“Same old Royals”?
Possibly. However, I wouldn’t be so quick to put the Royals jersey that you dug out last week back in the closet for the rest of the summer.
Facing his former team, Jason Vargas was terrific for 8 2/3 innings. Unfortunately, the Royals and Ned Yost had asked him to go a full nine, and the order was just a bit too much for Vargas to handle.
Vargas was coming off a 1-2-3 eighth inning, just his second clean frame in a fantastic effort. His pitch count was still in double digits, and he was sent back out in 1-1 tie game to pitch the ninth. He retired the first two batters with ease, but then Kyle Seager doubled with two outs, and out came the Royals’ skipper. After a talk on the mound, Vargas managed to talk Yost into letting him stay out there to get the final out of the inning. The pitcher needed a ground ball, and he got it – Stefen Romero rolled a grounder right to second baseman Pedro Ciriaco.
Here’s where the “Royaling” started.
While not the easiest play, Ciriaco was unable to make a play that Omar Infante may have, or so speculated the fans. Infante was being given a rare game off, which gave way to Ciriaco’s first second base start since May 31.
Seattle didn’t screw up their extra opportunity. Up came Dustin Ackley, who was pinch hitting for Jesus Montero. With runners on the corners, Ackley lined a single through the hole between first and second to break the tie. Seager trotted down to score the eventual game-winning run, and the Kauffman Stadium crowd of near 22,000 collectively sounded like they had all been shot. Yost wasted no time in making a second trip to the mound, this time pulling Vargas for reliever Kelvin Herrera. Vargas, who rarely shows any fiery emotion, screamed a certain four-letter word that rhymes with “duck” as he walked off the mound.
Predictably, the Royals went down quietly in the ninth. Jarrod Dyson walked with one out, but Eric Hosmer ended the game by grounding into a double play on the first pitch.
Just as soon as Kansas City stormed to the top of the AL Central standings by riding a 10 game winning streak, the Royals have found a way to disappoint the 60,000 combined fans that have filled Kauffman Stadium in the last 24 hours. Now losers of three straight, are the Royals just playing through the inevitable lows of a baseball season that even the best teams will go through, or are they doomed to repeat playoff-less futility for a 29th consecutive season?
Every team goes through poor skids. On June 10, just 11 days ago, the best record in baseball belonged to the San Francisco Giants (42-23). That same Giants team entered Saturday night on a six game losing streak, and losers of nine of their last 10 games.
The point of that stat is to show that every team, regardless of how good they are, will have rough spots scattered throughout their season. The problem is that in Kansas City, we’ve become accustomed to seeing a lot more rough patches than bright ones. Coming off of a 10 game winning streak and returning home for a record-breaking June crowd at the K, fans were hopeful that the Royals had finally turned a corner. They saw their comeback effort come up short last night to drop to 10-29 since 2010 when there are 30,000+ in attendance at Kauffman.
As they did on Friday night, the Royals did show promise. Leading off the fifth, Alex Gordon clobbered a pitch over the right field wall to break up Seattle starter Chris Young’s perfect game. Gordon’s ninth homer of the year clinched yet another game in which at least Royal has gone deep – which has now happened in a season-best seventh time in eight games.
In the next at-bat, Salvador Perez singled into the left-center gap, but was gunned down by James Jones trying to stretch it into a double. Justin Maxwell then lined a single off Young, but was stranded after Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar flew out to end the inning. Those would be the only three hits the Royals would muster all afternoon, setting a new season low for fewest hits in a game.
Vargas went a season-long 8.2 innings, giving up 10 hits and two runs while striking out two. His ERA lowered to 3.16. He was spectacular, and there is no one arguing that he pitched well enough to earn a win. Unfortunately, in a game that brought back memories to James Shields’ pitching efforts from early last season in which he would throw a quality start only to lose due to poor run support, the offense was unable to muster anything off of Chris Young.
Young, a 35 year-old former college basketball star at Princeton, stifled the Royals for the second time this season. He held the Royals to three hits and one run in eight innings back on May 10. On Saturday, he matched that effort with three hits, giving up one run in seven frames. Young reminded Royals fans of Bruce Chen with his soft-throwing collection of off-speed pitches, and Kansas City’s offense looked completely lost all afternoon. He retired the first 12 hitters before Gordon homered, and only allowed one baserunner outside of the fifth inning. Yoervis Medlina (4-1) worked a perfect eighth to earn the win, while Fernando Rodney earned his 20th save of the season. Rodney now sits in second place behind Greg Holland for the most saves in the AL.
It’s a long season, but the Royals need to do something soon to show their fans that this isn’t your classic Royals team. They have a knack for making fans excited only to lay an egg immediately upon returning home. While taking one of three from the mediocre Mariners isn’t what Kansas City was looking for, it’s their best possible scenario at this point.
Sunday’s matchup will feature two hard-throwing rookies: Yordano Ventura (5-5, 3.26 ERA) will oppose Roenis Elias (6-5, 3.91). Elias’ 80 strikeouts on the season are second on the team after Felix Hernandez, and he held the Padres to just three hits and one run in seven splendid innings in his last start.