Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (right) celebrated with catcher Salvador Perez after Gordon hit a home run against the White Sox in the fifth inning Saturday in Chicago. Jim Young The Associated Press
Royals left fielder Alex Gordon (right) celebrated with catcher Salvador Perez after Gordon hit a home run against the White Sox in the fifth inning Saturday in Chicago. Jim Young The Associated Press

Kansas City Royals

Royals beat White Sox 8-2, and Alex Gordon is starting to shows signs of life

By Rustin Dodd

rdodd@kcstar.com

September 23, 2017 09:25 PM

UPDATED September 24, 2017 10:45 AM

CHICAGO

Eighteen days ago, Alex Gordon finished 0 for 4 in a blowout loss in Detroit. His batting average sunk to .196, matching its low point since July 19. His slugging percentage was a dreadful .282. He owned just five home runs in more than five months.

To have a starting left fielder performing at such an offensive level represented a significant dilemma for the 2017 Royals. To have the highest-paid player in club history producing like one of the worst hitters in the league signaled an organizational crisis, one that could have ripple effects for years.

Gordon is guaranteed to make at least $44 million in 2018 and 2019, the final two seasons of a four-year, $72 million contract signed in 2016. As he flailed through another season of diminished offensive numbers, there appeared to be little hope for the final years of the deal.

“The whole season has been kind of rough,” Gordon said

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Fast-forward seventeen days, to a Saturday night here in Chicago, where Gordon finished 1 for 3 with two runs scored in an 8-2 victory over the White Sox at Guaranteed Rate Field. He homered off Chicago starter Dylan Covey in the fifth, lofting an 0-1 change-up into the left-field bullpen. He drew a one-out walk in the seventh, moments before Whit Merrifield unloaded the bases with a three-run double. For one another night in September, as a season pushed to the end, he offered morsels of hope — maybe, just maybe, he is not a lost cause after all.

Well, that was one takeaway.

“Here lately,” Royals manager Ned Yost said, “I feel real good every time he steps up.”

As Danny Duffy allowed two runs in six innings, and the Royals (76-78) throttled the White Sox, remaining 4 1/2 games out of a playoff spot with eight games to go, Gordon resembled a previous version. He is collecting hits the other way. He is driving the baseball. In his last 17 games, he is batting .327 with four homers and five doubles.

The sample size requires caution. Yet to put the numbers in perspective, Gordon entered the month of September with just 22 extra-base hits in 119 games. His power had disappeared. He appeared confounded by breaking balls. He was locked into a pull-heavy approach. The formula was not working, and the results were ugly, and Gordon searched for answers, working with hitting coach Dale Sveum to be more upright in his stance. Solutions did not come easily.

“I was just trying to find my swing, and really in trying to search for my swing, I kind of got lost with my approach,” Gordon said. “These past few weeks, I’ve kind of not tried to think about my swing. Just think about my approach and that’s what I’m doing. (I’m) just being very selective on pitches.”

To be clear, Gordon says his swing did require some adjustments. But in the last three weeks, he’s tried to clear his mind, forget about his mechanics and focus on swinging at the right pitches.

And here, perhaps, is evidence that something is taking hold. From April to September, Gordon produced just 15 hits to left field. Since Sept. 6, he has collected nine hits the other way, including two homers and two doubles. That, more than anything, could spur optimism moving forward.

“No doubt,” Yost said on Saturday afternoon.

In the big picture, the Royals moved closer to elimination from the playoff race on Saturday when the Twins notched another victory against the Detroit Tigers. At 81-74. Minnesota has built a comfortable lead with seven games to play. Barring a historic collapse, the Twins will face the New York Yankees in the American League wild-card game just one season after losing more than 100 games.

The Royals have offered no public concession, of course. They will not until they are mathematically toast. In the moments after a victory on Saturday night, the club ran through its usual postgame celebration, catcher Drew Butera screaming above the din of pulsing music and shrieking men.

“There’s crazier things that have happened in this game,” said Duffy, who started for the second time since returning from a pronator strain near his left elbow.

And yet in some ways, the focus is already pushing forward, to 2018 and beyond. The Royals have free-agent questions to answer in the offseason, but Duffy will be back. So will catcher Salvador Perez and an emerging collection of talent that includes second baseman Whit Merrifield and outfielder Jorge Bonifacio. But so will Gordon, and he will be expensive.

