KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Once again, the resolve of the Royals will be tested.
The Royals, who have bounced back brilliantly from agonizing defeats throughout the early portion of this season, must do so again after Monday’s had-it-lost-it 2-1 defeat in 11 innings to the Chicago White Sox.
The loss stained an otherwise promising homestand in which the Royals (17-11) finished 6-3.
What stung the Royals most was wasting another superb outing from a starting pitcher, the latest from ace James Shields, who shut out the White Sox on two hits through eight innings while striking out nine.
But skipper Ned Yost opted for closer Greg Holland over Shields in the ninth with the Royals clinging to a 1-0 lead, a move that backfired when Holland surrendered four hits and the tying run.
The White Sox then won it in the 11th when seldom-used outfielder Jordan Danks smoked a Kelvin Herrera fastball 413 feet and into the right-center field fountains.
While many Royals fans no doubt were second-guessing Yost’s decision in the ninth, Shields wasn’t.
“Ned’s the type of manager who works for his starter,” Shields said. “Maybe if we had another run to work with instead of 1-0, maybe I go out there. But it’s a 1-0 game, and we’re going with Holland all day.
“That was the right move.”
Yost said he wouldn’t hesitate to make the same move again.
“Look, everyone has a job to do,” Yost said. “Shields did his. And Holland is our closer. Today he didn’t get it done. If we had a couple of runs to work with, yeah, I let James go back out there.
“(Holland) just wasn’t sharp.”
And Holland, in his first full season as the closer, admitted as much.
“I just kept falling behind guys 1-0 and 2-0 and got burned,” he said. “No excuses.”
Holland surrendered three straight singles to open the ninth, but nearly wiggled out of the jam. He induced Paul Konerko into a 1-2-3 double play before intentionally walking Conor Gillaspie, again loading the bases.
That set up a showdown with White Sox shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who nearly cracked a two-run homer in the seventh inning, a towering shot that hooked high over the 120-foot tall, left-field foul pole. The ball was immediately ruled foul, but White Sox manager Robin Ventura protested, and the umpiring crew huddled and went to the review booth.
But the replays were inconclusive, and the call on the field stood.
Yost said he had a good vantage point of the ball.
“It was foul. Definitely foul,” he said.
Shields agreed, but said with a grin, “Oh yeah, foul. By 10 feet at least.”
Ramirez, though, got another shot to determine the outcome in the ninth, and this time he sent a soft liner up the middle that Royals second baseman Chris Getz fielded on one hop behind the bag. But Getz, moving hard to his right, fumbled the transfer to his throwing hand, and everyone was safe, including Alex Rios with the tying run.
“If (Getz) gets the throw to second, we get the force,” Yost said. “I thought he had made the play.” Meanwhile, the Royals’ offense, which nicked Sox starter Chris Sale for a run in the first on Billy Butler’s RBI double, took most of the day off, a pattern becoming increasingly alarming.
The Royals, stuck in the bottom third in the league in runs scored (behind even Houston), have now scored three runs or less in 16 of their 28 games. Yet somewhat amazingly, the Royals are just one game behind Detroit in the Central.
“I’m not worried because we’ll start to score runs,” Yost said. “No doubt the pitching is carrying us.”
Yost also is standing by Holland, who blew his second save in nine chances.
Holland said he won’t be shaken by the poor outing.
“I’ve been giving up games since I was 12 years old,” Holland said. “I know how it feels. And I know how to bounce back. I’ll wake up tomorrow morning and go out and try to beat the next team we play.”
The Royals will need a confident Holland as they embark on a six-game stretch against the mighty East, first with three games at Baltimore (19-13) and then with three games at home against the Yankees (18-12).
“We’ll be fine,” Shields predicted. “We’re going to get on our plane and 30 minutes from now we’ll be having a good time and getting ready to take on a good Baltimore team. There’s a lot of character in this clubhouse.
“Today wasn’t our day. It was a tough loss. But we’ve had a lot of tough losses already this year. We had a tough loss in Atlanta and came back, a tough loss in Boston and came back, a tough loss in Detroit and came back. Those are good signs because we’re in close games all the time and we’re not getting stomped on.
“We’re resilient. We’ll put this loss behind us. We have nothing to hang our heads about. We’re playing good baseball.”