OAKLAND — Jorge Soler’s pursuit of the American League home run crown entered the home stretch on Monday, when he delivered yet another long ball in Kansas City’s 6-5 victory over the Oakland A’s.
Soler’s fourth-inning drive off A’s starter Tanner Roark was his 45th, matching the league-leading figure amassed by injured Angels slugger Mike Trout. Soler will likely become the first Royals player to top the AL in home runs, as the next closest players trail by eight homers with less than two weeks remaining in the season.
“All I want to do is stay focused and swing at good pitches,” Soler said through a translator. “I’m not worried about that other stuff. I’m not going to worry about who’s leading or not leading. All I want to do is to keep doing what I’m doing.”
That happens to be punishing pitched baseballs. Soler has been so prolific that he’s two homers away from tying Rafael Palmeiro’s single-season totals for most homers by a Cuban-born player (47 in 1999 and 2001). Jose Canseco had 46 homers in 1998.
“It means a lot to me to be considered in the same phrase as him,” said Soler of Palmeiro.
Two other Royals reached a statistical milestone. One was Adalberto Mondesi, who legged out his 10th triple of the season in the first inning. He had been tied atop the league’s rankings in that category with teammates Hunter Dozier and Whit Merrifield, as well as Seattle’s Mallex Smith. Mondesi became the first Royal to reach double figures in triples since Carlos Beltran in 2003.
The other was Ned Yost, who notched his 1,200th managerial victory.
“It’s better than 1,199. But it’s no big deal,” Yost said.
With the score tied, 4-4, the A’s appeared to break through in the eighth inning as Khris Davis lashed an RBI single. But the Royals responded admirably in the ninth against Oakland closer Liam Hendriks.
Brett Phillips, who entered the game batting .163, mashed a drive to right-center field for his second homer of the season, tying the game at 5. Then center fielder Ramon Laureano’s two-base error on Merrifield’s fly ball led to Mondesi’s go-ahead RBI double.
“We just stayed focused, and we competed to the end,” Mondesi said.
Ian Kennedy retired the A’s in order in the ninth for his 30th save. Kennedy is the first pitcher since Hall of Famer John Smoltz to record both a 20-win season and a 20-save season in his career. He’s only the sixth pitcher to accomplish this since saves became an official statistic in 1969.