A Royals ‘Opening Day’ to Remember (“Royalty Awards” Most Memorable Game)

In part three of the 2021 “Royalty Awards” I am going to take a look at the most memorable game I attended in person at Kauffman Stadium this season. I had two very specific sets of criteria when it came to identifying the top three from this set of “Royalty Awards”:

  1. I had to attend the game in person (watching Royals games on television, both on the road or at Kauffman Stadium do not count).
  2. It had to end up in a Royals victory (losses wouldn’t count either, even if they were “moral” victories during this rebuilding season).

Overall this year, I attended 14 games at Kauffman Stadium, which was a season-high for me (that will be eclipsed next year, as I already put a deposit on a 21-game partial season ticket package for 2022). The Royals went 5-9 in games I attended this year, which is not a great record by any stretch of the imagination. That being said, I was able to settle on three games that stood out from the slate of Royals contests I watched at the K this season, in addition to a couple of honorable mentions.

Here are two games that just missed the cut:

  • Royals vs. Yankees, August 9th (8-6 loss): This game didn’t make the cut because the Royals lost, but it was one to remember for a myriad of reasons. It was a hot and muggy night against a loaded Yankees team, and for six innings, Yankees starter Jameson Taillon and Royals starter Carlos Hernandez went toe to toe, carrying shutouts into the 7th. Then, over the next four innings, the Yankees would take a lead in the the top of the inning, only for the Royals to tie it up in the bottom of the innings. In the 11th, the Yankees scored three runs, which wouldn’t be matched by the Royals, but Kansas City did score a run and set themselves up for a chance to tie before eventually going down. The Yankees-Royals rivalry is not as hot as it used to be, mostly due to the Royals not being the club that they once were back in the late 70’s and early 80’s. However, this game had a lot of “classic” Royals-Yankees vibes to it, even though the Royals ended up coming up short in the end.
  • Royals vs. Athletics, September 14th (10-7 win): This one was a tough one to omit because it brought back a lot of feelings from the Royals’ walk-off Wild Card win against the Athletics back in 2014. The A’s got off to a big lead, as they tee’d off on Jackson Kowar and the Royals pitching staff for five runs in the first two innings. However, even though the A’s at one point had a 6-0 lead going into the bottom of the third, the Royals came to life with their bats, especially at the top of the order. Whit Merrifield and Nicky Lopez both had three hits a piece, and Salvador Perez had two hits and four RBI, which included a three-run home run in the 6th inning, which was his 43rd of the year. Kyle Isbel also made good on his recent callup from Omaha with three hits and his first MLB home run, a two-run shot in the bottom of the seventh that eventually “clinched” the games for the Royals (and contributed to the A’s eventually playing themselves out of the Wild Card hunt).

So, Royals fans, those are two games that just missed the Top-Three of the “Most Memorable” games I attended at Kauffman Stadium in 2021. Here is the short list, and why each game will stand out to me as a Royals fan (and other Royals fans in attendance) when looking back on the 2021 Royals campaign.

Second Runner Up: Royals vs. Astros, August 18th (3-2 win)

At the surface level, this contest (and series in general) shouldn’t have been competitive. The Astros going into this game were 70-49 in clear first place in a competitive AL West division. The Royals were 51-67, just trying to keep pace above the Minnesota Twins and avoid the basement of the AL Central. However, this game ended up being one of the more entertaining games of the 2021 season, especially at the K.

Former Royals Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke made his return to Kansas City on August 18th and put together a very “later-era Greinke” performance. In six innings of work, the former Royals ace allowed only five hits and one run in six innings of work, but he struck out ZERO batters, which is crazy to look back on now. Greinke did spot the Royals an early 1-0 lead, thanks to a Carlos Santana RBI single up the middle in bottom of the fourth inning which scored Nicky Lopez:

While Greinke held the Royals in check for the most part over six innings, Brady Singer pretty much matched him, as Singer had one of his better performances of the season. Singer shut out the Astros over six innings before giving up two runs on a based hit by Jason Castro, who drove in two runs with two outs. Though Singer got the no-decision, it was encouraging to see him do well against a loaded Astros lineup that eventually won the AL West division, and has the Chicago White Sox on the ropes in the ALDS.

The Royals bullpen held serve, mostly thanks to Domingo Tapia minimizing the damage in the seventh, and Josh Staumont being lights out in the 8th, as Staumont struck out a batter and only allowed one hit and no runs in the penultimate inning of the game. On the offensive end, Hunter Dozier, mostly maligned for his struggles at the plate this season, came through in the clutch in the bottom of the seventh, as he belted a two-run home run off of Astros lefty reliever Blake Taylor, his 10th of the season at the time, which gave the Royals back the lead.

The real drama though came in the bottom of the ninth, as Scott Barlow had his classic “not going to make this comfortable for Royals fans” outing. With runners on first and second and two outs, Barlow gave up a single to Jose Altuve to left field. Chas McCormick rounded third, looking to tie the game and send it into extra innings, but Andrew Benintendi did his best Alex Gordon impression, gunning McCormick out at the plate to end the game, and give the win to the Boys in Blue:

Of course, the Astros challenged, but the call was upheld, and the Royals not only celebrated the win that night, but also their third straight victory over Houston at the K (the Astros avoided the four-game sweep the next day). Benintendi had his shares of ups and downs in 2021, especially in the field.

