Kansas City Royals rookie catcher MJ Melendez singled and scored the go-ahead run in the sixth inning on fellow rookie Emmanuel Rivera’s RBI triple. Then, for good measure, Melendez tacked on a couple insurance runs late with his second major-league home run to help secure a series-tying victory and set up a rubber match.
The young hitters in the lineup were the driving force behind much of the offense Wednesday night as the Royals smashed 12 hits and four extra-base hits (including two home runs) in a 6-2 win over the Chicago White Sox in front of an announced 13,504 at Kauffman Stadium.
The Royals have now homered 10 times in their last seven games — including four multi-homer games. Both rookie shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. and Melendez homered in the same game for the first time in the majors.
The teams have split four games this week and they’ll conclude their series on Thursday afternoon. A win would give the Royals back-to-back series wins after having won two of three games in Denver over the weekend.
“I think we’ve just got to keep rolling and keep the energy going,” Witt said. “Guys are having a lot of fun in the clubhouse and the dugout.”
Melendez and Witt began last season as teammates for Double-A Northwest Arkansas, where they were part of one of the most high-powered offensive lineups in Minor League Baseball. Both finished last season at Triple-A Omaha.
Melendez led all minor-league players with 41 homers last season, while Witt hit 33 and earned Minor League Player of the Year honors from Baseball America as well as USA Today.
“It’s a great feeling,” Melendez said of homering in the same game with Witt. “I mean being able to do it last year was a pretty awesome feeling. This year in the big leagues on the biggest stage, it’s really, really cool. I’m looking forward to doing that a couple more times this year, hopefully.”
Witt Jr. went 2 for 4 and blasted his fourth home run of the season. The homer marked his third in the past seven games. During that stretch, he has batted .280 with five RBIs and six runs scored.
“It’s always just been comfort,” Witt said. “That’s all I’ve been doing, just trying to get more comfortable each and every day. I think that I am, and it’s just trying to put good swings on balls and let that other stuff happen.”
Rivera went 2 for 4 with a triple, an RBI and a run scored. He has driven in seven runs in his last seven games. Kyle Isbel also had two hits (2 for 3) and an RBI.
Nicky Lopez went 1 for 4 with a run scored. Whit Merrifield went 1 for 5 with an RBI and a stolen base. Merrifield’s second-inning stolen base pushed him past Carlos Beltran for sole possession of seventh place on the franchise’s career leader board with 165.
Royals manager Mike Matheny lauded the two-out hitting of Merrifield, who came through in a clutch situation with a runner in scoring position and two outs to bring in the team’s first run of the day.
Matheny also described it as “fun to watch” his young sluggers in Melendez and Witt drive the ball out of the ballpark and provide excitement.
“Obviously, the two home runs — another really nice at-bat with MJ — but you also had Rivera did a really good job defensively today,” Matheny said. “He had the big hit, the triple. Isbel did a great job getting the sac fly and getting another couple base hits, playing good defense. The guys played good defense this whole game.”
Greinke sets an early tone
Royals starting pitcher Zack Greinke allowed two runs, seven hits and one walk in 5 2/3 innings. He also struck out four in a no decision. He left the game with the score tied. He remains winless this season despite having allowed two runs or fewer in six of his eight starts.
The White Sox grabbed a 1-0 lead in the second after a leadoff double into the left field corner by Jose Abreu. He advanced to third on a grounder to second, but Witt made a diving stop to prevent Abreu from scoring and threw across the diamond for the second out of the inning.
However, Leury Garcia followed with a single to left to drive in the game’s first run.
The Royals tied the score 1-1 by manufacturing a run with two outs in the bottom of the second. Lopez singled through the infield into right field. He stole second base to put himself in scoring position, then he scored on a single lined up the middle by Merrifield for his 12th RBI in the last 16 games.
Witt’s third-inning homer gave the Royals a one-run advantage. He clobbered a 1-1 curveball from White Sox starting pitcher Lucas Giolito 436 feet to center field.
“I was just looking for a fastball, saw the curveball come out of his hand pretty well and then, I guess, put it on the barrel and it went,” Witt said. “It felt pretty good.”
That lead lasted only until the fifth inning. The White Sox pulled even when Greinke issued a one-out walk, a single and an RBI single by Tim Anderson.
The Royals scored the final four runs — two in the sixth and two in the eighth — and three of the four were scored by rookies and all four were driven in by rookies. Of the Royals’ six runs in the game, five were driven in by rookie hitters.
In the sixth, Melendez’s one-out opposite field single put him on for Rivera’s RBI triple. Then Isbel’s sacrifice fly scored Rivera.
In the eighth, Hunter Dozier roped a leadoff double into the left-center field gap. Two batters later, Dozier scored on Melendez’s two-run homer.
Melendez jumped all over a first-pitch cutter from White Sox reliever Ryan Burr and mashed it 428 feet.
The teams will conclude their series on Thursday afternoon. First pitch is scheduled for 1:10 p.m. Royals right-hander Carlos Hernández (0-3, 9.11) will start in a matchup against White Sox right-hander Vince Velasquez (2-3, 5.53).