The path forward becomes smoother if Gordon can produce like an average left fielder. For 17 days, Gordon has buoyed hopes that he can.

“I finally just tried to figure it out,” he said. “That was step one: getting my approach back.

“Before, I was going up there and thinking about my swing and swinging at every pitch. Pitchers were throwing their pitch, and I was hitting the pitches they wanted me to and not getting the results. Now I’m trying to be more selective and find my pitch and do damage with it.”

Royals 8, White Sox 2

Royals

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Merrifield 2b

5

0

1

3

0

3

.290

Cain cf

5

0

0

0

0

1

.300

Butera c

0

0

0

0

0

0

.242

Cabrera rf

4

0

0

0

0

0

.290

Orlando cf

1

0

0

0

0

0

.164

Hosmer 1b

4

2

2

0

1

0

.321

Perez c

4

2

2

2

0

0

.271

Bonifacio rf

1

0

1

0

0

0

.251

Moustakas 3b

3

0

1

1

1

1

.273

Cuthbert 3b

1

0

0

0

0

1

.233

Moss dh

4

1

2

1

0

1

.211

Escobar ss

3

1

2

0

1

0

.251

Gordon lf

3

2

1

1

1

1

.211

Totals

38

8

12

8

4

8

Chicago

AB

R

H

BI

W

K

Avg.

Anderson ss

4

0

1

0

0

0

.263

Moncada 2b

4

1

1

0

0

1

.237

Abreu dh

4

0

1

2

0

0

.304

Garcia rf

4

0

1

0

0

2

.329

Davidson 1b

4

0

2

0

0

1

.225

Smith c

3

0

0

0

1

1

.278

Brantly c

0

0

0

0

0

0

.238

Sanchez 3b

4

0

1

0

0

0

.263

Garcia lf

2

1

0

0

1

0

.245

a-Delmonico ph

1

0

0

0

0

0

.261

Engel cf

3

0

1

0

0

0

.179

b-Hanson ph

1

0

0

0

0

1

.227

Totals

34

2

8

2

2

6

Royals

000

210

320

8

12

0

Chicago

100

000

100

2

8

0

a-grounded out for Garcia in the 9th. b-struck out for Engel in the 9th.

LOB: Kansas City 7, Chicago 8. 2B: Merrifield (31), Perez 2 (24), Moss (14), Escobar (33), Bonifacio (15), Davidson (16). HR: Gordon (9), off Covey. RBIs: Merrifield 3 (76), Perez 2 (78), Moustakas (84), Moss (50), Gordon (45), Abreu 2 (100).

Runners left in scoring position: Kansas City 4 (Cain 2, Cabrera, Cuthbert); Chicago 5 (Garcia 2, Smith, Sanchez, Garcia). RISP: Kansas City 4 for 10; Chicago 1 for 8. Runners moved up: Abreu. GIDP: Perez, Abreu. DP: Kansas City 1 (Escobar, Merrifield, Hosmer); Chicago 1 (Anderson, Moncada, Davidson).

Royals

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Duffy W, 9-9

6

8

2

2

2

2

89

3.68

Moylan

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

3.59

Alexander

1

0

0

0

0

2

11

2.55

Herrera

1

0

0

0

0

1

13

4.47

Maurer

1

0

0

0

0

1

8

6.41

Chicago

I

H

R

ER

W

K

P

ERA

Covey L, 0-7

6

5

3

3

1

3

85

7.83

Fry

0.1

2

3

3

1

1

17

21.60

Alburquerque

0.2

1

0

0

0

0

8

3.00

Holmberg

0.1

3

2

2

2

1

30

4.91

Beck

1.2

1

0

0

0

3

29

6.49

Duffy pitched to 2 batters in the 7th. Moylan pitched to 1 batter in the 7th.

Hold: Alexander (8). Inherited runners-scored: Moylan 2-0, Alexander 3-1, Alburquerque 3-3, Beck 3-0. HBP: Moylan (Anderson). WP: Holmberg.

Umpires: Home, Paul Emmel; First, Chad Whitson; Second, Scott Barry; Third, Brian O’Nora. Time: 3:02. Att: 20,306.