But for one game, he briefly made Royals fans, including myself, forget about Gordo’s glove and arm in left field…

Briefly of course.

First Runner Up: Royals vs. White Sox, July 28th (3-2 win, 10 innings)

Much like the Astros game, this was a contest between two clubs going in the opposite direction. The White Sox were the best team in the AL Central at 60-41 entering this game, while the Royals were 43-56, trying to rebound after a miserable 7-20 month of June. The White Sox certainly had the advantage over the Royals in 2020, as the South Siders won nine out of a possible 10 games during their season series during the COVID-shortened season.

July 28th was certainly redemption not just for Mike Matheny and the Royals, but Royals fans as well who had taken their lumps from cocky White Sox fans since 2020.

Kris Bubic ended up dealing a pretty solid, though unspectacular game for the Royals. The former Stanford product and 2018 Royals supplemental round pick went six innings and allowed two runs on five hits and a walk while striking out three. What made his performance more encouraging was the fact that he went toe to toe with Lucas Giolito, the ace of the White Sox staff who was an All Star back in 2019. The Royals needed a strong performance from Bubic that night, as Giolito cruised through six innings himself, and kept the Royals batters in check with only one run and walk allowed to go along with seven strikeouts.

Down 2-0 in the seventh against Giolito and with no outs, Jorge Soler, in one of his final games at Kauffman Stadium before being traded to Atlanta at the Trade Deadline, belted a scorching double to right field that barely missed going out. His hit brought in Salvy to cut the deficit to one and a poor throw from Andrew Vaughn allowed Soler to advance to third base with the tying run on and no one out.

But in true Royals fashion, the Royals failed to bring Soler home, and it seemed like it would be another one of those typical Royals losses: they would put themselves in position to win, but would just fail to come through in the clutch.

That was until the bottom of the ninth inning…

Going against Liam Hendriks, one of the best closers in the game, Salvy, on a 1-0 count, absolutely crushed a 98.4 MPH Hendriks fastball to left field that not only went 438 feet, but also tied the game against the division leaders:

Barlow kept the White Sox at bay in the top of the 10th, as he struck out two to keep the White Sox scoreless. The Royals on the other hand, nearly blew the game themselves, as Benintendi, who was on third base with less than two outs, got caught up on a Hunter Dozier ground ball, though it seemed initially like he avoided the tag (the umpire eventually ruled after replay that he went out of the baseline).

Once again, it seemed like the Royals would blow another opportunity, which became too frequent a sight in June and July.

However, Michael A. Taylor, who was 0-for-3 going into this at-bat, played the hero, as he hit a groundball single up the middle which scored Dozier from second for the walk off win:

It wasn’t pretty, and the Royals had their fair share of opportunities to blow this game, like they had done countless times in 2021.

And yet, on this late July night against Chicago, the Royals were able to rescue victory from the jaws of defeat this time around (rather than vice versa).

“Most Memorable Game”: Royals vs. Rangers, April 1st (14-10 win)

I am not going to go into too much detail about the game of this one, which I know sounds weird considering this wins the “Royalty Award” for Most Memorable Game. After all, this was the longest nine-inning game in Royals history, and it was a see-saw affair that basically had Royals fans running the gamut of emotions on April Fool’s Day:

Thus, to go into full detail of this one would be a difficult, and ultimately fruitless endeavor. Instead, I am just going to post the game highlights, just so Royals fans reading this can get a full sense of how crazy this Opening Day at Kauffman Stadium really was:

That being said, what made this game so memorable was what it represented, not necessarily the result itself.

It was the first Royals game at Kauffman Stadium with fans in attendance since Ned Yost’s final game back in 2019. The stadium was only limited to 10,000 fans due to COVID concerns, and yet, the stadium felt just as alive as any other Opening Day in the past at the K. There was a special energy in the stadium (and Kansas City in general) that weekday afternoon because honestly, people had not just missed Royals baseball, but they missed being in the stands of Kauffman Stadium after year-long hiatus.

Chiefs fans never had that time away from Arrowhead (pardon me GEHA Field at Arrowhead) like Royals fans did from the K. Yes, the Royals have been a far cry from their glory seasons of 2014 and 2015. Yes, the Royals would lose more games than they would win in 2021. But that afternoon, all that mattered, was that the sun was shining, fans were in the stands, and Royals baseball was back at Kauffman Stadium in 2021.

Opening Day against the Rangers gave Royals fans, and Kansas City hope again. Hope that things were getting better. Hope that we as a city were making our way to normalcy, or at least a “fraction of normalcy” in this post-COVID era.

And of course, that eternal hope that this could be the “year” for this group of Royals.

The latter didn’t come to fruition…but I think the other ones did…

And Royals fans were rewarded with a wild 14-10 win against an eventual last place Rangers team.

Not that it mattered…

Royals fans, including myself, won when we entered through the gates at Kauffman Stadium that April 1st afternoon.

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