KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The one thing still missing from the Royals’ recent surge is a huge pull-one-out-of-their-you-know-what win or a dramatic walk-off.
The stage certainly was set Friday before a packed house at Kauffman Stadium when Alex Gordon came up with two runners on and two out in the bottom of the ninth, trailing 7-5.
Gordon, facing Seattle closer Fernando Rodney, could have won it with a deep ball. Instead, Rodney struck out Gordon, getting him to chase a changeup on a 1-2 pitch.
And the Royals, winners of 10 straight a moment ago, now have dropped two in a row and have fallen out of first in the Central by a 1/2 game to Detroit.
The Royals battled back from a 5-0 deficit against nemesis Hisashi Iwakuma, whom the Royals hadn’t scored on in two years, as manager Ned Yost pointed out.
But the Royals came back, fueled by a Sal Perez homer and a two-run shot from Mike Moustakas in the fifth, and then RBIs from Perez and Lorenzo Cain in the sixth.
"To get five off of him," Yost said of Iwakuma, "what makes him so dynamic is that every pitch he throws comes out of the same slot, so you never know if it’s a fastball, a slider, a splitter. You don’t know."
So how did the Royals solve Iwakuma this time?
"We’re just a hotter team offensively right now," Yost said.
But it wasn’t enough, especially after closer Greg Holland gave up two runs in the ninth, one on a Brad Miller (.189) homer. Those were the first runs off Holland since May 5.
"I felt good out there," Holland said. "I just made a two-strike mistake (to Miller).
"They’re big-league hitters. You have to give them all respect."
— Billy continues to mash. Billy Butler ripped three more hits Friday and nearly won the game himself with his … speed. In the eighth, Butler smoked a liner back off the pitcher’s leg and the ball caromed to the shortstop. Butler, running as hard as he could, beat the shortstop’s throw by an eyelash. Then, after Gordon singled Butler to second, Perez sent a fly to medium center that James Jones caught. Butler took off for third as the crowd almost gasped. But the throw was off-line and wound up nicking Butler in the foot and he was safe. Seattle walked Cain to fill the bases for Moustakas, who popped out. Then Alcides Escobar struck out to end the threat.
— Good and bad for Moose. We mentioned the pop-out by Moose in the eighth with the bases loaded and one out. But Moose did come through in the fifth to help the Royals get back in it with a two-run bomb to right field, his eighth homer. That was the homer that gave the Royals life, at least enough to crawl back eventually and tie it, 5-5.
— The fans. A hat tip to Royals fans who came out on a blistering night (89 degrees at game time) to welcome their team home — 38,475 attended. The bad news is that the Royals simply haven’t been playing well in front of large crowds at home over the last two years. Of the last 13 times the Royals have drawn over 30,000, they have dropped nine. In a town still not 100 percent sold on the team’s resurgence the last two seasons, the Royals aren’t encouraging them to come back to the stadium in droves. But still, it was a festive atmosphere not often seen at The K lately.
"It was a great atmosphere out there," starter James Shields said. "Next time we’ll get them a win."
— Big Game James wasn’t that big. You had to figure that if the Royals could get five runs against Iwakuma, Shields would have taken care of the rest. But Big Game James was off. He gave up a monstrous 424-foot homer to catcher Mike Zunino, who is hitting just .219 this year. He then gave up a two-run blast to Logan Morrison, hitting just .163 entering the game with one homer and two RBI.
"I made two pitches and they hit them out," Shields said, shrugging his shoulders. "Actually, the one to LoMo wasn’t that bad, fastball down and away on 3-2. He put a good swing on it."
Shields also gave up an RBI single to Robinson Cano in the first and an RBI double to Cano in the fifth. That’s why Shields didn’t leave after seven innings with the lead.
— Improbable catch. On the subject of Morrison, he made a spectacular (lucky?) catch in the Royals’ sixth to take away what would have been the lead run at the time. Cain was on second with two out when Escobar blooped one into no-man’s land in short right. With his back to the infield, Morrison, a first baseman, ran out trying to find the ball in the night sky. He stuck his glove out — it actually was pointed the wrong way and back toward the infield — and the ball, remarkably, landed in it. Cain would have scored easily had the ball dropped.
— A rare, rare drop. It’s hard to get critical at all with Escobar and his defensive play this season. But he did drop a good throw that cost the Royals a run or two in the fifth. With one out, Jones blooped a single and then tried to steal second. The throw beat him, but after Esky tagged him out, he dropped the ball and Jones was safe. He then scored on Cano’s double. Later, Morrison homered.