KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Bobby Witt Jr. admitted the pressure was beginning to mount, and time running out, to hit the 30th homer that would make the budding superstar the first Kansas City player to join the 30-30 club.
The Royals did everything they could to take the pressure off him Friday night.
Every batter they sent up against Yankees starter Carlos Rodón scored, resulting in a nine-run first inning that put the game solidly in control. So by the time Witt stepped to the plate in the seventh, with a hit and RBI already behind him, the 23-year-old could swing freely against New York reliever Keynan Middleton for a chance to make history.
By the time the ball landed in the left-field stands, punctuating the Royals' 12-5 rout, the celebration was underway.
“I feel like there were times I was trying and it got a little selfish,” said Witt, who had gone 11 games without a home run. “I was just trying to keep it simple. That was my approach. And just go out there and compete.”
Witt could join a much more exclusive group in the next two days. Along with 30 homers he has 49 stolen bases, and needs one more to join Eric Davis, Barry Bonds and Ronald Acuña Jr. as the only players in major league history in the 30-50 club.
“It's really nice that he did it here,” Royals manager Matt Quatraro said. “Everybody really appreciates the significance of that, and you know, it's inevitable you're going to press when you get near those round numbers. I think he was to a certain extent. But that was a great swing, and I feel really good for him.”
Nobody felt worse Friday night than Rodón (3-8), who faced eight batters and all of them scored, tying the most for any start without recording an out since at least 1901. Rodón allowed six hits and two walks before Yankees manager Aaron Boone pulled him from the game, and Kansas City went on to put its first 10 aboard to set a franchise record.
Rodón's fastball averaged 93.6 mph, down from his 95.3 mph season average.
“Rough. A tick down in stuff. Just didn’t have the life on his fastball," Boone said, "and then location, just in the heart of the plate a lot, even with the secondary stuff. Obviously, a tough way for him to end.”
Jordan Lyles (6-17) took advantage of the Royals' immense run support to earn his second straight win. The right-hander got through six shaky innings, allowing five runs on four hits and a walk while striking out four.
Austin Wells hit a three-run homer and finished with four RBIs for New York.
The Royals (55-105) need to sweep the three-game series to avoid equaling the 2005 team that lost 106 times for the most in franchise history. The Yankees (81-79) need to win one of the last two to ensure their 31st consecutive winning season.
The miserable first year of Rodón's six-year, $162 million contract came to a fitting conclusion. In 35 pitches without recording an out, Rodón allowed four singles, two walks, a double and Edward Oliveras' no-doubt homer into the Yankees bullpen.
Not even a visit from New York pitching coach Matt Blake could slow down the damage. Rodón turned his back on Blake, something Rodón and Boone both said afterward was wrong to do.
It was the most batters faced without recording an out by a starter since Steven Matz faced eight for the Mets in 2019, and the 10 consecutive hitters that reached base were the most to start a game against the Yankees since the Cleveland Indians had that many reach against Catfish Hunter and Bob Kammeyer on July 27, 1978.
“Just throwing balls down the middle,” Rodón said. "Just didn’t find my lane and they hit the ball.”
Rodón began the year on the injured list with a strained forearm and then dealt with a back injury that slowed his return. He didn't make his Yankees debut until July 7, then lost four of his first five starts. Not even a respectable last month for the two-time All-Star could salvage his ERA, which plummeted to 6.85 on Friday night.
“It’s not all about the numbers. It’s about the profile, where he’s getting it to,” said Boone, whose club went 3-11 in Rodón's starts this season. "Today was just a day where he didn’t have too much.”
The Royals kept rolling against reliever Matt Bowman, too. Their first out scored another run on Witt's sacrifice fly, and their second was a productive fielder's choice by Oliveras that moved up runners. Maikel Garcia and Salvador Perez, who had three RBIs, each had two hits in the first inning, which ended on a questionable called third strike against Nelson Velázquez.
The Yankees trimmed their 10-run deficit in half by the sixth, but Witt's homer in the seventh put the game away.
“Everybody," Perez said, “was waiting for that moment.”
Yankees: Middleton (shoulder inflammation) was activated from the injured list and RHP Yoendrys Gómez was optioned to Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes-Barre.
WAIT AND SEE
Yankees RHP Frankie Montas (shoulder inflammation) arrived in Kansas City and could pitch before the end of the weekend. He had surgery on his labrum Feb. 21 in Los Angeles, an injury that had limited him after last season's trade from Oakland to the Yankees. He began a Triple-A rehab assignment on Sept. 17 and pitched two scoreless innings last Saturday.
“He didn't have to fight his way to get back for the finish,” Boone said. “He's put himself in a position to be healthy and ready. He is continuing to get after it, right? To be in a position that he is. So we certainly respect that.”
Yankees RHP Clarke Schmidt (9-9, 4.65 ERA) will start Saturday night. The Royals had not yet decided on their starter.