The waiting area outside of the Kansas City Royals locker room looked like a Keller family reunion.
Many of Brad Keller’s relatives were on hand to watch the young right-hander toss seven innings of two-hit, shutout baseball to lead the Royals to a 5-3 Opening Day win over the Chicago White Sox at rainy Kauffman Stadium.
The game was delayed 1 hour and 46 minutes, but that didn’t throw the 23-year-old right-hander off his game as he was never seriously challenged in his first Opening Day start.
“The rain delay really didn’t bother me that much,” said Keller, who was the Royals Player of the Year in 2018 after they traded for the former Rule 5 draft selection from the Cincinnati Reds before the start of last season.
“I worked a crossword puzzle – it was a hard one, so I worked on it all day – and I admit, I was nervous, with it being Opening Day and the rain and everything, but once I threw my first pitch, I was fine.”
The same could not be said for the bullpen as manager Ned Yost needed four relievers to get out of a three-run, ninth-inning jam that saw the White Sox put the winning runs on base with two outs.
After Wily Peralta, Jake Diekman and Kevin McCarthy struggled, Brad Boxberger entered the game and coaxed Yolmer Sanchez to fly out to Whit Merrifield in right field to end the game in front of a crowd of 31,675.
“I have faith in my bullpen, and I knew they were going to get out of that ninth inning,” Keller said.
Keller allowed just two hits, no runs and struck out five to help the Royals win their first season opener since 2016.
“You can’t ask for more from a pitcher than we got from Keller today,” Yost said. “Opening Day is a big deal for our players and with all the distractions, and the rain, he went out and pitched like an experienced pitcher. He looked like a No. 1 guy who is going to be a No. 1 guy for years. He handled it all beautifully.”
Merrifield, who led the majors in hits and stolen bases last season, picked up where he left off in 2018 by collecting a single to extend his two-season hitting streak to 21 – and he stole two bases.
He scored runs in the sixth and seventh innings, and Yost said the speed the fans saw today is not even close to what they can expect the rest of the season.
“We’re going to disrupt games with our speed, move up bases on balls in the dirt, challenge defenses,” Yost said.
Merrifield stole second and third base in the sixth and scored on Jorge Soler’s RBI single, marking the 11th time in his career he’s stolen multiple bases in one inning.
Adalberto Mondesi tripled to leadoff the fourth (which was originally ruled a 9-4-5 putout) and had an RBI triple in the seventh, becoming the ninth player since 1908 to record two triples on Opening Day, joining Justin Maxwell (2013), Tony Pena Jr. (2007 with Kansas City), Tommy Henrich (1950), Arky Vaughan (1941), Bubbles Hargrave (1924), Tillie Walker (1917), Jimmy Sheckard (1912) and Frank Schulte (1910).
The Royals challenged the out call on Mondesi at third base in the fourth inning and it was overturned. Royals replay specialist Bill Duplissea improved on his Major League-best success rate since 2016, now 73.1 percent (87-for-119) on challenges.