KANSAS CITY – Carlos Beltran and Mendy Lopez made sure Opening Day won’t be one Kansas City fans will soon forget.
With the Royals trailing 7-3 entering the bottom of the ninth, Lopez hit a tying three-run home run, and Beltran hit a winning two-run blast as Kansas City defeated the Chicago White Sox 9-7 on Monday at Kauffman Stadium.
“This is a day I’m going to remember for the rest of my life,” Beltran said. “This was an amazing Opening Day for me and the ballclub.”
Kansas City’s rally in the ninth started with walks to Joe Randa and Ken Harvey. After Billy Koch relieved Cliff Politte, Benito Santiago laced a double to score Randa and send Harvey to third.
After Aaron Guiel struck out, things got interesting. Royals manager Tony Pena called up slugger Matt Stairs to pinch hit as the potential tying run. White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen responded by calling in lefty Damaso Marte to face the left-handed hitting Stairs. Pena returned the favor, sending up Lopez, a right-hander,to hit for Stairs.
“I just told him, try to go up and hit a home run,” Pena said.
Lopez, who started his career with Kansas City in 1998, has spent most of his career trying to establish himself. He has played for four teams and has spent time in the minors each of the past six seasons.
In 172 games in the majors before Monday, he had hit five home runs. Lopez had faced Marte in winter ball in the Dominican Republic, but had never hit a home run off him.
Lopez drilled a 3-1 fastball off Marte to straightaway center field, well over the glove of a leaping Aaron Rowand.
“I’ve never hit a ball that far in my life,” Lopez said.
With the 41,575 fans, the third-largest Kauffman Stadium crowd in history, brought to life, Kansas City made sure the fans went home happy. Angel Berroa continued the rally with a single, setting the scene for Beltran.
After hitting 26 home runs last season, Beltran sent a 2-2 fastball high over the left-field fence and the crowd into hysterics.
“For Mendy to do what he did, that’s unbelievable,” Beltran said. “He fired everyone up, and when Berroa got on, I was thinking, I’ve got to put the ball in play. I’ve got to do my job. Thank God the ball went out of the ballpark.”
Beltran and Lopez’s heroics excused a rough outing for Royals left-hander Brian Anderson, who was making his first Opening Day start. Anderson allowed five runs on five hits in five innings.
Anderson gave up a two-run home run to Sandy Alomar Jr. in the second that put Kansas City in a 4-0 hole. He also allowed a solo shot to Carlos Lee in the fourth that put Chicago ahead 5-1.
“It was frustrating for me to come out of the game,” Anderson said. “But for us to win like that, you don’t feel too bad.”
Santiago, who the Royals picked up in free agency in the offseason, provided the first spark for the Royals, a solo home run in the sixth that cut Chicago’s lead to 5-2. Entering his 18th Major League season, Santiago went 2-for-4 with two runs and three RBIs.
“This was the best (Opening Day),” Santiago said. “It was like the playoffs. This is the way they feel.”
After Chicago scored twice in the seventh to make the lead 7-2, Guiel singled home Randa in the bottom of the inning to cut the lead by one. Right fielder Juan Gonzalez, another free agent signee, went 2-for-4 and scored Kansas City’s first run after singling in the second. Reliever Shawn Camp made his Major League debut after seven seasons in the minors. The right-hander allowed two runs on four hits in two innings.
Paul Konerko and Alomar went 3-for-4 with two RBIs for Chicago. Lee went 2-for-4 with two runs. Starter Mark Buehrle allowed three runs, two earned, on eight hits in 6 2/3 innings.
Royals reliever D.J. Carrasco pitched a perfect ninth to earn the win.
Lopez and Beltran were the story. Lopez had hit one pinch-hit home run before in the majors. Coincidentally, that came Sept. 27, also against the White Sox.
Beltran had hit one winning home run before in the majors, July 20 against Seattle. That one couldn’t match the excitement from winning a game on Opening Day.
“I was blank for a while,” he said. “I was thinking, ‘Wow, this is Opening Day, the ballgame is over, this is a day that I will remember the rest of my life.’
“After being back in the ballgame the whole game, to win it by two runs, it can’t be any better than this.”