Duffy wins, Merrifield drives in 3 as Royals blank Cleveland

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports Images
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CLEVELAND — Danny Duffy pitched six innings of two-hit ball to beat a longtime nemesis and Whit Merrifield drove in all of Kansas City’s runs with a homer and sacrifice fly, leading the Royals over Cleveland 3-0 on Monday.

Cleveland played its home opener in front of fans for the first time since 2019. The announced attendance of 8,914 — 30% of ballpark capacity was permitted – was a nice change from last season, when fans couldn’t attend due to the COVID-19 pandemic and health and safety protocols.

Duffy (1-0) came in with 12 career losses against Cleveland- his most against any team. But the left-hander was in control from the outset and beat them for the fifth time.

Scott Barlow pitched two perfect innings and Jesse Hahn put two on in the ninth before Royals first baseman Carlos Santana, who signed with the club as a free agent this winter after 10 seasons in Cleveland, made a diving stop on Eddie Rosario‘s smash to start a double play.

Hahn then retired Franmil Reyes on a hard comebacker that caromed off the right-hander to complete Kansas City’s three-hit shutout and get the save.

Duffy has won three of his last four starts against Cleveland since losing eight straight, and he’s pitched 11 2-3 consecutive scoreless innings in his past two outings versus Cleveland.

Merrifield connected for his third homer in the second inning off Cleveland starter Logan Allen (0-1). Merrifield added his sacrifice fly in the seventh.

A three-run deficit was too much for Cleveland, which has scored two runs or less in three of their first four games.

The last time Cleveland played in front of fans at Progressive Field was on Sept. 22, 2019, a 10-1 win over Philadelphia.

“We missed the fans maybe more than they missed being here,” manager Terry Francona said. “Playing in front of empty ballparks, it was better than not playing – don’t get me wrong – but having people here will really be welcomed.”

NAME PROTEST

More than a dozen protesters gathered outside the ballpark to voice their displeasure at Cleveland’s delay in changing their name. Cleveland owner Paul Dolan announced in December the ballclub will be dropping their team name, which has been in place since 1915, in the future.

That’s not soon enough for Native American groups of have decried the name as being racist.

“It’s absolutely disappointing, disheartening, but not surprising,” said Jeff Pierce, president of People Not Mascots. “They’ve been saying they’re going to do this for the last 30 plus years, never been done. I’ll believe it when I see it.”

THE BEAT GOES ON

With longtime drummer and ballpark fixture John Adams recovering from health issues, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney filled in and pounded a steady beat when Cleveland batted.

Carney, who first attended Cleveland games as a little boy, said it was his first “live” gig since Black Keys’ last show in January 2020.

ON THE OTHER SIDE

It didn’t take long for Santana to make a strong impression on the Royals, who signed him to a three-year, $17.5 million deal.

“Just because a kid changes uniforms, that doesn’t mean it’s going to change the way he behaves himself or acts,” Francona said. “I certainly can’t root for him to beat us, but we’re not any less fond of him because he’s in a Royals uniform.”

SPEED TRAP

Cleveland right-hander Emmanuel Clase unleashed a 101.2 mph fastball on his first pitch in Sunday’s win at Detroit. It was the fastest pitch recorded by a Cleveland pitcher since 2008, when pitches first began being tracked regularly.

UP NEXT

Following an off day, Cy Young winner Shane Bieber will make his second start of 2021 against the Royals, who have not yet named a starter. Bieber struck out 12 in his season debut last week at Detroit.

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
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WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.