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Melendez’s Creative Slide Helps Salvage Series For Royals



CLEVELAND ( — In a half-second, as MJ Melendez was stutter-stepping toward home plate trying to read the play and decide where to go to score a run and avoid a tag by Guardians catcher Bo Naylor, several things went through his mind: Where’s the ball? What lane should I take? Can I go over him?

To the latter question, Melendez said he’s tried this before, both in the Minor Leagues and with the Royals. On Thursday afternoon, beating a contact play by tumbling over the catcher and sliding Melendez’s hand in safely at the plate worked, giving the Royals the game-tying run they needed in an eventual 4-3 victory over the Guardians at Progressive Field.

“This was a good time for it to work out,” Melendez said.

The Royals haven’t backed down from their goal of winning the American League Central this year, and Thursday’s win allowed them to leave Cleveland in the same place they arrived — four games behind the first-place Guardians. It ended up as a series split for now because of Wednesday’s rainout, which will be made up in August.

“That’s a great team over there, there’s no question about it,” Hunter Renfroe said. “They’re a scrappy bunch. I look at them the same as us. We’re a scrappy bunch. We fight to the very end.”

After starter Brady Singer allowed three runs (two earned) in 3 2/3 innings in his first start since May 25, the Royals were able to rally against Guardians starter Tanner Bibee in the sixth inning.

Melendez, who had walked and gone to third on Renfroe’s RBI double, didn’t break toward home when Adam Frazier hit a grounder to first base. But Melendez did go when Kyle Isbel hit a grounder to first, perhaps surprising Josh Naylor and forcing a bad throw home.

Bo Naylor, Josh’s brother, was crouched in front of the plate and had to reach across his body to his right to handle the throw. Melendez, meanwhile, did a move that resembled a tumbling somersault over Naylor on the inside of the plate to avoid the tag that was coming around the outside.

“Whenever I saw the throw a little off line, I was like, ‘OK, let me stop and see where it is,’” Melendez said. “I saw that he caught it and [got] his hand back around, so I was like, ‘Let me try to just avoid that if I can and try to go over top and sneak my hand in there.’”

Home plate umpire Chris Conroy called Melendez out initially, but Melendez immediately signaled a safe call to the dugout, leading to the Royals’ challenge. And although review showed no blocking at the plate, it did show Melendez was safe.

“He’s not swinging the bat the way he would like or that we would like, and he’s well aware of that,” manager Matt Quatraro said. “Nobody’s going to wear that more than the person that’s struggling. But for him to compartmentalize there and help us win a ballgame is huge.”

Melendez has been in a terrible slump offensively, entering Thursday with a .154/.195/.282 and 29 wRC+ since the beginning of May. While his playing time has dwindled some, he’s continued to help the Royals out on defense and work in the cages on his swing.

“I wish I was hitting better,” Melendez said. “Obviously, you want to help the team like that. I think it’ll turn around. Just trying to stay positive and do what I can in the other aspects of the game.”

And on Thursday, it was his walk and gymnastics move that put the Royals in a position to win. As the bullpen pieced together 5 1/3 scoreless innings, Isbel came to the plate in the eighth with a runner in scoring position for the fourth time Thursday. This time, he came through with the go-ahead RBI single.

The Royals’ outfield and bullpen have been the biggest question marks for this team recently. In the previous nine games before Thursday — seven of which the Royals lost — the bullpen had posted a 7.30 ERA. The Royals’ outfield has been among the least productive in baseball entering Thursday with a 74 wRC+.

But both came up big in Thursday’s win. Renfroe was 2-for-3, Isbel had the go-ahead hit and Melendez helped on the bases. Relievers Will Smith, Angel Zerpa, Sam Long (1-1), John Schreiber and James McArthur didn’t allow a hit and protected a one-run lead.

“It’s nothing new for us,” Singer said. “The bullpen shutting it down, for them to pick up all those innings is huge.”