Bannister leads Royals to 5-2 start
Righty contains Yankees for five innings at home opener
KANSAS CITY -- Rain all morning. Cold -- 46 degrees at game time. Clouds hanging. Wind blowing. Gray afternoon. So why did everything seem so sunny and warm to Royals fans on Tuesday?
Everything seemed beautiful to partisans in the sellout crowd of 37,296 because the Royals defeated the New York Yankees and did it rather easily, 5-2, in the home opener at under-renovation Kauffman Stadium.
There was a spectacular new high-definition video board, wide new bullpens, the old reliable fountains and waterfalls churning away. And alongside Kansas City in the American League Central standings, it reads 5-2, good for a first-place tie with the Chicago White Sox.
"It's early," said the Royals' Alex Gordon, "but it's fun."
There is always a lot of talk about the importance of starting the season well. It has seldom happened for the Royals in recent years, but new manager Trey Hillman has caught a wave.
"This is a good start," said Ross Gload, who drove in the last two runs. "If you get off to a slow start, it's the Kansas City Royals that everybody knows.
"But we've kind of changed our tune a little bit. We've played seven good ballgames. Trey's got us playing the game right, playing the game hard, which you can control. There are things you can't control, but you can control how hard you play every day."
Exhibit A: Joey Gathright.
Gathright opened the Royals' first inning with a single, swiped second base and took third as Mark Grudzielanek grounded out.
"Joey got us going right away by getting on base and running and getting himself to third with one out, and from there, it should be easy to score him," Mark Teahen said.
It was easy because Teahen cracked a double to left-center field.
Gathright led off the fourth inning with a single. He stole second base. He stole third base. Grudzielanek then poked a single to right, and the Royals had a 3-2 lead.
"It was a good day. I just wanted to do what I was brought in here to do," said Gathright, who is subbing for injured outfielder David DeJesus.
Gathright's three stolen bases gave him five steals in five tries so far this season.
"Joey Gathright is going to run whenever he's on," Yankees manager Joe Girardi said. "It doesn't matter who's behind home plate -- that's part of his game. He took advantage of us today."
All that occurred with Yankees right-hander Phil Hughes -- at 21, the Majors' youngest pitcher -- on the mound. But reliever Ross Ohlendorf was pitching in the fifth when Billy Butler singled, Gordon doubled and Gload smacked a two-run single with nobody out.
Gload had been hitting well but hadn't driven in a run yet this season.
"I was just trying to get some of those zeros out of the zero column," Gload said. "I needed an RBI. I just got in a hitter's count -- I think it was 3-1 -- I was to trying to get them over and in -- at least get those runners moving. But I got a pitch I could hit on the shortstop side."
That gave Royals starter Brian Bannister and the bullpen a three-run cushion. And, considering Bannister's battle in the cold and wind, it was gratefully received.
The Yankees got two runs off Bannister in the second inning when he uncorked 42 -- count 'em -- pitches. That's a bunch.
During that lengthy proceeding, he gave up two-out singles to Jorge Posada and Wilson Betemit and tossed in three walks, including one with the bases loaded.
Home-plate umpire Mark Wegner's strike zone provided something of a challenge.
"As a professional starting pitcher, it's my job to adjust to what he's calling," Bannister said. "You end up starting to aim out there. Instead of just letting your pitches fly, you end up starting to place them."
He placed them just right, however, for Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez. Last year, A-Rod was 2-for-2 against Bannister -- both hits were home runs. But this time around, Rodriguez looked at a third strike three times. (And struck out a fourth time against reliever Ramon Ramirez).
"He's as tough a hitter as there is out there," Bannister said. "I just happened to make three perfect pitches when I needed to. We chalked it up today. He might get me next time."
Bannister was fighting a stiff wind blowing at his back, causing him to rush his delivery and elevate his pitches. Hillman excused the righty after the fifth inning.
The Royals' relievers added to their luster, as Ron Mahay, Ramirez, Leo Nunez and Joakim Soria combined for four shutout innings. The bullpen has given up just two runs in 21 innings this season.
Soria got his fourth save, and he has finished up each of the Royals' five victories. His ERA is 0.00. But then so is that of Ramirez and Nunez.
Yes, these are heady times. A victory on Opening Day at Kauffman. A 5-2 record. A piece of first place. Almost too much to ask. Or is it?
"We'll continue it," Gordon said firmly.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.