Royals

Royals blow their big-inning chance in the third

Kansas City Royals right fielder Norichika Aoki was called out on strikes by umpire Jerry Meals during the third inning of game one of the Word Series against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.
Kansas City Royals right fielder Norichika Aoki was called out on strikes by umpire Jerry Meals during the third inning of game one of the Word Series against the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Kansas City Star

The Royals’ first two innings Tuesday against Madison Bumgarner produced a Lorenzo Cain hit by pitch and a Billy Butler solid single.

Cain was eliminated on Eric Hosmer’s deep drive that center fielder Gregor Blanco tracked down in the gap, and Butler was erased on a double play. Offense in the Royals’ first World Series appearance in nearly three decades got off to a painfully slow start.

But the third inning started with great promise.

It ended with a thud and may have been the most deflating moment for the Royals in their 7-1 loss to the Giants in game one.

It started with a break. Giants shortstop Brandon Crawford bobbled Omar Infante’s routine grounder. For the Royals, down 3-0, hope filled the towel wavers at Kauffman Stadium.

That feeling swelled when Mike Moustakas, the team’s power-hitting star of the postseason, worked a full count and lashed a double that reached the right-field wall. Hunter Pence played it perfectly, or Infante would have scored.

Still, the Royals were rallying, with runners at second and third and no outs and now back at the top of the order.

From Alcides Escobar, hitting .278 in the postseason, a fly to the outfield or a grounder would likely get the job done.

Instead, Escboar fouled off the first two pitches and swung and missed at strike three.

“I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Escobar said. “I missed my two good pitches, two foul balls. That happens in the game.”

Surely Nori Aoki would make contact. It’s what he does. He was the fourth-most difficult hitter to strike out in the American League this season, fanning once in every 11.2 plate appearances. The ratio was even greater in the playoffs, as Aoki stepped to the plate having struck out once in 28 postseason at-bats.

On a 0-2 pitch, Aoki got a breaking ball from Bumgarner and couldn’t check his swing.

“The first two pitches, I was sitting on fast balls,” Aoki said through his translator, Kosuke Inaji. “That kind of set the tone. Then I had a curveball in mind, but I couldn’t check my swing.”

Royals manager Ned Yost tipped his cap to Bumgarner, who delivered another dominant postseason performance.

“We had an opportunity in the third, and I was really impressed with the way he fed off our aggressiveness and just worked up the ladder to get out of the jam,” Yost said. “He was nails tonight.”

The inning wasn’t over. Lorenzo Cain, down two strikes, battled back for a walk. Up stepped Hosmer, who had driven a Bumgarner fast ball to deep right-center in his first at-bat.

This time, Hosmer swung at a breaking ball that swept across the plate and outside the strike zone. It dribbled meekly to second base and ended the Royals’ only real threat.

At that point, the Royals had dropped to zero for 17, dating to game three of the ALCS, with runners in scoring position.

There wouldn’t be another inning in which the Royals had more than one runner. Salvador Perez’s home run in the seventh was a solo shot. The third inning was their chance, and they didn’t cash in.

To reach Blair Kerkhoff, call 816-234-4730 or send email to bkerkhoff@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BlairKerkhoff.

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