Ten games in the 2012 season that could have changed the Royals’ fate from a third-place finish to a contender. In order:
April 11: A’s 5, Royals 4, 12 innings: This was the crusher that launched the Royals’ 12-game losing streak, stunning fans and burying the Royals. The Royals had taken a 4-3 lead in the top of the 12th and seemed primed to return home with a successful 4-2 road trip. But an error, two walks by closer Jonathan Broxton, and then, two hit batters forced in the winning run. An absolute bizarre finish.
April 14: Indians 11, Royals 9, 10 innings: The Royals came storming back from a 9-2 deficit and tied the game 9-9, only to lose when then shaky Greg Holland coughed up two runs in the 10th. A win here would have snuffed out the 12-game losing streak in its infancy and possibly changed momentum.
April 18, Tigers 4, Royals 3: This one stung because the Royals held a 3-1 lead midway through before falling behind 4-3. The Royals had a chance to pull out some dramatics in the bottom of the ninth when they put runners on first and second with one out. But Alcides Escobar swung at a pitch outside the strike zone and tapped weakly to third and into a double play. May 16, Orioles 4, Royals 3, 15 innings: A crusher because the Royals had a 3-1 lead going into the ninth before Broxton blew the save after several weakly hit balls from the Orioles found holes. Even worse, the Royals had a chance to win it in the bottom of the ninth when Escobar singled leading off and moved to second on a sacrifice. But the Royals were stuck at the bottom of the order and then catcher Humberto Quintero and Jarrod Dyson each struck out, and the game went to extra innings. Adam Jones won it with a homer in the 15th off Nate Adcock, who had pitched brilliantly in relief until then. The Royals had won six of seven entering this game and seemed on the verge of turning their season around – but they then lost seven of their next nine.
June 18, Astros 9, Royals 7: The Royals had just completed their most exciting week of the season. They had swept three games at home from the Brewers, coming from behind in each one and winning the last two in walk-off fashion. They took two of three at St. Louis, including a 5-3, 15-inning win on a Sunday in which the Royals forced extra innings when Billy Butler, down to his last strike, homered in the ninth. But that momentum was lost when Jonathan Sanchez – the Royals’ one-man momentum killer – dug the Royals a hole when he gave up six hits, walked four batters, hit two batters and committed two errors in an ugly loss at Houston.
June 30, Twins 7, Royals 2: This is the game that forever turned the Royals season. The Royals had just swept Tampa at home, and then won a pulsating 4-3 game against the Twins the night before. The Royals appeared on the verge of reaching .500 and being a factor – they had pulled within four games of evening their season record. Enter Jonathan Sanchez…again. Sanchez was his usual horrific self, giving up 10 hits and walking six batters in four innings and the Royals were never in it. The entire body language of the team changed that day – you could sense the rest of the Royals’ frustration with trying to make a successful surge and then having Sanchez’s turn in the rotation come up to constantly snuff any momentum. The Royals went on to lose 12 of 15 and 14 of 18, and hopes of reaching .500 vanished for good.
July 20, Twins 2, Royals 1, 11 innings: This got lost in the midst of the Royals’ season-ending nose dive when they lost 21 of 27. But this was somewhat typical of who the Royals were during this stretch – they finally got a great pitching performance out of Luke Hochevar, who gave up just one run through seven innings while not walking a hitter. But, the Royals’ offense could do nothing. They had a chance to tie the game in the bottom of the 11th but Mike Moustakas, with Escobar on third and the infield in, could not come through with a hit or a fly ball, and the lack of clutch hitting cost the Royals again.
July 29, Mariners 7, Royals 6: Again, a typical Royals’ loss at the time. A quality start by Will Smith was wasted when the bullpen, albeit tired, couldn’t hold back the Mariners while the Royals’ offense kept battling back. But in the end, the Royals could not deliver the big hit to push them ahead as Yuni Betancourt and Lorenzo Cain each stranded the tying runner. This put the Royals at a season-worst 19 games under .500.
Sept. 1, Twins 3, Royals 1: The Royals had just completed an excellent August, going 17-11. They also had just swept the mighty Tigers in three games at Kauffman Stadium. But again, a quality start from Smith was wasted as the Royals’ bats went silent against the hapless Twins in a 3-1 loss.
Sept. 2, Twins 8, Royals 7: That August momentum ended with a second straight frustrating loss to the Twins. This time, the offense wasn’t to blame, as it battled back all night. But Hochevar was blasted for eight runs in less than two innings, and the hole was too big to climb out of. But two wins here against the inferior Twins would have pulled the Royals within 10 games of .500 and helped carry that August mojo into September.