The Royals got their first look Tuesday night at Miami right-hander José Fernandez, the 21-year-old Cuban defector who came advertised as one of the game’s great young arms.
Let’s just say the Royals aren’t going to argue.
What stings — really stings — is they outlasted Fernandez, thanks to a marvelous effort by Bruce Chen, before suffering a 1-0 loss to the Marlins in 10 innings at Kauffman Stadium.
“Going along, we knew we needed to get that win.” Royals left fielder Alex Gordon said. “With the way (Chen) pitched, we were in the dugout saying, ‘Let’s get Bruce this win. He’s pitching his tail off.’
“We tried. We just couldn’t muster up anything.”
There wasn’t much mustering, period. Just 10 hits. All singles. The Marlins had six of them — and their last one was the only one that mattered.
Christian Yelich delivered a one-out RBI single against Kelvin Herrera that scored Jake Marisnick from second base with the game’s only run. It was a soft but well-placed grounder through the right side.
“It was a tough night to get some hits and score runs for both teams,” Yelich said. “We knew if we could push one across there late we’d have a good chance to win.”
Right fielder Justin Maxwell had no play at the plate. Afterward, Herrera could only mutter: “They got a little bit lucky today.”
The loss cost the Royals a chance to pull within three games of the American League’s final wild-card spot.
Herrera, 4-6, started the Marlins’ 10th by hitting Marisnick, a .186 hitter, with an 0-2 pitch. Marisnick stole second when Jeff Mathis took a third strike.
“I threw a two-seamer (to Marisnick),” Herrera said, “and it just ran too much inside. I think I had a good time to home (on the stolen base). He just got a good jump and stole the base.”
Yelich then squeezed a single through the right side for the winning run.
“(Herrera) was trying to be careful to Yelich with three straight change-ups,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “He just caught too much of the plate on the third one.”
Steve Cicshek pitched around Alcides Escobar’s one-out single in the bottom of the inning for his 25th save in 27 opportunities. Chad Qualls, 3-1, got the victory.
The Royals lost for just the fourth time in their last 20 games, but it was costly: They dropped back into third place in the AL Central Division a half-game behind Cleveland.
The Marlins had the better chances in the late innings
Logan Morrison opened the Miami half of the ninth by looping a single to left against All-Star closer Greg Holland. Morrison moved to second on Placido Polanco’s sacrifice bunt. Holland looked initially to second before opting for the sure out at first. Donovan Solano struck out before Holland ended the inning by retiring Adeiny Hechavarria on a grounder to short.
Aaron Crow replaced Chen to start the eighth inning and yielded a one-out single to Yelich on a grounder to third. Jamey Carroll made the pick-up on a spinning dive but double-pumped the throw.
Yelich stole second when Ed Lucas swung through a 2-2 pitch for a strikeout. Crow ended the inning by striking out Giancarlo Stanton.
Marlins reliever Mike Dunn retired four straight hitters after replacing Fernandez to start the eighth inning. Dunn departed with one out in the ninth when manager Mike Redmond called on Chad Qualls to face Billy Butler.
Qualls retired Butler on a grounder to third and sent the game to the 10th when Gordon struck out.
The first seven innings provided an entertaining pitchers’ duel.
Fernandez flashed dominant form in limiting the Royals to three singles while striking out six, walking one and, at times, making it all look easy.
“I would have loved to stay the whole game,” he said. “I was feeling really strong today I would have loved to go eight or nine, but I’ve got innings limits like everybody knows.”
Fernandez left an impression.
“He’s very good,” Chen said. “He doesn’t give you a lot of room to work. I tried to match it.”
And he did.
Chen lowered his ERA to 1.62 by working seven scoreless innings before exiting after 107 pitches. He has yielded just four earned runs in 382/3 innings over six starts since replacing Luis Mendoza in the rotation.
It was wonderfully entering stuff — a stark contrast in styles between the young gunslinger and the veteran finesse pitcher. One routinely touched 98 mph; the other pushed to nudge 88 mph.
Put another way: Chen’s typical fastball roughly matched Fernandez’s change-up.
Neither team got a runner past first until the seventh.
Catcher George Kottaras took a jarring foul tip off the mask on a swing by Hechavarria with two outs in the top of the inning. The impact knocked Kottaras’ mask off.
That brought trainer Nick Kenney and Yost out of the dugout as Kottaras gathered himself by walking with Chen back to the mound. It was a brief conference; Kottaras remained in the game.
“I’m good,” he said. “At first, I was a little dazed, but I’m fine.”
Hechevarria worked a walk after play resumed and stole second, but Chen ended the threat by striking out Marisnick.
Butler opened the Royals’ seventh with a walk, which ended a streak of 13 straight hitters retired by Fernandez. Gordon struck out, and David Lough sent a soft fly to left before Escobar punched a single to left.
That single extended Escobar’s hitting streak to a season-high 10 games.
Fernandez preserved the 0-0 tie by retiring Kottaras on a fly to center.
“Bruce was phenomenal,” Yost said. “Fernandez was everything we had heard he was and had seen on video. It was just an old-fashioned pitching duel tonight.”
One the Royals lost.