With a rash of injuries leaving an already volatile pitching staff resembling a tattered fife and drum corps, on the mound again for the Royals on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium was the unheralded Sam Gaviglio — their 14th starter of the season.
Meanwhile, reliever Scott Alexander was among those “running on fumes” that manager Ned Yost had determined to stay away from using in a bullpen depleted after the pitching staff had allowed 11 runs or more five times in the previous 15 games.
Not what you want.
But you play with who you have.
So here was Gaviglio, grinding through a fraught fourth inning to somehow make it through five with the lead provided by Brandon Moss’ first-inning grand slam.
And here was Alexander, pressed into pitching and extricating himself from a self-induced jam in the ninth as the Royals beat the White Sox 4-3 in a game that mirrored their status in the wild-card race.
With elimination nipping at their heels, day-to-day, moment-to-moment, they’re hanging on by a strand.
“That’s the world we live in right now,” Yost acknowledged, with a laugh. “Yeah, that’s just the way it is.”
They’re the epitome of mediocrity at 72-72, not engendering optimism but not quite out of postseason contention at 2 1/2 games behind Minnesota for the second wild-card berth entering the Twins game on Tuesday night.
So hovering over all this is the matter of just what could be expected of them even if they do salvage a spot.
Lessons of the improbable magic of 2014 and 2015 notwithstanding, cobbling together a meaningful run with pitching that has produced the 10th-highest ERA in the American League seems unfathomable.
The Royals can only think along the lines of “so you’re telling me there’s a chance,” though, and time enough to fret about what they’d do if they actually make it in.
Still, even the ever-optimistic Yost seemed reduced to a reality check after it took everything the Royals had to beat a White Sox team that is 57-87 and long since had put up the white flag on this season to look to the future.
“Tomorrow’s going to be a rough day,” Yost said. “Because as thin as we were today, we’re even thinner tomorrow.”
Eric Skoglund (10.29 ERA) is starting Wednesday, which presumably will go better than if Yost had resorted to calling on Bill Clinton or Robert Redford as he had joked the other day.
Then again, Yost wasn’t ruling anything out.
“I might have to call them now,” he said. “Might have to make them available.”
More likely, he will have available Shawnee Mission South graduate Mike Morin, a reliever acquired off waivers on Tuesday.
Never mind that he has spent most of the season with the Class AAA Salt Lake Bees and had a 6.91 ERA in 14 1/3 innings for the Los Angeles Angels.
“He’s fresh,” Yost said. “Hasn’t thrown in a couple of days.”
So day-to-day is what’s left, each game its own adventure as the Royals hope to stay afloat long enough that the impending return of Danny Duffy can still matter.
Whether Duffy is healthy enough to be himself and can have the ripple effect to give the Royals the hot finish they’d need (what, 13-5 or so?) remains to be seen.
But if it seems improbable, so did the Royals getting back-to-back decent starts from Gaviglio, who gave up one run in five innings in his Royals debut before giving up two in five on Tuesday.
If he’d had more options, Yost probably would have yanked Gaviglio in the fourth, when three of the first four White Sox singled and cut the lead to 4-2.
“I really needed him to go five, but I wasn’t going to let the lead evaporate there, either,” Yost said. “Just trying to figure it out as we go.”
Somehow, the same basically desperate approach played out favorably in the ninth after Alexander surrendered a leadoff double and a single to allow runners at the corners with no outs.
Yost figured the prospect of extra innings was problematic.
So mindful that he had what he called no pitching left because of overuse, he played the infield up instead of at double-play depth.
“Because a double play scores a run,” he said, “and I couldn’t afford that.”
Presto, with a strike out, a pop-up and a ground-out, Alexander worked his way out of a game the Royals couldn’t afford to lose.
Most of the remaining 18 surely will be spent navigating that same tightrope … with or without the arms they had hoped could carry them.