A long-ball barrage, like the Los Angeles Angels unleashed Tuesday night, was the likeliest way, probably, for Jeremy Guthrie’s club-record streak of non-losing starts to come to an end.
Guthrie is a fly-ball pitcher who has always been susceptible to homers, even this year when — prior this start — he has enjoyed sustained success. The Angels hit four in a 6-2 victory over the Royals.
All four came with nobody on base, but it was enough largely because the Royals found Jason Vargas to be just as baffling in an Angels uniform as they did when he previously pitched for Seattle.
Guthrie, 5-1, yielded homers in the fourth to Albert Pujols and Howie Kendrick after the Royals took a brief 1-0 lead earlier in the inning.
The Angels scored on two singles and a Mike Trout sacrifice fly in the fifth before Josh Hamilton went deep in the sixth. Trout added a two-out bomb in the seventh.
None of them was cheap.
“They put some good swings on me,” said Guthrie, who has allowed a club-leading 11 homers. “Some of the pitches were all right. Other pitches weren’t located (properly), but the just put good swings on them.”
So ends Guthrie’s 18-start unbeaten run in which he went 10-0 with eight no-decisions. The loss also prevented Guthrie from tying Rich Gale’s 1980 club record of 11 straight winning decisions by a starter.
The frustration showed at times.
Guthrie slammed his glove in the dugout following the fifth inning and, an inning later, barehanded a return throw from catcher Salvy Perez before retreating behind the mound to gather himself.
“It was one of those nights when I didn’t have a good feel,” Guthrie admitted. “I wasn’t able to execute pitches, and I got frustrated out there.”
Vargas enjoyed success against the Royals while pitching for Seattle, compiling a 4-1 mark and 3.55 ERA in five previous career starts. This was more of the same.
“What he does really well is command the ball,” manager Ned Yost said. “He throws fastballs in and change-ups away. He really commands his change-up well down and away. He keeps us really off-balance.”
Vargas, 2-3, gave up two runs and just five hits before exiting after a leadoff walk in the eighth inning to Lorenzo Cain. Really, Vargas struggled only against suddenly-hot Billy Butler.
Dane De La Rosa worked through the eighth before Scott Downs and Ernesto Frieri closed out the victory in the ninth.
Butler drove in both Royals’ runs with an RBI double in the fourth and a homer in the sixth.
“Because (Vargas is) a lefty, and he throws upper 80s,” Butler said, “you have to make him come to you, and you have to make him bring the ball up. It’s easier said than done. He threw some great pitches on us tonight.”
Guthrie allowed five runs and 11 hits in seven innings. He walked three and didn’t record a strikeout. Aaron Crow gave up another run in the eighth.
The loss dropped the Royals to 19-17 and kept them from moving back into second place, by percentage points over Cleveland, in the American League Central Division. They trail first-place Detroit by 2 ½ games.
Guthrie dismissed the suggestion that an end to his streak offered the chance to appreciate it more fully in perspective.
“I appreciated it just as much when it was going on,” he said. “It was these guys. They picked me up. Tonight, they tried to battle for me, but I couldn’t get any momentum on our side.
“The streak was due to 25 guys who played well behind me when I was on the mound. They did it again tonight. I just couldn’t pick them up.”
The Royals opened the scoring in the fourth inning after Alcides Escobar blooped a leadoff single into right.
Vargas caught a break when left fielder J.B. Shuck made a terrific diving catch on Alex Gordon’s slicing liner, but it was a brief reprieve. Butler yanked an RBI double just fair past third for a 1-0 lead.
L.A. then cranked up the power.
Pujols opened the fourth with a booming homer over the bullpens beyond the left-field wall, and Kendrick drove a two-out change-up over the center-field wall for a 2-1 lead.
The Angels added another run in the fifth after one-out grounders by Shuck and Erick Aybar found holes through the right side and put runners at first and third. Trout’s sacrifice fly to deep center made it 3-1.
Butler’s two-out homer in the sixth cut the deficit to one, but L.A. countered when Hamilton crushed a one-out homer later in the inning.
There were early signs that Guthrie might be in for a long night. He worked around his own lapse in the first after a one-out walk to Trout, who broke for second on a full-count pitch to Pujols.
It should have been an inning-ending double play when Pujols popped the ball to second baseman Miguel Tejada. Guthrie broke to first but never turned around; he was intent on getting out of Tejada’s way.
But Tejada pulled up, anticipating a toss to Guthrie, before making a belated dash and losing a foot race to Trout, who then stole second before Guthrie retired Mark Trumbo on a broken-bat squibber in front of the plate.
A large shard of Trumbo’s bat struck Guthrie, who went briefly to the ground as catcher Salvy Perez threw out Trumbo.
L.A. bailed out Guthrie from a major jam in the third after a leadoff walk to Chris Iannetta. A perfect bunt single by Shuck put runners at first and second before the Angels lost their minds on the bases.
Iannetta tried to advance to third on Shuck’s bunt — the base was temporarily uncovered — but Mike Moustakas retreated in time to take a throw from Perez for the out.
After Shuck took second on Aybar’s single to left, the runners tried to advance when a pitch to Trout skittered a few feet away from Perez. But Perez recovered in time to throw out Shuck at third.
Trout then lined a short-hop bullet to Escobar, who made a slick pick-up at short but an off-line throw. First baseman Eric Hosmer held the base in stretching for the catch.
Right after that, though, the ball started flying out of the park, which tends to minimize the chance for base-running mistakes.
“Now,” Yost said, “we just start a new streak.”