It had been nearly two years since the Royals last glimpsed veteran left-hander Mark Buehrle and his assortment of off-speed pitches delivered at an uptempo pace.
Not nearly long enough.
The Royals found Buehrle just as baffling as ever Friday night in a 3-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at the Rogers Centre. There’s a reason only three pitchers have beaten them more often in franchise history.
“The same guy,” left fielder Alex Gordon confirmed. “Efficient. Works quick. Both sides of the plate. Keeps the ball down. The thing I know about him is you look up at the clock, and it’s 8 o’clock and you’re in the seventh inning.”
This was Buehrle’s 23rd career victory over the Royals in 35 decisions. (All the others, of course, came from 2000-11 while pitching for division-rival Chicago.)
So, yes, this was like a bad flashback when Buehrle efficiently rolled through seven shutout innings while yielding just four hits. He struck out five and walked just one in a 99-pitch performance.
“He was terrific,” manager Ned Yost said. “Kept the ball down. Had movement on every pitch. Changed speeds really well. Just terrific.”
So ended the Royals’ five-game winning streak. They fell to 69-65 and dropped, temporarily, 61/2 games behind Oakland in the race for the American League’s final wild-card berth.
It might not be just the Royals, though. Buehrle, now 34, has been a roll lately: This was his sixth straight victory as he improved to 11-7 and lowered his ERA to 3.92.
By the way, the three guys with more career victories over the Royals? Bert Blyleven (34), Roger Clemens (25) and Nolan Ryan (24).
Had that been it — a simple, if familiar, inability to solve Buehrle — that would have been bad enough. But it got worse. The Royals stirred to life once he exited and — there’s no kind way to say it — they got jobbed on a call.
Alcides Escobar opened the eighth inning against Brett Cecil with an infield single. Gordon followed with a single to center that moved Escobar to third before the Royals caught a bad break.
Ex-Blue Jay Emilio Bonifacio beat out a bunt single, which scored Escobar, but umpire Will Little ruled Bonifacio was out. Replays confirmed Little blew the call by a Jorge Orta margin.
“Beat it by far,” Bonifacio said. “I was surprised. I didn’t even feel (any vibration from) the ball (when it came into the glove of second baseman Ryan Goins) before I got past the base.
“I was surprised when (Little) made that call.”
Yost came out to argue. Asked later what explanation Little offered, Yost said, “He wasn’t doing much talking. I was.”
It turned out to be a key play.
Eric Hosmer followed with a line-drive single to left that scored Gordon and trimmed the lead to 3-2. Had Bonifacio been in first, he likely would have made it to third with no outs.
As it was, the Royals had one out and a runner on first.
Toronto called on Sergio Santos to face Billy Butler, whose chopper to third resulted in the second out on a nice play by Brett Cecil. The Jays held the lead when Santos retired Salvy Perez on a grounder to short.
“Those things (like the bad call) are going to happen,” Gordon said. “You’ve just got to learn how to overcome them.”
The Royals put the tying and go-ahead runs on base in the ninth before Casey Janssen closed out Buehrle’s victory for his 25th save in 27 chances.
Mike Moustakas led off with a single. After Chris Getz entered as a pinch-runner, David Lough batted for Justin Maxwell and popped out. Getz moved to second when Jarrod Dyson grounded a one-out single up the middle.
George Kottaras batted for Escobar and lined out to center before Janssen ended the game by retiring Gordon on a grounder to second.
“Not overly frustrating,” Yost said. “It’s one of those games you don’t ever want to lose at this time of year, but it was a good game. We fought to the end. It just didn’t happen.”
The Royals wasted a solid outing by Ervin Santana, who is now winless in his last five starts. Santana, 8-8, gave up three runs (two earned) and just four hits in seven innings.
The bunt single that, officially, was a sacrifice bunt was just one key play involving Bonifacio in his first game in Toronto since an Aug. 14 trade brought him to the Royals.
He drew a round of boos when he went to the plate with one out in the first inning but reached on a single to first and stole second before Buehrle retired Hosmer and Butler on grounders.
Bonifacio then ignited Toronto’s two-run first by making an errant throw — he said he “opened” his shoulder— on Goins’ one-out grounder. Edwin Encarnacion followed with a double into the left-center gap.
Gordon made a diving attempt but the ball tipped off the end of his glove.
Both runners scored when Adam Lind drove a 2-2 fastball up the middle for a single, which ensured the Royals would not go a fifth straight game of holding an opponent to just one run.
Santana didn’t allow a hit after the first inning until fleet (!) Anthony Gose opened the fifth with a triple into the right-center gap. Pillar struck out, but Jose Reyes walked.
Goins hit a liner at Moustakas with the infield shortened. Moustakas got a glove on the ball but couldn’t hold it. The result was an infield single, and Toronto led 3-0.