Considering their wretched 8-17 start, the scenario looked ripe for another Royals unraveling and yet more squandered starting pitching in the sixth inning on Wednesday night at Kauffman Stadium.
In a scoreless game, you couldn’t help but wonder what would do them in this time.
Especially into the sixth and seventh innings, when they’d been outscored 40-10 this season.
Especially given that their latest scoring drought was at 15 innings.
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So when Nate Karns struck out Yolmer Sanchez for what would have been the third out only for him to sprint to first on a wild pitch and when Sanchez then stole second, the paranoia that this team has conjured made it easy to picture the only run of the game being scored by a guy who’d struck out.
But it wasn’t just unsettled fans or someone writing on deadline who started seeing that angle taking shape.
“That’s kind of the thing that’s … been happening to us …,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “Stuff like that, (then) them getting a hit and (us) just falling short.”
Instead, this happened:
Karns struck out Jose Abreu to end the threat and become the first Royal in 21 years to register four strikeouts in an inning.
And the Royals made his stellar performance (one hit in six innings) worthwhile with three runs in the sixth keyed by a Mike Moustakas double and a Lorenzo Cain triple on the way to a 6-1 win.
Instant asterisk here: It’s impossible to know what this means in the grand scheme of things.
The Royals are so deep in quicksand that the only thing they can legitimately focus on is the game at hand and restoring some equilibrium before they can get any traction.
At most, they can think in bite-size pieces such as winning each series.
“That’s where we have to start,” Hosmer said.
So this was one small step, not a leap, and it can only have meaning if it becomes part of many links in a chain back to a semblance of themselves that we came to expect in 2014 and 2015.
But say this about the state of the union:
After playing so many games that became unwatchable or exasperating or both, after going 1-10 in games they trailed after six innings and having the worst batting average (.211) and fewest runs by far in Major League Baseball (69 entering the game), the Royals at least are showing glimpses of life that make you want to see what’s what here.
Since scoring 10 runs in eight games and scoring five or more just four times in their first 22 games, they’ve scored five or more four times in seven games.
That hardly makes them an offensive juggernaut, and it remains to be seen if even that modest uptick will be sustained.
But considering the general reliability of the defense and starting pitching, which has led the way to an MLB-best 12 games of holding opponents to two runs or fewer, a little offensive juice can go a long way for the Royals.
Best of all for them, the semi-resurgence is being delivered with the help of some previously faltering bats:
Alex Gordon and Alcides Escobar doubled again on Wednesday, and now Escobar is 5 for his last 13 and Gordon has reached safely in seven straight starts.
Most notably, though, Hosmer suddenly has pulled his average up from the depths to .242 after going 2 for 2 and narrowly missing a home run to deep left-center that was good for a sacrifice fly.
“I’ve been feeling better and better,” Hosmer said. “Starting to see the ball real well.”
Even seeing .500 remains on the horizon for the Royals, of course. And this could be another false start, another dose of fool’s gold.
“I thought we were turning the corner two days ago, and then last night we had the clunker,” even ever-optimistic manager Ned Yost conceded.
But today is another day, and a previously listless team is at least making its at-bats count again.
And if there was nothing else to come of Wednesday, it was a reminder that every game bears its own story … no matter how much it might resemble something you’ve seen go wrong before.