The potential consequences of the Royals’ still-sputtering attack came into harsh relief Wednesday for a second straight night in a 6-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians.
If the club’s pitching and defense slips just a bit, as it did again at Progressive Field, then their impressive June surge suddenly resembles their ruinous May swoon.
“We feel like we gave one away (Tuesday) night,” manager Ned Yost said. “Tonight’s a different story. They beat us.”
They had help.
Luis Mendoza didn’t allow a hit until the fifth inning but suddenly lost the strike zone in Cleveland’s decisive three-run sixth, which drew further life from a rare whiff by Gold Glove left fielder Alex Gordon.
All that came after the Royals repeatedly let Indians ace Justin Masterson off the hook by stranding eight runners in the first five innings.
“They have a nice easy approach (against me),” Masterson said. “They beat some balls into the ground, find some holes. Then at times I make a bad pitch, they get the hard-hit ball and a couple of runs score.
“Tonight I caught some luck.”
It was a similar story for the Royals in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss, when the Indians scored three times in the eighth against the relievers Kelvin Herrera and Tim Collins before the offense paid for failing to execute in the ninth inning.
The result was two losses after the Royals had fought their way back to .500 by winning four of their first five games on a seven-game road trip.
“It was a good road trip,” Gordon said, “but we would have loved to have turned these last two games around. We could have. We had our opportunities and just didn’t do it.
“We’re going to enjoy the day off (Thursday). Clear our heads. We’ve got a big homestand coming up. Hopefully, we can keep things rolling. We can’t let these two games affect us moving forward.”
Masterson, 9-5, yielded nine hits while throwing 115 pitches in 61/3 innings but limited the damage to two runs. Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith closed out the victory.
“We got (Masterson’s) pitch count up early,” Yost said. “We got nine hits off him. We just couldn’t do much damage. Got the two runs, and that was it.”
The loss dropped the Royals to 34-36 and prevented them from winning a fifth straight series for the first time since 1993. The remained five games behind first-place Detroit but fell 11/2 games behind second-place Cleveland.
Mendoza, 2-4, carried a 2-0 lead into the fifth, which Michael Brantley opened with the first of his two home runs. Then it all fell apart in the sixth.
Drew Stubbs led off with a single through the left side, and Mendoza followed that with a four-pitch walk to Michael Bourn.
“The ground ball just found a hole,” Mendoza said. “Then a base on balls when I should have attacked the hitter. Everything else just…”
Mike Aviles sent a drive to deep left that Gordon reached and appeared positioned to catch — but didn’t. The ball clanged off Gordon’s glove for an RBI single. Bourn stopped at second.
“Aviles was going to bunt the guys over,” Gordon said, “and then we got a pop-up. It was toward the wall, but it was off my glove, and I should have caught it. No question.
“It would have been a big out, and it would have changed the inning around. Instead, they put up three. I need to make the play right there and didn’t do it.”
It got worse.
Jason Kipnis’ attempted sacrifice turned into a single when Mike Moustakas was a beat slow in charging from third. That loaded the bases with no outs.
Carlos Santana delivered the go-ahead run without a twitch when Mendoza threw four straight balls, none particularly close.
“With the bases loaded,” Mendoza said, “I was just trying not to give up a long hit. He was patient. He didn’t chase any pitches.”
It chased Mendoza. In came Collins with the bases still loaded and still no outs. Brantley’s sacrifice fly to left made it 4-2 before Collins ended the inning.
The Indians added an insurance run in the seventh against Herrera, who yielded a one-out double to Bourn and compounded that mistake through inattentiveness. Bourn stole third without a throw.
Aviles produced the run with a sacrifice fly.
Brantley’s second homer came while leading off the eighth against Luke Hochevar.
The Royals finished with 12 hits, including three apiece by David Lough and Eric Hosmer and two each from Moustakas and Escobar. They also grabbed a 2-0 lead but missed several chances for big innings.
The game’s first run came in the fourth after Lough reached on a one-out infield single. Moustakas followed with a line-drive double into the right-field corner.
Third-base coach Eddie Rodriguez held Lough at third. No arguments like Tuesday in the ninth; it was the right move. Elliot Johnson followed by grounding an RBI single up the middle for a 1-0 lead.
The Royals added another run in the fifth after Hosmer led off with a single and stole second. He held second on Salvy Perez’s grounder to short and again when Billy Butler squirted a single through the left side.
Masterson struck out Lorenzo Cain, but Lough wedged an RBI single between Lonnie Chisenhall and third base.
It was mostly downhill after that.
The Royals got a run in the ninth, on a Hosmer double, but the game ended, perhaps appropriately, on a base-running mistake. Hosmer tried for third on Perez’s grounder to third.
The result was a third-first-short double play.