Kansas City, Mo. Kila Ka’aihue was just hoping to get the inning started. With one swing, he brought an end to the whole game.
The Hawaiian-born first baseman, who had struck out twice, slammed Michael Kohn’s second pitch of the ninth inning over the right-field fence for his first major-league walkoff home run Friday night, lifting Kansas City past the Los Angeles Angels, 2-1.
“I was just trying to get a hit and start us off,” he said. “I got a good pitch to hit, and that’s it. Our team is playing really well. The emotions and confidence is high here.”
Kohn (0-1) relieved Jordan Walden to start the ninth and was ahead 0-1 in the count when Ka’aihue connected.
“It was a fastball,” said Ka’aihue, who said he hadn’t ended a game with a home run since his days in Double-A. It caught a lot of the plate and I put a good swing on it.”
Joakim Soria (1-0) threw an eight-pitch ninth for Kansas City.
The Royals tied it 1-all in the fourth on an infield out by Jeff Francoeur after Billy Butler singled and moved up on a hit and a wild pitch.
Howie Kendrick gave the Angels a 1-0 lead on the eighth pitch that starter Jeff Francis threw as a Royal, swatting the full-count delivery over the fence in center for a 418-foot home run. But that was all the Angels would get off Francis, a 30-year-old who is still trying to make a full comeback from left shoulder surgery that sidelined him the entire 2009 season and part of 2010.
The Angels had at least one base runner in five of the next six innings but could not break through against the 6-foot-5 left-hander, stranding runners in scoring position in the second, third and fifth.
Starters Dan Haren of the Angels and Francis both went seven impressive innings, allowing only one run and six hits.
Kohn described the pitch in almost the exact way.
“It was a fastball, called away and it caught too much of the middle of the plate and he put a good swing on it,” he said. “You want to thrive in those pressure situations. Those are the spots you want to get put in. I definitely like being in that situation with the ball in my hand. I’ll do it every day if I can.”
Haren, going for his fourth win in his last five starts in Kansas City, hurt himself with a wild pitch that helped the Royals score their lone run off him. He had six strikeouts and no walks.
Francis, who signed as a free agent from Colorado, gave up five hits and one run, walking one and striking out four.
“It was a good game all the way around,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “Francis gave up the home run in the first inning and was absolutely nails from that point on. The pitching was very, very good. We had some opportunities early. But Haren made some good pitches. Kila made all that for naught there in the ninth inning.”
Vernon Wells made a great catch to stop the Royals from taking the lead in the sixth. Alex Gordon doubled leading off, went to third on Butler’s groundball and was there with two outs when Francoeur hit a line drive into deep left. Wells went back and made a leaping catch almost at the wall.
The Royals also stranded a runner at third in the third, fifth and eighth. Mike Aviles tripled with two outs in the third but Haren struck out Melky Cabrera. In the fifth, Brayan Pena doubled leading off and was at third when Aviles popped up and Cabrera flied out. Aviles walked leading off the eighth against reliever Walden and went to third with two outs when he stole second and kept going on catcher Jeff Mathis’ throwing error. But Walden struck out Butler.
Francis in his first start as a Royal kept the ball down and kept the Angels off balance by changing speeds. He rarely got over 85 MPH on the radar gun.
“That was fantastic,” he said. “There’s no better way to win a ballgame if you ask me. The main thing is at the end of the game, we were on top. A pitcher wants to go out there and keep his team in the game and give us a chance to win, and that’s what we did today. It was great.”
NOTES: Angels are opening the season at Kansas City for the first time. ... According to Angels’ research, Mathis was only third man in major-league history to hit an opening-day home run on his birthday. ... With a payroll of $36,126,000 and an opening day average age of 27.21, Royals are youngest and poorest team in the majors.