Knowing the way Ryan Dempster turns battles with hitters into a game of first-pitch chicken, the Royals didn’t want to wait around.
For Dempster, getting ahead is more practical than personal.
“It’s nice that way too because you can get a lot of quick outs,” Dempster said.
But it was clear from Alcides Escobar’s first-inning at-bat that Kansas City knew better than to let Dempster throw the first punch.
Dempster tried to shove his first pitch, an 89-mile-per-hour fastball, down the middle of the plate, practically daring Escobar to hit it.
Escobar, the second batter of the game, took the challenge, drilling it deep into the seats atop the Green Monster.
Dempster made the home run seem like a blip by retiring eight of the next nine batters.
But the Royals were still making it a point to try to jump Dempster before he could do it to them.
And it paid off again in a three-run fourth inning that pushed Kansas City to a 4-2 victory in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader at Fenway Park.
Billy Butler smacked the first pitch he saw so hard off the Wall that he was held to a single. Eric Hosmer then roped another single on the fourth pitch of his at-bat. With runners on first and second and his bat scorching of late, Lorenzo Cain sent a first-pitch fastball whizzing into the left-field corner, scoring Butler.
Two batters later, with runners on second and third, Salvador Perez pounced on his third pitch, a slider, and turned it into a two-run double.
“They jumped on some pitches early, a couple first-pitch base hits,” Dempster said. “Then, second and third none out, I’m just trying to control the inning there and got into a position to get myself out of it and just didn’t make a pitch.”
The slider was down and away, but Perez got to it anyhow.
“Need to make a better pitch there,” Dempster said. “I have an open base. I have a lot of room to work with. He did a good job playing off the plate to get a slider there and hook it into left field. I’ve got to make a better pitch there and bear down and do a better job.
“I make a better pitch there, we’re in a 2-2 game and who knows, maybe things come out differently.”
For the better part of his seven innings, Dempster hit his spots. He struck out eight, running his season total to 33. At times, like in the third inning when he used his splitter to get an inning-ending double play, he worked out of jams. But he was facing an aggressive Royals lineup.
“I thought he looked good,” said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. “Balls he was throwing were sharp. It wasn’t for lack of stuff, they just hit some good pitches. I don’t think too many of them they hit were over the plate. It’s an aggressive hitting team.”
Normally, Dempster thrives against overeager batters.
“Usually it’s a good thing when that happens, because you’ve got a guy that can control the baseball, can throw it where he wants, so as long as you stay out of the middle of the zone with an aggressive hitting team, you end up being all right,” Saltalamacchia said.
After the fourth inning the Sox played from behind, waiting on a rally they could never completely put together.
“They got some fastballs early in the count,” said manager John Farrell. “They attacked [Dempster] early in the count as he was trying to get ahead but still, we felt like that early in the ballgame we still had opportunities.”
It left Dempster (0-2, 3.38 ERA) still searching for his first win of the season.
“He’s a professional,” Saltalamacchia said. “He’s been doing it a long time. If he keeps pitching like that, he’s going to have plenty of Ws.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.