The Royals on Wednesday night had Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani where they needed him.
They had forced Ohtani to labor through a fourth inning in which he loaded the bases with two outs and allowed Alex Gordon to drive in the first run of the game on a single that split the Angels infielders shifted to the right of the field.
They had blistered the ball off the phenom, combining for an average exit velocity of 95.6 mph off a starter who this year limited batted balls to an average of 87.3 mph.
But 63 pitches in to his ninth start of the season, a finicky blister on his pitching hand forced Ohtani out of the game.
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After losing their one-run lead, the Royals couldn't capitalize. They rallied for two runs in the eighth on Gordon’s two-out RBI hit, but it was not enough in a 4-3 defeat at Angel Stadium on Wednesday night, their fourth in a row.
If not for starting pitcher Ian Kennedy’s ongoing issues with longevity and the offense leaving eight on base, the Royals might have had a chance to squeak out of Southern California without being swept.
Instead, the Angels quickly took Ohtani off the hook for a decision. Angels second baseman Ian Kinsler, batting .205 entering the game, ripped a double to left field before Zack Cozart lined a game-tying, two-base hit to the center-field wall.
Kennedy needed 23 pitches to get through the two-hit, two-walk frame and was removed after the inning. He threw 99 pitches in five frames and did not factor into the decision either. The seven-hit, one-run outing, however, was his best since he pitched six scoreless innings against the Tigers on May 4.
"Not a lot of traffic but when he had jams he made huge pitches to get himself out of jams," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "Big pitches to get the outs that he needed. ... Threw the ball really well."
Royals rookie pitcher Scott Barlow, instead, got himself shackled to the loss. Kaleb Cowart, who doubled to lead off the sixth, scored on Kinsler’s sixth homer of the season. Justin Upton padded the lead to 4-1 with a leadoff homer in the seventh.
An game-changing call: Royals replay coordinator Bill Duplissea made his 15th successful challenge of the season in the eighth inning. On a wild pitch, Salvador Perez moved to second base and Mike Moustakas advanced to third.
But third-base umpire Ed Hickox ruled that Angels third baseman Kaleb Cowart had successfully tagged Moustakas out. Replays showed that Moustakas got his hand to the bag before being touched by Cowart's glove.
The call was overturned, extending the inning and giving Gordon a chance to drive in both runners, which he did.
"It just shows you, for me, how effective instant replay has been," Yost said. "We get an out call on that, even without replay, this game's nothing. But replay comes back, shows Moose was safe, Gordy with the big hit and now we've got an interesting game again."
The Royals are 15 for 17 in replay challenges this season, best in the majors.
Short-handed: With outfielder Jon Jay shipped off to the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Royals had just 24 players available Wednesday night. A 25th player will join them in Oakland on Thursday.
The Jay move — it came just a few weeks before outfielder Jorge Bonifacio is eligible to return from his 80-game suspension — will flip over some dominoes down the line. As the active roster stands, Abraham Almonte is poised to get the majority of the playing time with Jay’s departure. Paulo Orlando, meanwhile, could be recalled from Class AAA Omaha as the team’s fourth outfielder until Bonifacio is ready to join the Royals.
Up next: The Royals, who dropped to 21-41, will conclude this West Coast swing with a four-game series against the Athletics in Oakland beginning at 9:05 p.m. Thursday.