In return to KC, Bumgarner will face hitter he first met 17 years ago

In return to KC, Bumgarner will face hitter he first met 17 years ago

KANSAS CITY — The Royals know Madison Bumgarner all too well at this point, and there will be a familiar lineup on the other side when the lefty digs back in at Kauffman Stadium on Wednesday night. Longtime anchors Alex Gordon, Mike Moustakas, Lorenzo Cain, Eric Hosmer and Salvador Perez will make up the top of the order against Bumgarner, but the new No. 6 hitter is actually the Royal who has been facing him the longest. 

A day after getting called up from Triple-A, Whit Merrifield will take a crack at a player he has known for nearly two decades. Merrifield grew up in Mocksville, North Carolina, about 75 minutes away from Bumgarner's hometown. The two played against each other and played together on high school All-Star teams, but their first meeting wasn’t a positive one for Merrifield.

“So, my first memory of Bum was we were 11 years old and it was my first ever travel ball game and he was pitching for the Catawba Valley Storm, we were playing against them,” Merrifield said Wednesday. “He was this big-old-donkey lefty on the mound. I was leading off that game and my first at-bat he drills me in the head. 

“He goes on later that game to hit two home runs, and ever since then he was kind of a legend around those parts.” 

Told that story by local reporters on Tuesday, Bumgarner smiled and grimaced. 

"I did?" he said. "Geez, I don't remember that. I'm sure it was an accident."

Merrifield wasn’t bitter. He said the two got to know each other in high school.

“He’s a great guy,” Merrifield said. “It’s good to see him have success. Like I said, he was kind of a legend in North Carolina.”

Merrifield, 28, is hoping to carve out his own role in the Majors. He has come a long way since that first meeting, which was his first ever game playing outside of his county. He went to South Carolina and became a ninth-round pick of the Royals. Merrifield has played all over the field in eight minor league seasons, posting a .274/.334/.403 slash line. He batted .283 in 81 games for the Royals last year and hit a solo homer Tuesday in his return to the big leagues. 

Merrifield and Bumgarner ran into each other in the parking lot after the series opener. The Royal is looking forward to facing a pitcher who was making hitters uncomfortable long before the Giants discovered him.

“When you get a chance to go up against one of the elite guys, it’s going to be a fun night,” he said. “He comes right after you. I like to be aggressive. He’s an aggressive pitcher and I’m an aggressive hitter. Something has got to give, and hopefully my aggression will prevail over his.”

 

Giants lineup: Span out, Hill leading off in finale vs Royals

Giants lineup: Span out, Hill leading off in finale vs Royals

With lefty Jason Vargas on the mound, Denard Span is getting the night off in Kansas City. Gorkys Hernandez is in center and Aaron Hill is leading off.

San Francisco Giants:
1. Aaron Hill (R) LF
2. Brandon Belt (L) 1B
3. Hunter Pence (R) RF
4. Buster Posey (R) DH
5. Brandon Crawford (L) SS
6. Eduardo Nunez (R) 3B
7. Nick Hundley (R) C
8. Joe Panik (L) 2B
9. Gorkys Hernandez (R) CF
Madison Bumgarner -- LHP

Kansas City Royals:
1. Alex Gordon (L) LF
2. Mike Moustakas (L) 3B
3. Lorenzo Cain (R) CF
4. Eric Hosmer (L) 1B
5. Salvador Perez (R) C
6. Whit Merrifield (R) 2B
7. Alcides Escobar (R) SS
8. Cheslor Cuthbert (R) DH
9. Paulo Orlando (R) RF
Jason Vargas -- LHP

 

Panik finds grass in extra innings, leads Giants to win in return to KC

Panik finds grass in extra innings, leads Giants to win in return to KC

KANSAS CITY — Just as he did after Game 7 of the World Series, Joe Panik found Shawon Dunston and Chad Chop after a win to thank them for a decision to review a missed call. 

“First game back here, it’s me, Craw, Belt, Dunston and Chop,” he said Tuesday night. “Again, it was four to six to three to replay.”

Some things haven’t changed three years later. The Giants again got a big double play that was boosted by a review. Poor Eric Hosmer was again on the back end of it, showing that against the Giants, he can’t win regardless of how he goes into the bag. The pitching was outstanding in big spots, just as it was the last time the Giants played at Kauffman Stadium.

But there was one key difference: Three years after he made Giants hitters miserable, Lorenzo Cain came up inches short on the game-deciding play. Cain was all over the field Tuesday, but Panik’s single in the top of the 11th snuck under his glove to drive Nick Hundley home and give the Giants a 2-1 win. 

Panik was on that 2014 team that couldn’t figure out a way past Cain, Alex Gordon and the rest of the Royals outfield. He had flashbacks as he approached first. 

“It was mixed emotions,” he said. “You see the trajectory of the ball and the outfielders and you see a lot of green. But running to first, you see Lorenzo running and you have bad thoughts running through your head. Fortunately, that one caught some grass.”

It ended up being the game-winner on a night when both teams struggled in the clutch. The Giants left 10 on base but that was nothing compared to a 1-for-11 performance from the Royals with runners in scoring position. 

Panik and others credited Giants relievers for buckling down when situations got tight late. Steven Okert and Derek Law got through some iffy spots in the eighth, ninth and tenth to get the ball to Mark Melancon, who stranded two.

Hours earlier, Matt Cain had put the staff in gear with seven sharp innings. 

“He was outstanding,” interim manager Ron Wotus said. “Really, really good.”

Wotus, managing because Bruce Bochy had a minor heart procedure, was particularly encouraged by Cain’s effort against left-handed hitters. After Gordon’s leadoff double, Cain kept Gordon, Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer mostly in check. He has two straight solid outings, lowering his ERA to 3.31. 

“It was a good day,” Cain said. “That was nice.”

Cain said he has benefited from a decision to keep him on track. The Giants could have skipped their No. 5 starter — and at one time it looked like a lock — but Cain got the nod in a city he didn’t pitch in three years ago because of an injury. 

“It was good to get back in a rhythm,” he said. “It’s nice to get back on the same page.”

Will it continue? Cain’s next start would come Monday against the Dodgers, and at times Bochy has hinted that Ty Blach could sneak back into the rotation to face a lineup that has massive issues against lefties. Asked about Cain on Tuesday, Wotus smiled and said Bochy will have all the answers when he returns to the club Friday. 

With Bochy back, Wotus will go back to being the bench coach and working tirelessly with the roster’s infielders. They have paid him back when given the chance. A year ago, Brandon Crawford picked up seven hits to help Wotus win a 14-inning game as interim manager. This time it was Panik.

“You get all the statistics today and matchups and everything and all the information that you look at, but the guy plays baseball,” Wotus said. “He’s in the moment and wants to be the guy.”

Panik found his moment in the 11th. The Giants are 2-0 the last two years without their manager, who was said to be watching from his home in San Diego. The games have lasted 25 combined innings. 

“He has a knack for knowing what games to take off,” Wotus said, smiling.