Backup catcher Cam Gallagher can officially add soothsayer to his résumé. His cosmic understanding of the baseball gods proved spot-on. Royals ace and teammate Brad Keller concurred.
Following a frustrating outing in Cleveland last week in which the Flowery Branch High graduate Keller executed his game plan almost exactly, he walked away with a loss and a bitter taste in his mouth. Gallagher assured the right-hander that things have a way of evening out in baseball.
Sure enough, Keller threw the first shutout of his big-league career and his second complete game as the Royals pounded the Pittsburgh Pirates 11-0 to sweep the weekend series at Kauffman Stadium and extend their season-best winning streak to a six games entering an off-day Monday.
Keller (4-2) allowed five hits -- just one for extra-bases -- and one walk in nine innings. He struck out just two and recorded his fourth quality start in seven appearances this summer.
“That last start was pretty so you try to clear the mind and go into this one with a fresh outlook,” Keller said. “Like Cam said, the baseball gods came around.”
The Royals (20-28) tallied 22 runs in the three-game set and have now scored 44 during their six-game winning streak.
The Royals’ pitching staff has now thrown two shutouts in a five-day span, and Keller largely cruised through this one with a season-high 111 pitches. Opponents have batted .152 against him at Kauffman stadium, where he is 3-0 with a 0.33 ERA (one earned run in 27 innings) in four starts this season.
“He was cruising the whole day,” catcher Salvador Perez said. “When he’s going like that, it’s easy to catch him. Wherever I put my glove, he’s going to throw a slider or fastball there. ... He was amazing today.”
Keller rebounded nicely after a highly frustrating outing in his previous start -- he allowed five runs (four earned) on eight hits, all singles, in a loss at Cleveland Sept. 7. He succeeded in getting weak contact and ground balls that day, but those balls too often found openings and left him stewing.
Keller came back with a similar approach Sunday. He worked quickly, threw a high volume of strikes (73 of 111 pitches) and forced the Pirates to put the ball in play as he relegated the KC bullpen corps to spectators.
“Mike came and talked to me and was like, ‘I’m going to cap you at a certain pitch limit,’” Keller said, referring to manager Mike Matheny. “I was like, ‘It doesn’t matter to me. I want to go out there and get the (last) three outs, do it for the boys in the bullpen, do it for the team.’ That was mainly what it was about.”
The cap was supposed to be 110 pitches. After the game, Matheny informed Keller that he’d let him throw one extra.
Keller responded, “Sorry.”
Matheny didn’t sound like a man in need of an apology.
“It’s fun to watch,” Matheny said. “This complete-game shutout is a big deal for our pitchers. Given the opportunity that he was as efficient as he was, I think it sends a message to the rest of the guys, too. That’s the kind of pitching I know they want to have on a consistent basis. It was a great job by Brad.”
The Royals’ offense got going so fast that by the time Perez batted in the fifth inning, he’d already recorded a three-hit game with a home run and two RBIs.
Hunter Dozier had a home run and three hits and Maikel Franco had three hits and scored twice.
The Royals bashed their way to 10 runs by the end of the third inning, and they didn’t even score in the second.
They grabbed a four-run advantage in the first with just two hits. Pirates pitcher Chad Kuhl walked three in the first and gave up an RBI single to Franco and RBI groundout to Alex Gordon and threw a wild pitch that seemed to cross up catcher John Ryan Murphy.
Murphy didn’t get his glove on it before it hit home plate umpire Jeremie Rehak in the mask and ricocheted toward the first base dugout. Murphy lost track of the ball, allowing Franco to score from third and Dozier to score all the way from second.
In the third inning, Perez started the six-run gut-punch that ultimately put the Pirates on the ropes for the rest of the afternoon. He blasted Kuhl’s first pitch of the inning 440 feet to left-center field for a solo homer that gave the Royals a 5-0 lead.
Each of the next three batters and six of seven reached base. The Royals scored on back-to-back bases-loaded walks by Nick Heath and Nicky Lopez, as well as a two-run single by Whit Merrifield and a broken-bat RBI single by Perez in his second at-bat of the inning. Dozier added a solo homer in the sixth.