When Whit Merrifield was chasing and then surpassing George Brett’s Kansas City Royals’ record for consecutive games with a hit in 2019, eventually getting to 31 games, there was a daily pregame ritual in the clubhouse.
Reporters would gather around Merrifield’s locker and try to figure out a different way to ask him the same question: How do you plan to get a hit tonight?
As Merrifield chased and eventually passed Alcides Escobar’s club record for consecutive games played, which he passed with his 422nd straight game in Saturday’s 9-4 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, there was no such routine with reporters, because major-league clubhouses remain closed due to COVID-19 protocols.
But Merrifield in the lineup isn’t a matter of how he will accomplish something; it’s a matter of fact. And there’s no reason to think he won’t be in the lineup for the 423rd consecutive game as the Royals and Cardinals conclude a three-game series and the season series on Sunday afternoon in Kansas City.
Left-hander J.A. Happ (6-6, 6.34 ERA) will start for the Cardinals; southpaw Kris Bubic (3-5, 4.43) will be on the mound for the Royals.
The Cardinals already have clinched this series — winning the first two games — and the season series, winning four of five, thanks to a strong performance by Jon Lester and nine RBIs from the top three batters in the St. Louis order on Saturday. Lester got the win in the 9-4 St. Louis victory, giving up one run and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings.
Merrifield, meanwhile, had two RBIs, and he said he never considers taking a game off.
“I mean, who wants to come out of the lineup?” Merrifield said before Friday’s game. “I don’t really understand people’s fascination with giving guys a day off. I’ve never understood that. Unless you’ve got something nagging, or you’re a catcher playing a day game after a night game, then I could understand, but besides that, I’ve just never understood the fascination with giving guys a day.
“Why would you ever want to come out of the lineup? If you’re here to play baseball, don’t you want to play baseball and not watch it? You could watch it when you’re not playing.”
Happ hasn’t had more than a two-game winning streak or a two-game losing streak all season. He won his most recent outing, a 4-1 victory in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, when he allowed one run on one hit in six innings.
“It sets a tone, man, that mound sets the tone,” St. Louis manager Mike Shildt said after Happ’s victory. “You look and it’s where it starts. J.A. did a great job tonight. We got an early lead. (He) set the tone for the tempo of the game and set the tone for the tempo of the series.”
Happ is 1-1 with a 7.53 ERA this season against the Royals in three starts, all with the Minnesota Twins. He’s 6-4 with a 4.87 ERA all-time against Kansas City.
Bubic allowed one earned run in 4 2/3 innings in his most recent start, in St. Louis last Sunday. He walked four and struck out four in a no-decision in the Royals’ 6-5 win. He did not face the Cardinals in his debut season of 2020.
–Field Level Media