Twice this homestand, Royals starting pitcher Jakob Junis has left the mound after allowing just one run and striking out eight batters. Neither time has he factored into the decision.
But on Sunday, when Junis made it through six innings for the first time since June 20, it wasn’t because he departed a tied ballgame as he did at the beginning of the week in an eventual loss to the Cubs. Instead, it was because the Royals’ bullpen let him down in an 8-2 loss to the Cardinals at Kauffman Stadium.
Leading 2-1 in the seventh inning, manager Ned Yost entrusted veteran pitcher Jason Hammel to maneuver the bottom third of the Cardinals lineup. Hammel could do no such thing. Junis, who’d thrown 96 pitches, watched helplessly as all four batters Hammel faced found a way to get on base.
First, Jedd Gyorko lined a hard-hit single to left field. Then, Greg Garcia beat out a ground ball fielded by shortstop Alcides Escobar for an infield hit. Harrison Bader drew a five-pitch walk to load the bases. And rookie Patrick Wisdom, a 26-year-old making his major-league debut at first base on Sunday, dropped an RBI single in front of Royals center fielder Whit Merrifield to tie the game 2-2.
“Feel bad for (Junis), who threw the hell out of the ball,” Hammel said after explaining that he struggled physically to find traction on the mound. “Deserved better. That’s a tough lineup. Pretty much set the tone for the rest of the game right there, (me) coming in and not even getting an out. I’m pretty embarrassed.”
Yost called on left-hander Tim Hill to face reigning National League player of the month Matt Carpenter and was rewarded. Hill induced a ground ball that allowed first baseman Lucas Duda to toss home to Drew Butera and prevent Garcia from scoring, then yielded the mound to reliever Kevin McCarthy.
Both Bader and Wisdom scored on McCarthy’s fourth pitch, which Yadier Molina roped into center field for a two-run single. McCarthy got the ground ball he needed from the next batter instead. Jose Martinez, the castaway Royals farmhand who entered Sunday batting .300 with 68 RBIs for the Cardinals this year, rolled over a sinker to start an inning-ending double play.
“The key was the walk,” Yost said. “He ends up giving up the base hit, then an infield hit. If we can maybe get an out there, you still might be able to keep it in line. But ended up walking Bader there at that point and we almost got out of it. Timmy trying to just hold it right there, reasonably. But it was just one of those days where (Hammel) struggled.”
McCarthy allowed an RBI double to Garcia in the eighth. Royals closer Wily Peralta, who has not pitched in a save situation since July 31, allowed an RBI double to Ozuna and a two-run homer to Paul DeJong in the ninth, snapping a streak of five consecutive scoreless outings.
The Royals’ scuffling offense, which saw Alex Gordon score on a play botched by Wisdom in the first and Salvador Perez evade a tag at home plate in the third, did nothing to bridge the gap. They have been held to six runs in the five losses they’ve tallied here since starting a 10-game homestand six days ago. They will try to reverse the trend when the Toronto Blue Jays arrive in town for four games beginning Monday.
The Royals, who remain on pace for a franchise-record 113 losses and still own the second-worst record in the majors, fell to 35-82.