CLEVELAND — Danny Duffy’s days of being bullied by the Indians are over. He’s hitting back.
Duffy, who went more than two years without a win over Cleveland, pitched six innings of two-hit ball to beat a longtime nemesis, and Whit Merrifield drove in all of Kansas City’s runs with a homer and sacrifice fly, leading the Royals over the Indians 3-0 on Monday.
Duffy (1-0) came in with 12 career losses against the Indians — his most against any team. But the left-hander was in control from the outset and gave the Royals their best start of the young season.
“There’s a whole new Danny Duffy out there,” Royals manager Mike Matheny said. “It’s just looks like he’s on a mission.”
The Indians played their home opener in front of fans for the first time since 2019. The announced attendance of 8,914 —- 30% of ballpark capacity was permitted — was a nice change from last season, when fans couldn’t attend due to the COVID-19 pandemic and health and safety protocols.
“Having people in the seats gives you that extra boost of adrenaline,” said Merrifield, who connected for a two-run homer in the second and added a sacrifice fly in the seventh. “Even the boos were missed last year.”
Merrifield is the first Royals player to homer three times in the first four games, and his nine RBIs in the first four are a club record.
Scott Barlow pitched two perfect innings and Jesse Hahn put two on in the ninth before Royals first baseman Carlos Santana, who signed with the club as a free agent this winter after 10 seasons in Cleveland, made a diving stop on Eddie Rosario’s smash to start a double play.
“I’m trying to go through in my head how many first basemen in the league make that play, or maybe even attempt to make that play,” Matheny said. “That was amazing, how one play can take the air out of the opposition. We’re in a bad spot right there if that ball gets by. That’s a game-changing defensive play.”
Hahn then retired Franmil Reyes on a hard comebacker that caromed off the right-hander to complete Kansas City’s three-hit shutout and get the save.
Duffy has won three of his last four starts against the Indians since losing eight straight, and he’s pitched 11 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in his past two outings versus Cleveland.
“Every year is a new year,” Duffy said. “I had a stretch there where they had my number, especially in this place. I had to figure out a lot of things, it just took me a while.”
Merrifield connected for his third homer in the second inning off Indians starter Logan Allen (0-1), who grooved a 3-0 pitch that Kansas City’s second baseman pounced upon.
A three-run deficit was too much for the Indians, who have scored two runs or less in three of their first four games.
“We’re not stringing them together,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We did hit some balls hard. And I don’t ever want to talk down our offense, because that’s not what we’re here for. But we’re going to have to string some together.”
The last time Cleveland played in front of fans at Progressive Field was on Sept. 22, 2019, a 10-1 win over Philadelphia.
“It’s nice to have people in the stands, there’s no getting around it,” Francona said. “I’ll enjoy it more when we’re ahead on the scoreboard. The closer we get to normalcy, the happier everybody is. Not just in baseball, but everywhere.”