A rare bullpen hiccup and a major base-running blunder Tuesday kept the Royals from climbing above .500 and instead dumped them back into third place in the American League Central Division.
This was two-part tragedy.
Part I: Kelvin Herrera and Tim Collins spit back a two-run lead in the eighth inning in a 4-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
Part II: The Royals appeared poised to tie the game in the ninth when Alcides Escobar drove a one-out single to right against Vinnie Pestano with runners at first and second.
David Lough wheeled around third and seemed likely to score easily before halting when he picked up the stop sign from third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez. Lough then hesitated between third and home, which enabled the Indians to trap him in a rundown. Lough didn’t believe he had sufficient time to retreat safely to third.
“By that time,” he said, “since I was halfway, I was pretty much caught. (Catcher Carlos Santana) had the ball, and I just knew I was going to get in a rundown.”
Lough stayed in the rundown long enough for the other runners to reach second and third. Lough actually did retreat safely to third, but the Indians simply tagged him and Mike Moustakas. Since the base, under the rules, belonged to Lough, it was Moustakas who was out.
All that mattered really was the Royals, instead of tying the game and having two runners aboard with one out, now had two outs and two on and still trailed by one run.
“I thought I’d just blew the game, to be honest,” Pestano said. “Then they held him up, and we got into a little dance in the rundown.”
Was it the right move for Rodriguez to hold Lough?
“I don’t know ,” manager Ned Yost said. “When I saw the ball hit down the line, I saw the right fielder (Drew Stubbs) going for it. I looked up, and Eddie was holding David.
“I think David was coming hard, hit the bag, took two strides, looked up, saw it and froze you find ways to win games, and you find ways to lose games.”
The Royals extended the game a bit longer when Alex Gordon drew a walk that loaded the bases, but Pestano escaped when Eric Hosmer grounded out to first.
It was the sort of giveaway loss the Royals haven’t had in a while. Overall, it was just their third setback in 14 games, but it dropped them back under .500 at 34-35. The Indians, at 35-35, slipped back into second place.
The bullpen problems might be shrugged off as the law of averages. The Royals’ relief corps had permitted just two runs in its previous 37 innings. But the base-running mistake was just galling.
Let’s reset it.
Lough started the ninth with a single against Pestano and went to second on Moustakas’ single. Chris Getz failed to execute a sacrifice by taking a strike and fouling off a bunt before striking out.
“First of all,” Yost said, “if we get the bunt down, (the base-running mistake) is not an issue. So there’s a number of factors that occurred in the ninth inning.
“If we move them over, Esky’s base-hit probably is a game-winner with Holly (Greg Holland) down in the pen.”
Escobar sliced a single into right, which meant Stubbs, a right-hander, had to turn and set himself for a throw home after fielding the ball.
“Where the ball was, and where I was on my lead,” Lough said, “I thought I could score. But that’s totally up to the third-base coach. So it’s 100 percent my fault.”
From all appearances, Lough would have scored easily. On top of everything, Stubbs’ throw was well off-line to the first-base side of the plate.
The base-running mistake came after Cleveland struck for three runs in the eighth inning. Michael Brantley’s sacrifice fly against Collins capped the comeback after Royals starter Ervin Santana handed a 3-1 lead to Herrera.
Problems multiplied after Herrera, 3-5 started the inning with a leadoff walk to Ryan Raburn, who went to second on Stubbs’ dribbler back to the mound. Michael Bourn squirted an RBI single past third.
A strong throw by Gordon held Bourn at first. Mike Aviles followed with a single to left, which moved Bourn to second and finished Herrera.
“The first hitter walks, and that’s going to kill you,” Herrera said. “After that, I was leaving the ball a little bit high. So I was a little wild. But it’s the walk. I can’t walk that guy.”
In came Collins, who served up a bloop double to Jason Kipnis that tied the game and stuck starter Ervin Santana with a no-decision.
It also put runners at second and third with one out, which led to an intentional walk to Carlos Santana. Brantley followed with a drive to right, which scored Aviles with the winning run.
“It was a pitchers’ duel,” Bourn said. “Same thing pretty much Monday. They came back on us Monday (when the Royals rallied for a 2-1 victory), and we came back on them tonight.”
Reliever Cody Allen, 2-0, got the victory despite a three-base throwing earlier in the eighth that led to the Royals’ third run. Pestano got his second save.
Ervin Santana deserved better after limiting the Indians to one run and three hits in seven innings. He has pitched at least seven innings in each of his last seven starts and at least six innings in each of his 14 starts.
The Royals appeared well positioned after adding a gift run in the eighth when Allen threw wildly on Eric Hosmer’s leadoff squibber to the left side of the mound.
With Stubbs slow to back up the play from right field, Hosmer got all of the way to third. Salvy Perez followed with a single up the middle through a drawn-in infield for a 3-1 lead.
The only run against Ervin Santana came in the sixth when Aviles floated a two-out RBI single into left field.
The Royals got their first two runs in the third on a pure gift from Cleveland starter Ubaldo Jimenez, who opened the inning by walking Escobar and Gordon.
A wild pitch moved the runners to second and third with no outs, which meant Hosmer’s grounder to short produced a run and just one out — instead of two outs and a runner on third.
Another wild pitch enabled Gordon to score for a 2-0 lead. Two runs on two walks, two wild pitches and an RBI grounder.