Royals rookie right-hander Jorge López was three outs shy of the first perfect game in franchise history on Saturday. He dealt eight flawless innings against the Twins, striking out four of 24 batters and keeping the basepaths clear with an even 100 pitches.
In the ninth, however, things began to unravel after Max Kepler worked a 3-1 count against the righty, then took a walk after López’s fastball missed the edge of the strike zone. With the perfecto gone and the no-hitter still intact, López lasted just five more pitches against the Twins before giving up a single to Robbie Grossman, who lined an 86.5-MPH changeup into center field for the Twins’ first hit of the game. Carrying a pitch count of 110 and a comfortable four-run lead, he was given a swift exit from the mound and replaced by right-handed reliever Wily Peralta.
The Royals backed López’s extraordinary efforts with a handful of runs, from Hunter Dozier‘s RBI single in the sixth to Alberto Mondesi’s RBI double and another pair of base hits from Whit Merrifield and Alex Gordon in the seventh. The Twins spoiled the shutout in the ninth after Ehire Adrianza plated a single run on a sac fly, but they weren’t quite able to close the gap against the Royals and convert a stunning loss into a comeback.
Had López completed the perfecto, he would have been the first to do so in franchise history and the 22nd to do so in MLB history. No pitcher has recorded so much as a no-hitter for the Royals since Bret Saberhagen’s no-no against the White Sox in 1991, when he blanked the club’s division rivals with nine innings of two-walk, five-strikeout ball. On the flip side, it’s only been six years since the Twins found themselves on the losing end of a no-hitter. Former Angels hurler Jered Weaver was the last to no-hit the team after taking them to task with a 9-0 victory in 2012. Funnily enough, the league’s last three perfect games were also recorded in 2012, when the White Sox’ Philip Humber no-hit the Mariners in April, the Giants’ Matt Cain delivered a perfect game against the Astros in June, and the Mariners’ Felix Hernandez crafted a perfecto against the Rays in August.
Needless to say, this still was the strongest start the Royals had seen from López since they acquired him from the Brewers prior to the July trade deadline. While he was primarily used as a relief pitcher in Milwaukee, he transitioned to a starting role in Kansas City and entered Saturday’s game with a combined 4.26 ERA, 4.7 BB/9, and 7.4 SO/9 through 40 1/3 innings for both teams.