Bubba Starling’s first career hit was admittedly a little imperfect.
Then again, so was his route to the majors.
The hometown boy from nearby Gardner, Kansas, toiled away for more than seven years in the minors, more than once thinking about giving up the game. But he was finally called up by the Kansas City Royals this week, and he finally delivered that hit — a timely one, too — on Saturday night.
Starling’s single in the fifth inning off Tigers left-hander Matthew Boyd tied the game, and with help from a stellar star by Brad Keller, the Royals went on to beat Detroit 4-1.
“It means a lot,” Starling said. “I was talking to Lucas Duda, ‘When did you get your first hit?’ And he said it took him a long time, and I was like ‘Man, I hope it doesn’t take me long.'”
Well, it wasn’t exactly a sharply-hit single.
It counted just the same.
“It got in on me a little bit,” Starling admitted, “but a knock is a knock.”
Keller (5-9) allowed an RBI single to Harold Castro in the second but otherwise shut down Detroit, allowing four hits over eight innings. He struck out seven without a walk after entering the game having allowed the second-most free passes in the American League this season.
Ian Kennedy worked the ninth to earn his second save in as many nights.
“I just tried to pump as many strikes as I could,” Keller said. “That’s going to be the key.”
Boyd (6-7) faced the minimum number of batters through four innings before things came undone. He wound up allowing four runs on six hits and four walks while striking out 10.
Cheslor Cuthbert drove in a pair of runs and Nicky Lopez also had an RBI for the Royals, who have won the first two games out of the All-Star break as they continue to build for the future.
Starling might be part of that after more than seven years toiling in the minors. The former No. 5 overall draft pick was called up on Thursday and made his big league debut the following night, though he had to wait until the fifth inning Saturday for a hit.
At least half a dozen scouts showed up to watch Boyd, whom the Tigers are expected to shop ahead of the non-waiver trade deadline, and for the first four innings he was just about perfect.
The left-hander gave up a leadoff single to Whit Merrifield, the big league leader in hits, then wiped him out by getting Alex Gordon to ground into an inning-ending double play. Boyd then slapped down the Royals in order the next three innings, striking out six along the way.
The first crack surfaced when Hunter Dozier led off the fifth with sharp double to left.
Jorge Soler walked and Cuthbert flied out to bring up Starling, who walked and scored in his big league debut but was still searching for his first hit. The hometown boy delivered it, bringing Dozier across to knot the game 1-all and producing a raucous standing ovation.
Lopez followed with the go-ahead single before Boyd got another inning-ending double play.
Boyd’s command never returned, either. He walked a trio of batters in the sixth to load the bases for Cuthbert, whose two-out single through the left side of the infield made it 4-1.
“I think he walked a few guys and a couple of them scored. He gave us a great opportunity,” Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said. “We haven’t been giving him enough run support so he has to be perfect.”
Keller escaped a two-on, two-out jam in the eighth before Kennedy finished off the ninth.
“He was just pounding the zone,” Starling said. “All night. He made it easy for us.”
STATS AND STREAKS
Detroit has lost five straight and 20 of 23. … Boyd has allowed at least four runs in five straight starts. He is 4-9 with a 6.29 ERA in 17 career starts against Kansas City. … Keller is unbeaten in his last four starts. … Merrifield has an 11-game hit streak.
The Royals send right-hander Homer Bailey (7-6, 4.80 ERA), who has won both his starts against the Tigers this season, to the mound in the series finale Sunday. Jordan Zimmermann (0-6, 6.29) tries again for his first win of the season after losing to Boston last weekend.
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