HOUSTON — It makes for an interesting debate to ask where the Royals let it get away Monday night in a 9-7 loss to the Houston Astros.
By BOB DUTTON
The Kansas City Star
Was it just-promoted Louis Coleman allowing five runs in the eighth inning, which meant the Royals’ five-run ninth still fell short? Or was it some early giveaway runs by lefty starter Jonathan Sánchez earlier in the game?
The greater concern should be Sánchez. If the Royals aren’t trailing in the late innings, Coleman probably isn’t pitching. And if the Royals had their normal bullpen, he certainly doesn’t stay in long enough to surrender five runs.
Lots of ifs.
“I didn’t have the ability to match up tonight,” manager Ned Yost said. “I just didn’t. We had to go as far as we could with Sánchez and go as far as we could with Coleman – and hope that he could get us through it.
“The matchups were set for (Coleman). It just didn’t happen.”
Coleman turned a 4-2 deficit into 9-2 and, still, the Royals made it interesting.
“In that ninth inning,” center fielder Jarrod Dyson said, “nobody gave an at-bat away. No one. I think it could have been a big boost for us to turn around things for the rest of the year.”
The Royals nearly pulled off a stunning comeback by clubbing Astros closer Brett Myers for eight hits in their five-run ninth. It started with successive one-out singles by Mike Moustakas, Alcides Escobar, Humberto Quintero and Dyson.
That produced one run. A sacrifice fly by Mitch Maier made it 9-4. Then came four two-out singles by Alex Gordon, Yuniesky Betancourt, Billy Butler and Jeff Francoeur. All against Myers, who started the night with a 1.99 ERA.
“In Brett’s defense,” Francoeur said, “I know it’s tough to come in sometimes when you’re down there (as a closer in the bullpen), and it’s 4-2 and 5-2. You’re getting yourself jacked up.
“Then it’s 9-2 when he comes in. I think, for him, it just kind of unraveled before he realized it.”
Francoeur’s hit was the eighth single of the inning. The Royals were back to within two runs and still had the bases loaded. Houston manager Brad Mills, at that point, finally pulled Myers. In came lefty Xavier Cedeno to face Moustakas.
And there the comeback ended. Moustakas fouled out to first.
“There’s no positive,” Moustakas insisted. “We lost. We battled in that ninth. Everybody did what they had to do to get it to the point where another hit ties it. Everybody got it back around to me, and I just didn’t get the job done.”
That final out resulted in a win for Houston starter J.A. Happ, who improved to 5-7 after limiting the Royals to two runs in six-plus innings. Cedeno got his first career save.
Enough of the finish. Back to the start.
What the Royals needed Monday, more than anything, was for Sánchez to pony up an inning-eating performance after they burned through 15 1/3 innings of bullpen work over the two previous days.
And Sánchez did that by working through the sixth inning.
So tick off that box.
And check the box score: Sánchez permitted just three earned runs in those six innings. So, yes, this was a quality start.
Sánchez labored through a 29-pitch first inning that saw him cough up a brief 1-0 lead with a bonus caveat: He permitted the go-ahead run to score by unleashing a wildly off-target pickoff throw to first base.
Those 29 pitches also put all available bullpen hands on immediate alert.
Houston stretched its lead to 4-1 by scoring twice in an inning full of more Sánchez gifts: two more hit batters, a bases-loaded walk, another throwing error on a pickoff and a costly single surrendered to a guy living below the Mendoza Line.
It was, in short, another exasperating start by Sánchez, 1-3, in a career defined by them.
“It is,” Yost conceded, “but the bottom line is he kept us in the game. It could have gotten away from him a couple of times and it didn’t. He gave us six innings in a start where we needed some length.”
That Sánchez’s fastball now generally tops out around 91 mph should also be of concern. Perhaps, that’s a holdover from the biceps tendinitis that forced him to the disabled list from May 9 to June 13.
Whatever it is, Sánchez sports a 5.70 ERA through eight starts and has walked 28 in 36 1/3 innings. Not much return for surrendering outfielder Melky Cabrera or for Sánchez’s $5.6 million salary.
Coleman worked a scoreless seventh before things fell apart in the eighth.
Brian Bogusevic hit a one-out homer before Brian Bixler delivered a two-run, two-out double. Justin Maxwell followed with a two-run homer. That made it 9-2.
Too much. In the end, it was just a loss.
“Our goal is still to win the series,” Francoeur said. “We’ve got Luke (Hochevar) and Bruce (Chen) going the next two days, and feel comfortable that we can do that.”
To reach Bob Dutton, Royals reporter for The Star, send email to email@example.com. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.
To reach Bob Dutton, send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him at twitter.com/Royals_Report.