Merrifield breaks Royals’ record

Published 9:15 am Thursday, April 18, 2019

Whit Merrifield’s fans were consumed by nervous energy and anticipation last week. He pushed his hitting streak, which began in September and carried over to this season, to historic proportions.

How historic? He posted the longest hitting streak in Kansas City Royals history.

It all started late in the 2018 season. Merrifield, who grew up in Advance and lives there in the offseason, was the only player in the major leagues in 2018 to hit in 20 straight games.

When his streak reached 28 games, it tied for the 14th-longest this century. He became just the 49th player to reach 28 games since record-holder Joe DiMaggio hit in 56 straight in 1941.

“You try to stay with your approach the best you can,” Merrifield, who embraced the streak, told reporters. “Hopefully you get a hit your first at-bat so you can just sort of relax the rest of the game and play your game.”

Then it reached 30 games, tying the Kansas City record by George Brett in 1980 and becoming just the eighth American League player to get to 30 since 1969.

“To say I’m not thinking about it would be a lie,” Merrifield said. “It is special. I just started thinking about that the other day. Just to be mentioned along with George Brett is incredible. It’s not something I take lightly. Even though I have gotten to know George because he has been around a lot, he’s still one of the greatest players to ever play the game, probably the best third baseman to ever play.”

On the night that Merrifield tied Brett, he had a surprise waiting for him at his locker after the game.

“(Brett) wrote me a nice note,” he said. “It was sitting on my chair when I got into the clubhouse. I asked (the Royals) to laminate it for me. I will put it in a special place in my home. To have one of the greatest players of all time writing a hand-written letter saying nice things about you, that doesn’t happen every day.”

Merrifield broke the KC record in a 6-5 home loss to Seattle on April 10. His 30-game streak was on the respirator – 0 for 3 – going into the bottom of the seventh. With the tying run at third, he dropped down a game-tying bunt hit. It was placed perfectly down the third-base line, and he was safe without a throw. The home crowd gave him a standing ovation.

It’s a remarkable feat. The only other American League players since 1969 with hitting streaks of 31 games or more are Paul Molitor (39 games in 1987), Ken Landreaux (31 games in 1980) and Ron LeFlore (31 games in 1975-76). Oh, and there’s this: Only 56 players in the history of Major League Baseball have enjoyed 31-game hitting streaks.

Brett said: “He deserves it. He’s a good kid. He’s worked hard to get here. I like watching him play.”

Merrifield said: “To do something nobody in the history of this franchise has done, when one of the greatest players of all time played for this franchise for a long time, it’s kind of surreal. I don’t even really know how to describe the emotions and the feelings I have going on right now.”

Manager Ned Yost said: “I really admire the way he is able to embrace this. I admire the fact that he’s able to look it square in the eye and not blink. I’m really impressed. He’s really changed my thinking on it. If a person wants to embrace it, let’s all embrace it.”

The streak ended April 11. Merrifield went hitless for the first time since Sept. 9, 2018. But he has a memory that will last a lifetime.

Merrifield said: “Out of my last nine outs, I feel like I’ve made six good swings on good pitches in the zone. I either hit it on the barrel at somebody or just missed it and hit it in the air. That’s kind of what makes streaks like these so rare.”

And then: “Baseball is hard. If it’s going to end, that’s how you want it to end, feeling like you made some good swings and it just didn’t happen. You didn’t get screwed by a call or get walked a lot. I was content with where I was and felt good about my day.”