Well, this stunk.
The Royals saw the chance for a third straight victory slip away Saturday night when Kevin Frandsen ripped a three-run pinch double into the right-center gap with two outs in the ninth inning.
Frandsen’s walk-off winner lifted the Philadelphia Phillies to a stunning 4-3 victory at Citizens Bank Park.
Greg Holland inherited a 3-1 lead to start the ninth inning after terrific work by Luis Mendoza and relievers Aaron Crow and Kelvin Herrera. But Holland put himself in massive hole by walking the first three hitters.
“You can’t walk the bases loaded,” Holland said, “especially with our defense. There was one ball put in play, and they scored three runs. At some point, you’ve got to command the strike zone better.”
Still, Holland nearly escaped by striking out Dominic Brown and John Mayberry Jr. before Frandsen batted for Humberto Quintero and drove a first-pitch fastball into the gap.
“I never felt I was off-track,” Holland said. “I just wasn’t throwing the ball in the strike zone. And I didn’t execute that pitch (to Frandsen). It was a fastball up and out over the plate.
“He was ready to hit early in the count, and I was expecting him to be swinging. I didn’t execute the pitch.”
All three runners scored easily as the crowd roared. The Phillies thencrushed to mob Frandsen at second base.
“When you see Ryan Howard run at you full-speed,” Frandsen said, “that’s weird, and you get scared. It’s a surreal moment; one that you hope to repeat.”
It was devastating reversal. The Royals built their 3-1 lead on pair a key doubles by Jeff Francoeur and two RBIs from Miguel Tejada, who started in place of third baseman Mike Moustakas in a righty-heavy lineup.
Mendoza handed a two-run lead to Crow to start the seventh inning after allowing one run and just two hits while walking three and striking out seven.
“I was able to keep the ball down and use my breaking pitches,” Mendoza said. “Everything was good. I’ve been working on breaking pitches, especially my curveball. I was able to strike out some guys today.”
Crow worked a one-two-three inning after falling into a 3-0 hole to the first hitter (Brown). Kelvin Herrera was even better in the eighth with two strikeouts and a grounder.
Holland couldn’t close it out.
The inning started with a walk to Chase Utley on a borderline 3-2 pitch.
“A lot of those pitches were close,” catcher Salvy Perez said. “The first hitter in the inning, I think the umpire (crew chief Jeff Kellogg) missed that last pitch. I think that was a strike.”
Ryan Howard followed with a walk, and the Phillies inserted Ezequiel Carrera as a pinch-runner. Michael Young fouled off a few pitches before drawing a walk that loaded that bases.
“(Holland) had his best stuff,” manager Ned Yost said. “He was throwing a 97-mile-an-hour fastball, but his command was just a tick off. He walked three guys…”
Even then, the Royals’ bullpen never stirred.
“It’s early now,” Yost said, “and you’ve got to give guys wiggle room. I had all of the confidence in the world that he was going to get out of it.
“He walks the bases loaded, but one strikeout and two strikeouts and I think, `OK, here we go.’ It just didn’t work out that way.”
Antonio Bastardo got the victory after pitching a scoreless ninth.
Phillies lefty John Lannan was good, too, in yielding three runs and just five hits in seven innings. But the Royals bunched their hits: three in a two-run fifth and two in a one-run seventh.
Lannan didn’t allow a hit until Francoeur’s double past third in the fifth -- after opening the inning by hitting Lorenzo Cain. Francoeur pulled a grounder between Young and the base that move Cain to third.
The Phillies opted to keep their infield back, which produced the game’s first run on Tejada’s grounder to second. Francoeur moved to third, and that prompted the Phillies to shorten their infield.
Elliot Johnson took advantage by grounding an RBI single up the middle for his first hit as a Royal and a 2-0 lead. After Mendoza fouled off a two-strike bunt for a strikeout, Gordon pulled a single into right.
The Royals settled for two runs when Alcides Escobar grounded to third.
Mendoza started the fifth by walking Mayberry, which turned into the Phillies’ only run until the ninth. Mayberry took second on Lannan’s sacrifice and scored when Ben Revere lined a two-out single off Tejada’s glove.
Francoeur opened the seventh with a double into the right-center gap, and Tejada followed with a line-hugging grounder past first for an RBI double and a 3-1 lead.
Johnson sacrifice Tejada to third before the chance for a bigger inning fell apart. Chris Getz batted for Mendoza and swung through a first-pitch slider as Tejada broke too far off third.
Quintero snapped a throw to Young for the pickoff.
“I got the sign to go on contact,” Tejada said, “and I know Getz is a good contact hitter. When he swung, I thought he was going to touch it. So I tried to cheat a little bit, but my (cleats) got stuck.”
The Royals missed the chance for an insurance run in the eighth after Billy Butler yanked a two-out single against reliever Mike Adams. Jarrod Dyson replaced Butler, stole second and went to third on a Quintero throwing error.
Adams ended the inning by getting Salvy Perez to ground to third. Those missed chances shouldn’t have mattered.
“I felt pretty comfortable,” Holland said. “My arm felt good. I just fell behind and ended up walking the bases loaded. That’s unacceptable.”
To reach Bob Dutton, Royals reporter for The Star, send email to email@example.com. Follow his updates at twitter.com/Royals_Report.