Back on May 29, inside a clubhouse at Kauffman Stadium, Whit Merrifield stood near his locker and forced a smile. He had come just one single short of the seventh cycle in Royals history. He had missed on a changeup in his final at-bat against the Detroit Tigers, sending a fly ball to right field.
“Would’ve liked to have had it back,” he said.
If not a once-in-a-career moment, it was close, one at-bat to leave his stamp on franchise history, a home crowd standing and cheering and recognizing the moment. Yet just 76 days later, the opportunity came again on a Sunday afternoon.
In the Royals’ 14-6 clobbering of the Chicago White Sox, Merrifield clubbed a three-run blast to left-center in the third inning, ripped a single in the fifth and added a two-run triple that plugged the right-center gap in the sixth.
He dug in at the plate in the eighth against Chicago reliever Brad Golberg, the bases loaded in a blowout contest, needing just a double for the cycle. Here it was again. He took a 97 mph sinker for strike one before hacking at an 0-1 slider. His swing produced a weak pop fly into foul territory. Merrifield exhaled.
“I’m going to get it one of these days,” he said.
“I was kind of hoping he would do it today,” Royals manager Ned Yost said.
Kansas City (59-58) secured its first series victory since winning two of three in Boston in the final days of July.
Merrifield finished 3 for 6 with a career-high five RBIs.
“It was big for us, really big,” Merrifield said. “Especially after losing game one.”
All afternoon, Merrifield was in the middle of the offensive fireworks. Once a hidden star in Kansas City, the 28-year-old second baseman and former South Carolina star is a cult hero no longer. On Saturday, he connected on his 14th homer — Frank White is the only second baseman in franchise history with more in a season. He drove in five of 14 runs. He offered glimpses of his above-average speed.
If not the Royals’ overall MVP, Merrifield is making a convincing case to be the club’s most dynamic player across the second half of the season. Since July 1, he is batting .320 with eight homers, 13 doubles and two triples in 39 games.
“I think he goes overlooked a little bit,” Royals catcher Drew Butera said. “We appreciate him because we see him every day. But you look at some of the stuff he does on the field, at the batter’s box, getting big hits … just kind of setting the tone for us.
“It’s kind of nationally overlooked. But we notice it.”
As Merrifield stepped into the box in the eighth, he thought about the opportunity for the cycle. With the bases loaded, there would be no cheap doubles. He could not simply ground a baseball into the outfield and run like heck. So he would try to barrel something into the gap.
He took a swing ... and again came up short.
“With the game like it was, it was in my mind,” Merrifield said. “I needed to hit a ball in the gap. So I made a pretty poor swing on a hanging slider. But what can you do?”