Hit-and-run sets up big 8th for Royals

Hit-and-run sets up big 8th for Royals

KANSAS CITY -- Before Lorenzo Cain's clutch single to right put the Royals ahead 3-2 in the eighth inning, and before Eric Hosmer finished off the Rays with a three-run bomb, an old-fashioned baseball play put the Royals in position to win.

With the score tied 2-2, rookie Whit Merrifield delivered a perfect hit-and-run play, poking a ground-ball single to right that sent shortstop Alcides Escobar to third with one out. That paved the way for a four-run inning as the Royals won their fourth straight 6-2 on Monday.

Royals manager Ned Yost didn't hesitate to send in the hit-and-run sign for a rookie.

"We know how well Merrifield handles the bat," Yost said.

Merrifield was confident he'd get the job done.

"That's a pretty familiar part of my game," he said. "I usually check the infield to see who is covering what. The second baseman was a little closer to the bag, and the shortstop was shading me to the six hole. So I had a feeling the second baseman was covering.

"Then I just tried to stay inside the ball and just hit a ground ball to second. I hit it just hard enough to get by him."

Rays reliever Erasmo Ramirez didn't make it easy with his pitch selection.

"He threw me a sinker in," Merrifield said, "but my swing is kind of inside-out anyway, so pitches inside I can still maneuver to right field. It wasn't the best placement on hit-and-run but it did the job."

The play produced a little controversy. The grounder by Merrifield bounced up and almost hit Escobar, who leaped and scissor-kicked to avoid touching it. If it had hit Escobar, he would have been out. The ball went right through Escobar's legs.

In fact, the Rays immediately talked to the umpiring crew to see if the play was reviewable. The umpires checked with New York to confirm it wasn't reviewable.

It didn't matter, Escobar said.

"That play, the ball never touched me," Escobar said. "It wasn't that close. The manager from Tampa tried to get the umpires to see if they made a mistake. But no, not close."

Nonetheless, it was a brilliant athletic move by Escobar to avoid getting hit.

"We all know Esky has crazy athletic skills," Hosmer said.

Escobar shrugged his shoulders and said, "When I break to second base I see the ground ball is coming. It's hard because you're running hard and then you have to jump high. But it wasn't that close."

Jeffrey Flanagan has covered the Royals since 1991, and for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter @FlannyMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.