Kansas City, Mo. Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas had never faced a knuckleball pitcher before Saturday night.
By the sixth inning, both Royals rookies figured out how to hit the floater.
Alex Gordon and Hosmer each drove in two runs in an eight-run sixth inning to help the Royals rally to beat the Boston Red Sox 9-4 on Saturday night, depriving knuckleballer Tim Wakefield of his 200th victory.
Wakefield, who is 0-2 with three no-decisions since a July 24 triumph over Seattle, took a 4-1 lead into the sixth, but failed to get out of the inning. He was pulled after giving up three consecutive hits with one out and the Red Sox holding onto a 4-3 advantage.
“A lot of these kids had never even seen a knuckleball before, so the third time around might have made a difference,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He would leave a couple up, but the majority were really dancing good and really dive bombing once it got into the strike zone.
“The speed of 66-67 miles per hour is difficult to time when the ball is fluttering that much. Finally there in the sixth, we did some damage. His knuckleball was really dancing. It was good to get him out of there. It was good to keep the hits coming.”
Gordon’s two-run double off Matt Albers (4-4) put the Royals up 6-4. Hosmer, who started the rally with a single off Wakefield, capped off scoring with a two-run triple off Franklin Morales.
“It was different,” Hosmer said of facing Wakefield’s knuckleball. “It seems like every pitch is moving some way different. Some are dropping and some are staying up. You’ve got to tell yourself don’t overswing, nice and easy and take it the other way. That’s why he’s been in the game this long cause it’s a great pitch. When he throws it and it’s moving how he wants it to move, it’s pretty effective.
“That first fastball from that left-hander (Morales) seemed like it was 105 miles per hour after seeing knuckleballs all the time.”
The Royals also got run-producing doubles by Jeff Francoeur and Mike Moustakas. Chris Getz’s single scored Moustakas to tie the score at 4-4.
“He’s got an unbelievable knuckleball,” Moustakas said. “You saw what he did the first five innings. He shut us down pretty good. That’s just a tribute to what he does. He’s been in this league a long time and it shows you what he’s capable of.
“Hitting the knuckleball is not an easy thing. It’s tough. It dances all over the plate. You almost have to get lucky a little bit for the ball to float into your zone and you put a good swing on it.”
The eight-run sixth matched a Royals season-high for an inning. Gordon led the Royals’ offense with two doubles and an eighth inning single for his 500th career hit.
The 45-year-old Wakefield gave up four runs and nine hits in 5 1-3 innings. Hosmer, Moustakas and Salvador Perez were not even born when Wakefield began his professional career in 1988 as a weak-hitting first baseman for Watertown in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system. He moved to the mound the next year.
“I’m not frustrated,” Wakefield said. “I felt normal just like the last five starts. I take it like a normal start. I’m trying to get outs and give us a quality start.”
Boston built a 3-1 lead in the fourth when they had four singles and a walk. Carl Crawford’s single scored Dustin Pedroia, who led off the inning with a single. Darnell McDonald’s sacrifice fly scored Josh Reddick with the other run.
The Red Sox missed an opportunity for a much bigger inning when former Royal Mike Aviles flied out to deep center, leaving the bases loaded.
Boston added a run in the sixth when Ryan Lavarnway’s single brought home Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who led off the inning with a double, for his first big league RBI.
The Red Sox scored a run in the third, which Lavarnway led off with a walk, took second on a Paulino wild pitch and third on a Darnell McDonald bunt single. He scored when Marco Scutaro grounded into a double play.
Billy Butler’s double to right in the bottom of the inning scored Escobar.
Notes: While CF Jacoby Ellsbury was held out of the Red Sox lineup with a back bruise, Scutaro returned to the lineup Saturday after missing the previous six games with a stiff back. Ellsbury suffered a contusion after being hit in the back by an Everett Teaford pitch in the eighth inning Friday. Red Sox manager Terry Francona said Ellsbury is “pretty sore” and is unlikely to play Sunday. Darnell McDonald replaced Ellsbury, making his fourth start of the season in center. ... 2B Chris Getz was in the Royals starting lineup for the first time since Aug. 4. Johnny Giavotella, who had started 15 consecutive games at second since his Aug. 4 promotion from Class AAA Omaha, was given the day off. ... Red Sox LHP Jon Lester, who starts Sunday, is 4-1 with a 1.28 ERA in six career starts against the Royals, including a no-hitter in 2008. Lester, however, is 0-1 with a 7.20 ERA in his lone start at Kauffman Stadium. The Royals will start rookie LHP Danny Duffy, who yielded eight runs in three-plus innings in a Tuesday loss against the New York Yankees.