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Homerun, single, stolen base: A first inning for Whit Merrifield

Whit Merrifield and the Kansas City Royals went crazy in the first inning against visiting Minnesota on June 4.

Merrifield started a nine-run explosion with a leadoff single off Matt Shoemaker, who would retire one batter while allowing six hits and two walks. Later in the inning, Merrifield ended Shoemaker’s night with a three-run homer. The Royals went on to win 14-5.

How’s this for a stat: Merrifield became the first MLB player to have two hits, a home run and a stolen base in the first inning of a game since Oakland’s Rickey Henderson did it on Aug. 4, 1980.

“It’s what I pride myself on, which is being well-rounded,” Merrifield said.

Merrifield’s batting average stood at .250 on May 20. He’s been on a nice roll since then, going 17 for 56 (.303) from May 21-June 5. During that stretch, he hit safely in 12 of 14 games, including a six-game hitting streak heading into Sunday. The surge raised his season average to .264.

Through June 5, he was No. 1 in the majors in stolen bases (17), tied for 25th in RBIs (35) and tied for 30th in hits (57).

“I think (Merrifield) is one of the most well-rounded hitters in the league,” manager Mike Matheny said. “A guy who’ll take a walk, shoot the ball the other way, move runners over, get his base hits, fight with two strikes, steal a base.”

The Royals were among the worst in baseball in 2018 and 2019, when they finished 58-104 and 59-103, respectively. In 2020 during the shortened 60-game season, they showed improvement by finishing 26-34.

Now they’re a team on the rise. After Saturday’s win, they were 29-27 and only five games out of first place in the AL Central. They’re seeking their first winning season since 2015, when they won the World Series.

“We’ve known what we can do for awhile, and it’s come in spurts and we’ve seen flashes of it,” Merrifield said. “It’s just a matter of us doing it consistently and guys getting on a run. Our lineup is slowly starting to get to the point where we knew all along we could be. When we do that, it’s fun.