The Royals hadn’t been just beating opponents, they were squeezing the life from them. Over their eight-game winning streak, they trailed for a total of three innings, all at Arizona and in games that ended with them cruising home.
But Tuesday the Royals slowly wilted, falling behind the A’s early and never mustering much of a counterattack in an 11-3 loss before 27,161 at Kauffman Stadium that killed the buzz, at least for a night.
The roll was over, but the defeat didn’t cost the Royals in the Central Division standing. They had started the night a half-game ahead of the Tigers and remained right there as Detroit’s struggles continued in a loss to the Pirates.
“We’re not going to win every game from here on out,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “If somebody thinks that we were, I’m sorry. These games frankly are easier to forget than the 3-2, 2-1. You just move on.”
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Defeats recently had become rare to the Royals, winners of 16 of 20, but there was a ring of familiarity to this one.
Jon Lester was on the bump for Oakland, and although this was only his third start for the A’s since being traded from the Red Sox, he’s now befuddled the Royals twice wearing green.
The Royals’ winning streak started after Lester conquered them on Aug. 2 in Oakland. Add his last victory in a Sox uniform, on July 20 against Kansas City at Fenway Park, and Lester has defeated the Royals in three of his last five starts.
He started the game with the lowest career ERA (1.65) against the Royals in at least 75 innings pitched.
“He’s got plus pitches, and even if you know what’s coming, it’s tough to hit,” said Royals outfielder Nori Aoki, who picked up a pair of singles against Lester.
In six innings, Lester gave up all the Royals runs, plus six hits. He was sharp through four, with the lone early Royals highlight offered in the second. Josh Willingham, on the first pitch he saw in the Royals uniform, smacked a double to left.
The Royals miniuprising was staged in the fifth. It started with a four-pitch walk to Mike Moustakas. Lorenzo Cain’s double moved him to second, and Moose scored on Alcides Escobar’s sacrifice fly.
Aoki’s infield single scored Cain, and Aoki came around when Salvador Perez doubled to left.
But the A’s had created enough of cushion to withstand the blow. They pecked away at Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie, who was tagged for 10 singles and a double.
Shifts didn’t work. Brandon Moss defied one with a bunt to the open space at third. A’s hitters even found grass hitting into the teeth of the shift.
“I didn’t make very good pitches with two strikes, and I didn’t mix it up well enough to keep them off-balance,” Guthrie said.
Guthrie was bidding for his fourth straight victory, and it was the veteran right-hander who delivered one of best starts throughout the Royals’ recent run when he limited the A’s to no runs and three hits over six innings in a 1-0 victory on Aug. 1.
But Tuesday, A’s hitters found the holes, and after Guthrie was lifted the A’s continued to show pop against Bruce Chen, including Josh Donaldson’s 24th and 25th home runs of the season.
The top of the order was especially hot for Oakland. Sam Fuld, John Jaso, Donaldson and Brandon Moss combined to go 12 for 18. In all, the A’s banged out 20 hits.
Now, the Royals look to avoid the same post-streak pratfall they experienced in June. After winning 10 straight to take the division lead, the Royals dropped their next four and six of seven.
The swoon lasted for weeks, taking the Royals from seven games over .500 to two under just after the All-Star break.
The current run started at that point, and now the goal is to avoid a backslide.
“We have to keep these games few and far between,” Yost said.