Ugh: Can anyone on the Royals come through in the clutch? Royals lose 3-2 in extras to O’s
Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap.
That’s the sound of my fingers hitting my desk, waiting for someone, anyone other than Mike Moustakas, to come up with a clutch hit for the Royals.
Yes, the bottom line is that left-hander Danny Duffy will shoulder the burden for Saturday’s loss — his two errors in the bottom of the 10th on attempted bunts led directly to the Orioles escaping with a 3-2 win.
But make no mistake: This loss was all on the Royals’ offense. Duffy should not have even been a factor.
And it was likely the most frustrating loss of the season because the Royals could have set themselves up for a series win and a winning road trip.
The Royals could have won this game multiple times, but their offense continues to come up empty when the game is on the line. And too bad for Duffy — in the bottom of the 10th, he got ahead of his first hitter, Jonathan Schoop, 0-2, and then hit him. But to be fair to Duffy, the pitch was a solid 0-2 waste — a hard fastball just inside off the inside corner — and Schoop, diving into the ball, took it off the wrist. The pitch was inches from being a strike.
Then disaster struck. On the next sacrifice bunt attempt, Duffy had an out at second, but threw wildly to shortstop Alcides Escobar. Then, with runners on first and second, another bunt came — Duffy again had a play at third for an out, but catcher Brett Hayes pointed him toward first, and Duffy threw high and wide to Eric Hosmer, loading the bases.
Louis Coleman came on to strike out Nelson Cruz — a fantastic effort from Coleman. But then Nick Markakis, on a 2-2 pitch, got fooled but flicked a soft fly down the left-field line that dropped three inches fair for the game-winner. Bad luck for Coleman.
But the real story again was the Royals’ dreadful offense (hey, Punxsutawney, it’s Groundhog Day!): The Royals got 11 hits but stranded 11 runners and almost everyone in the lineup failed to produce in the clutch.
Now, the Royals must win Sunday just to salvage a 3-4 trip. James Shields is on the mound, but it really doesn’t matter: The issue all year (and last year) has nothing to do with the Royals’ pitching. Instead, can the Royals hit that magical four-run output — the league average — when they are 11-0 this year?
— Who is this guy? Escobar continues to be the Royals’ best hitter by far this season — and doesn’t that tell you something? Esky drilled a one-out double in the third and scored the Royals’ first run. He also made a Gold Glove play on a one-hop liner from J.J. Hardy in the seventh and threw Hardy out. Esky simply is playing his best baseball ever since we’ve seen him in Kansas City. Esky also got nailed in the leg from a baserunner in the 10th and appeared to be seriously hurt on the first of Duffy’s two wild throws. But Esky staggered to his feet and stayed in the game, which was fantastic since skipper Ned Yost was out of players on his bench. The Royals are praying he is OK when he wakes up Sunday morning.
— Real Guts is gutsy. The early thinking Saturday was that this was a horrible matchup for starter Jeremy Guthrie, a fly-ball pitcher pitching in a small park against a red-hot offense. But after surrendering two runs in the first — and they were rather cheap runs — Guthrie settled down and got 20 of the next 24 hitters for his best outing of the season. His best pitch was to former Royal David Lough with two on and one out in the seventh. Guthrie got Lough to bounce into an inning-ending double play. Fabulous job by Guthrie all night.
— Hoz comes through early. It’s probably sad that we have to point out a great offensive at-bat early in a game in which the Royals were so feeble offensively. But Hosmer did come up with a clutch two-out RBI double in the third to get the Royals on the board. And Hoz did it by mashing a curve off the right-field wall — nice to see Hoz pull a ball with authority.
— It’s just hard to watch the Royals’ offense. I have to hand it to diehard Kansas City fans who have to root for this offense night in and night out because it really must be frustrating. It seldom seems to matter who’s pitching — all opposing pitchers find a way to get the Royals out when it matters.
The Royals got 11 hits Saturday which, of course, inflates their batting averages and makes a difference come arbitration time. But they also left 11 runners on base. When it mattered, no one delivered the big hit.
Alex Gordon had an awful night and struck out with two on and two out in the seventh. With a runner on second and one out in the eighth, Moustakas hit a weak grounder to second. And then Esky flied out to short left. The Royals, looking for a big blast in the ninth, went down 1-2-3 with the top of the order. Sal Perez got a big double in the 10th — and missed a homer by three feet — but with two out, Jarrod Dyson struck out on three pitches and looked positively helpless.
— Good Ned, bad Ned. Yost made a seemingly clever move in the eighth after Perez singled to lead off in a 2-2 game. Yost had Danny Valencia up next, but rather than go with Moustakas as the pinch hitter, Yost had Dyson come in to pinch hit with the idea of laying down a bunt. Dyson did just that, a successful sacrifice bunt to move the all-important lead run into scoring position. Yost then had Moose pinch hit for Justin Maxwell with the idea that Dyson would take Maxwell’s place in center defensively, and Moose would take over for Valencia.
Some managers might have done the opposite — hit Moose for Valencia and then Dyson for Maxwell. But Yost got what he wanted — a sac bunt from Dyson and Moose up with a runner in scoring position. But the move didn’t pan out because Moose grounded out against a left-hander and Esky then flied out.
Oddly, though, in the 10th, Yost did pinch run with utility man Jimmy Paredes for Perez after he doubled with two out. The Orioles countered with tough lefty Zach Britton to face Dyson. But Yost left Dyson, a left-handed hitter, in. Yost could have gone with the right-handed-hitting Hayes, who had to come in to replace Perez anyway. Yost obviously felt he liked the lefty-lefty matchup with Dyson better than a potential righty-righty matchup with Hayes. But Dyson had absolutely no chance against Britton and struck out on just three pitches.
— Still waiting for the team leader to take control. Those of us who cover the team regularly know that this is Gordon’s team. Royals players in the clubhouse look up to Gordon as their silent leader because of his incredible work ethic and discipline. But so far, Gordon not only has been silent as a leader, he has been silent as a producer.
Gordon came up with the bases loaded and two out in the third with a chance to bust the game open — he grounded out weakly to second. Gordon came up with two on and two out in the eighth in a 2-2 game with a chance to propel the Royals to victory — he struck out and looked bad doing so. In the 10th, with the Royals hoping for a long ball to steal the lead, Gordon grounded out weakly again to second. He’s hitting just .267 with one homer through 23 games.
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email him a firstname.lastname@example.org.