The Royals’ aspirations, and their fans’ yearnings, for their first playoff berth since 1985 suffered a severe setback with that shocking 10-1 loss to Detroit on Friday night.
It’s a matter of debate whether that was more deflating than the bizarre encore Saturday at Kauffman Stadium.
But the flat voices and bewildered undertone in the clubhouse suggested this one would be a chore to shrug off, especially as time shrivels away.
The Royals lost 3-2 Saturday for many reasons, every one of them ultimately of their own doing or inflicted by Detroit.
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But its shadow will lurk more because of one messy sequence that was out of their hands, a sequence that could only embolden skeptics and make doubters of optimists.
More to the point, it’s a game that the Royals themselves will have to work fast to purge … even as they wobble on the edge of falling out of the division race.
The heaviness wasn’t just about losing 3-2 and falling 2 1/2 games behind in the American League Central to the Tigers, who further declared their dominance of the Royals by beating them for the 13th time in 18 games this season.
It wasn’t so much that their 12th loss in 21 games overall left them lagging the furthest behind they’ve been since Aug. 8 and further jeopardized their wild-card hopes.
It wasn’t even that the loss was entwined with the Royals’ requisite squandered opportunities (10 men left on base, two for 11 with runners in scoring position) and fan scapegoating of manager Ned Yost.
(Speaking of which: Nori Aoki, the Royals’ hottest hitter, bunted on his own the first time. It was Yost’s decision the second time, a decision that left runners at second and third with one out for the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters in the lineup. Blast Yost for that if you want, but it seems that Josh Willingham popping out and Alex Gordon striking out were equally or more valid issues here).
What did in the Royals as much as anything Saturday, and in the process left them emotionally reeling, were the quirks and mechanics and operator error associated with one play.
With Salvador Perez on third base after an Eric Hosmer double in the sixth inning, Omar Infante lined to Detroit second baseman Ian Kinsler.
What ensued was a confounding sequence of events, hinging largely on absent-minded acts.
Although Hosmer already was back at second, Kinsler threw to covering shortstop Eugenio Suarez, who wasn’t ready for the ball.
As it zoomed by Suarez, Perez rumbled home.
So the Royals seemingly had a 2-1 lead, with Hosmer standing on third.
Somehow, with all this happening, with all eyes everywhere else, Detroit reserve infielder Hernan Perez kept his eyes fixed on the other Perez and saw that he never tagged up.
If you’ve seen “Caddyshack,” picture Brian Doyle-Murray having the presence of mind to stay zeroed-in on the ball and watch it fall in as Bill Murray is blowing up the course at Bushwood Country Club.
Then the slapstick stuff started in earnest at Kauffman, beginning with manager Brad Ausmus challenging a play that can’t be challenged.
That should have been that.
But it wasn’t, and maybe all you need to know about what came to pass was crew chief Larry Vanover’s recollection of the conversation with Ausmus: “I said, ‘OK, I’m like 90 percent (sure) that retagging on a line drive or a fly ball is not a reviewable play.’ ”
But review it they did, ultimately, among themselves.
Which reeks of an impermissible search that yielded different evidence than what was sought by the warrant.
Meanwhile, it left the Royals gridlocked on protesting the call because, somehow, it all boiled down to judgment of the umpires.
And … judgment calls aren’t reviewable.
The way that all played out was a demoralizing misery.
But it’s also true that despite the disjointed process, well, Sal Perez didn’t tag up. In that sense, the umps got it right for the wrong reasons.
Moreover, when it comes right down to it, that play didn’t lose the Royals the game. They had ample chances later.
Detroit went ahead 3-1 an inning later, but the Royals cut it to 3-2 in the eighth and had runners at second and third in the ninth before Raul Ibañez grounded out, ending it.
So extend that logic to today, one last chance with Detroit, and the twist of fate Saturday doesn’t have to snuff out their chances in the playoff chase.
If they have a signature this season, after all, it’s along the lines of fooling you every time you think you’ve got them pegged.
But time is about up.
And whichever one you think was more gnawing or telling, going out with a bang on Friday and a whimper on Saturday, both leave you wondering if this is the way the race ends.
So it’s on the Royals to prove otherwise … maybe even to themselves.