Royals let one get away late in 3-1 loss to Indians

Royals reliever Brandon Maurer walked off the field after giving up a two-run homer to the Indians' Yan Gomes in the ninth inning of a 3-1 loss Sunday in Cleveland.
Royals reliever Brandon Maurer walked off the field after giving up a two-run homer to the Indians' Yan Gomes in the ninth inning of a 3-1 loss Sunday in Cleveland. The Associated Press

On Sunday morning, on the last day of a six-game road trip thwarted repeatedly by frigid weather conditions, Royals relievers Burch Smith and Justin Grimm quietly played arcade games on opposite ends of the visiting clubhouse and starting pitcher Jason Hammel watched some television coverage of the Masters on a muted monitor at Progressive Field.

While others lounged at their lockers, outfielder Jon Jay napped on a black leather couch.

For the first time in this 9-day-old season, the Royals were finally able to play the third game of a series. Snow, or the threat of it, postponed both of their previous series finales in Kansas City and Detroit.

It would probably be unfair to fault Jay for the pregame snooze.

Especially since Jay's fifth-inning, RBI triple against Indians starter Mike Clevinger set him up to become the Royals’ next hero.

Then, an afterthought of a swing by Indians third baseman Jose Ramirez resulted in a weakly-tapped ground ball that produced a run in the eighth inning. The play set up the Royals calling on Brandon Maurer in the ninth inning and the Indians walking off with a 3-1 win.

Instead of escaping the cold and heading back to Kansas City with three wins on this road trip, the Royals fell to 2-5. They tallied 10 hits — three off the bat of Jorge Soler, who was 0 for 11 with three walks to start the season — but they left six runners on base. Unable to find a groove in the cold, they have gone 6 for 34 with runners in scoring position over seven games.

On a day when even Jay’s hit defied the 10-mph winds coming off Lake Erie, Indians catcher Yan Gomes barreled a 96 mph fastball offered as the ninth pitch of his at-bat against Maurer and deposited the heater over the fence in left-center field for a two-run homer.

"He just beat me. Must have been a good pitch to hit," Maurer said. "He put a good swing on it. Anything can happen if you put a good swing on it."

Maurer was charged with his second loss of the season. His performance and Justin Grimm's errant throw to first base in the eighth spoiled Hammel's six scoreless innings, in which he allowed only three hits and kept his pitch count at 88 despite working around a pair of base runners in the first and fifth innings.

"It would have been nice to have that one." Hammel said. "This is a game that we need to have right now, especially when (the Indians) are not swinging the bats as well as they can. We can capitalize there."

Alas, the Royals seemed fated not to take advantage.

Before Maurer even began to warm in the bullpen, Tim Hill put Indians outfielder Bradley Zimmer on base with a four-pitch walk to start the eighth inning. Two of those four pitches caught the top of the zone, according to both and Fox Sports pitch-tracking systems.

But home-plate umpire and crew chief Ted Barrett called each a ball.

Grimm was called in immediately to face the top of the Indians' order: Francisco Lindor, Jason Kipnis and Jose Ramirez. By that point, their bats had gone as cold as the 32-degree game-time temperature, which was the coldest first-pitch temperature recorded in the 24-year history of Progressive Field. The trio had combined to go 0 for 8 with a walk in the first seven innings.

But the Indians didn't need the bats to warm up. They just needed Zimmer to steal a base, which he did with ease. The play allowed Lindor to lay down a sacrifice bunt and Kipnis to reach on a throwing error by Grimm, who picked up a grounder in front of the mound and missed just wide of hitting Whit Merrifield's glove at first base.

Later, Grimm was spared a second error. Ramirez placed his ground ball in a similar spot and Grimm charged it, thinking he might attempt to throw home to get Zimmer, who wound up scoring. Instead, Grimm tossed to first base to stop the inning from unraveling. First-base umpire Lance Barksdale called Ramirez safe, but his call was overturned on the Royals' challenge.

"(The eighth-inning run) changes the whole complexion of the game," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

It shouldn't have. The Indians were 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position, and they left six runners on base. The Royals' pitching staff hadn't allowed a run since the first inning of a 3-2 loss on Friday — the streak ended at 23 innings, which tied a club record set in 1976 and repeated in 2015.

In the end, a poor fielding job by Grimm and a fastball left low over the plate by Maurer will take the fall for this loss, the Royals' fifth to open the season.

"(Maurer) hasn’t pitched in six days so it’s way too early to start dissecting," Yost said. "The weather’s been brutal. We’ve been missing games. It’s too early for all that."