The receipt for the previous night arrived at 3:23 p.m., as a go-ahead home run off the bat of Los Angeles Angels catcher Chris Iannetta cleared the left-field fence. He punished a belt-high fastball from Royals reliever Tim Collins, who earned responsibility in a 4-3 loss.
Collins intended to buzz the pitch away. Inside it grooved the inside of the plate, the sort of delectable offering upon which good hitters feast.
“You can’t miss your spots in those situations,” Collins said. “I did. That’s what happens.”
At least, that is what happens to the Royals. It was an outcome they so rarely inflict on their opponents. The method of defeat underscored the team’s most pressing flaw, a persistent, perturbing lack of power. The Angels bludgeoned with home runs. The Royals relied on paper cuts, like their three-run spree in the third.
Otherwise, the offense served as mere background fodder for the eventual relief letdown. Kelvin Herrera ruined a commendable effort from starter Jason Vargas with a seventh-inning meltdown. Collins wore the loss after serving up his first homer of the season. And the team packed up and headed back for Kauffman Stadium once again below .500, and once again wondering whether they will sink or swim.
Through 49 games, this team has excelled at treading water. They squandered a chance to barrel into a three-game series against the bottom-dwelling Astros with some momentum.
“Nobody goes out there and tries to give it up,” Vargas said. “Or tries to not make the play. It’s just one of those things that happens.”
In his last outing, Vargas frittered away a five-run, first-inning lead in a loss to the White Sox. This time, his offense flickered to life in the third. As is often the case, they needed aid from their opponents: Starter Garrett Richards balked and threw a wild pitch during the rally.
Pedro Ciriaco floated an RBI double for the first run. Eric Hosmer added another with a sacrifice fly. A single up the middle by Alex Gordon finished the sequence.
From there, the offense vanished. The batters managed just two more hits in the final six frames. That left a lengthy period for the Angels to bounce back.
Vargas teetered on the edge for much of the afternoon: He walked five batters, and allowed the leadoff man to reach in five innings. But he counteracted that with six strikeouts and a few precise pitches.
The most impressive occurred soon after his team’s offensive outburst. In the bottom of the third, he walked the first two batters, Howie Kendrick and Trout. Up came Albert Pujols. A tie game was a swing away. Except Vargas duped Pujols with a curveball. Pujols grounded into a double play. Vargas opted for a change-up to fool David Freese for the last out.
“The way that he pitched, to get nothing out of it, is a bit frustrating, too,” Yost said.
Herrera bears responsibility for that. Vargas entered the seventh at 97 pitches. He yielded a single but struck out the next batter. Yost turned to Herrera. In a painful sequence, he allowed five of the next six batters to reach base.
It was a meltdown for a pitcher who had recently found a groove. Herrera entered with a 1.21 ERA. He hadn’t allowed an earned run since April 23. That streak halted on Sunday.
First, pinch hitter Raul Ibañez smacked a single. Trout flicked an RBI double down the third-base line. Herrera lost control of an 0-2 curveball and hit Pujols. David Freese tied the game by looping a single into left. The flurry only ended when Lorenzo Cain cut down Pujols at the plate after a hit by C.J. Cron.
For Yost, the frustration rose from Herrera’s inability to finish at-bats. Herrera blamed his location.
“I tried to be aggressive with the hitters,” he said. “I was just missing my spots.”
Collins offered a similar lament. He made but one mistake. It was enough, on a night when a familiar series of elements conspired against this club. When the margin for error is so thin, even a talented bullpen can ill afford a slip-up.
“It’s not going to be lights out, every day,” Collins said. “That goes for everybody.”