Kansas City, Mo. Much of the crowd at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday night had no doubt turned out to see the Brewers’ Zack Greinke face his former team for the first time.
By the sixth inning, their attention had shifted squarely to the Royals’ Luis Mendoza.
He carried a no-hit bid into the seventh inning before the Kansas City bullpen bailed him out of trouble, and Billy Butler’s go-ahead single in the eighth inning gave all those fans reason to celebrate with a 2-1 victory over Milwaukee.
“Every inning it’s like, ‘OK, no hits this inning.’ Of course I knew it was a no-hitter,” said Mendoza, who has shuffled between the bullpen and rotation much of the season.
“You have to keep it a close game,” he said, “because Greinke’s a great pitcher.”
The only real mistake Greinke made was to Alex Gordon leading off the game. He sent a pitch soaring over the right-field wall to give Kansas City the early lead.
Gordon came through again when he faced Francisco Rodriguez (0-4) leading off the eighth. His double put him in scoring position, and a sacrifice bunt by Chris Getz moved him to third, giving Butler the chance to bring him home with a base hit to center field.
Jonathan Broxton came in for the ninth inning and put runners on the corners with one out, but struck out pinch hitter George Kottaras and got fellow pinch-hitter Brooks Conrad to ground out to shortstop, ending the game and wrapping up his 15th save of the season.
“Some closers are like that,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “They come into the game and at the end of the day, he gets the job done.”
Mendoza certainly got the job done.
He didn’t allow a hit until Ryan Braun singled leading off the seventh, and then he walked Aramis Ramirez. Aaron Crow came in and limited the damage to Rickie Weeks’ tying single, and Greg Holland (2-2) survived a shaky eighth inning to get the game to Broxton.
The victory snapped the Royals’ four-game losing streak.
“We ran into one of the better pitchers in baseball, if not the best on any given night,” Butler said. “You can argue Mendoza out-pitched him.”
Greinke was chosen by the Royals in the first round of the 2002 draft, and they stuck by him through the well-documented personal issues that forced him to leave the game for a while.
He returned to become one of baseball’s best pitchers, going 16-8 with a 2.16 ERA in 2009 to win the American League Cy Young Award. He regressed only slightly the following year, and was eventually dealt to Milwaukee after the 2010 season.
The Royals picked up their starting shortstop, Alcides Escobar, along with outfielder Lorenzo Cain and minor league pitcher Jake Odorizzi in the deal. Yet many still wonder whether they were wrong to trade away one of their best homegrown pitchers.
Greinke certainly gave those folks some fodder in his return to Kauffman Stadium.
“Yeah, it was exciting,” Greinke acknowledged afterward. “When I woke up, I was probably a little more excited than usual.”
After serving up Gordon’s sixth career leadoff homer, Greinke allowed only one hit over the next four innings, striking out the side in the fourth. He didn’t allow a runner to reach second base until the fifth, and then left him stranded there by recording three straight outs.
His low-90s fastball and pinpoint command was precisely what Royals fans remembered.
Mendoza gave them something entirely unexpected.
The underwhelming right-hander, who had been shuttling between the starting rotation and the bullpen most of the season, set Milwaukee down in order in the first inning.
He didn’t allow a runner until walking Weeks with two out in the second, and that was it until he hit Norichika Aoki on the foot leading off the fourth inning.
By the time Mendoza had shut down Milwaukee in order the next two innings — and had thrown just 64 pitches — there were some rumblings that Mendoza could be on his way to pitching the fifth no-hitter in franchise history, and the first since Bret Saberhagen more than 20 years ago.
Things got a bit shaky in the seventh, though.
Kansas City nearly got out of trouble with runners on the corners when Taylor Green flied out to Gordon in left, and his pinpoint throw down the line doubled up Braun trying to score. But Weeks came through with his RBI single on a 3-2 pitch with two outs in the inning to tie the game.
Setting the stage for Butler’s go-ahead single in the eighth.
“They had an opportunity, and they came through. Butler got a hit,” Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said. “That was it.”
NOTES: Yost said LHP Jonathan Sanchez (left biceps tendinitis) will come off the DL to start Wednesday. The starting rotation will be pushed back by a day, leaving RHP Luke Hochevar to start the series finale Thursday night. LHP Randy Wolf starts Wednesday for Milwaukee. ... The Royals activated 2B Getz (bruised ribs) and optioned 2B Johnny Giavotella to Triple-A Omaha before the game. ... Braun’s single in the seventh extended his interleague hitting streak to 17 games.