didn’t really think too much about the [second] inning. What I thought about was after the inning,” Ned Yost said. “How are you going to handle it? How are you going to go out and compose yourself and keep us in this ball game?”
Soler chipped in the way he does best, with the long ball. His 22nd home run of the season, a solo shot, came in the fifth inning off reliever Nick Kingham. Soler chipped in defensively, too, with a diving catch in the seventh inning to rob the red-hot Lourdes Gurriel Jr. of a base hit.
“We’ve been at the top of the league defensively all year long,” Yost said. “We’ve been playing really, really well. That was a huge play Soler made, a huge play. It was really an aggressive, good, smart play where he got a jump on the ball, read it perfectly and made a great catch.”