Tom Keegan: Royals stop short of making scoreless history

Kansas City Royals’ Whit Merrifield (15) is congratulated by Kansas City Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum, left, after hitting a solo home run off Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb (53) in the third inning of a Tuesday night baseball game.

Kansas City, Mo. — The R000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000yals finally scored a run when Whit Merrifield’s high fly to left field stayed fair in the third inning for a solo home run that ended a franchise-record 45-inning scoreless streak.

Merrifield, the club’s leadoff-hitting second baseman, spurred the Royals to a 6-2 victory Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium and spared them the embarrassment of getting any closer to the major-league record of 48 scoreless innings, shared by the 1906 Phillies and 1968 Cubs.

I wanted to be there when the streak either ended or became a record because streaks in sports can grow so long they bend the mind and this was one of those.

I was there for every one of 00000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000rel Hershiser’s 59 consecutive scoreless innings in 1988, back when the man whose streak he broke, Don Drysdale, was in the Dodgers’ broadcasting booth.

I was there the night Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak and I have been in the house for nearly every Kansas basketball game during Bill Self’s streak of 13-and-counting Big 12 championships.

For an entire team to grow as cold as the Royals did for as long as they did ranks right up there with any of those feats in terms of improbability.

They were outscored 35-0 during the streak. Seventeen pitchers from three different teams combined on the 45-inning whitewash that included four consecutive shutouts.

In order, the pitchers: German Marquez, Adam Ottavino, Mike Dunn, Greg Holland, Ryan Merritt, Joe Smith, Tyler Olson, Cody Allen (first of two appearances), Mike Clevinger, Bryan Shaw, Dan Otero, Carlos Carrasco, Craig Breslow, Zach McAllister, Austin Pruitt, Matt Andriese and Alex Cobb.

Ten years from now, the Royals will not be flying in the arms who made this all possible to celebrate the occasion.

Memories of such things tend to go the way of a bad hangover. They fade into oblivion.

Soon enough, few will remember that the Royals were the first team since the 1992 Cubs to find themselves on the wrong end of four consecutive shutouts. A quarter-century from now Royals manager Ned Yost might not even remember it.

After all, the manager of the 1992 Cubs didn’t remember his team being shut out in four consecutive games, per his son. Jim Lefebvre, father of Royals broadcaster Ryan Lefebvre, managed that Cubs team. When Ryan called him to talk about the Royals’ streak, Jim told his son he didn’t remember it.

Rex Hudler, the color commentator on Royals’ telecasts, feels the game well, so I thought I would ask him before Tuesday’s first pitch what he saw from Royals’ hitters. Did he see them squeezing the bats?

“I see a virus, a hitting virus that hits teams,” Hudler said. “I’ve never seen one team go wire-to-wire without getting a hitting virus, except maybe the Dodgers this year. It’s inevitable. You have peaks and valleys. The 85 Royals went through a drought. It happens to good teams.”

These Royals are an average team. Nothing better. Nothing worse. Average teams find themselves in crowded wild-card races.

To illustrate Hudler’s point about peaks and valleys, compare the 45-inning streak the Royals broke out of Tuesday night to a 45-inning streak during the first five games of a six-game winning streak in June. During those 45 innings, the Royals outscored the Padres, Giants and Angels, 42-14, hit .340 and hit 12 home runs in the five games. Same team. Same season. No hitting virus.

Peaks and valleys. The Royals have as many of one as the other, which makes them the definition of an average team.