What projects as a season-defining stretch of 20 games opened Tuesday night for the Royals in a 6-5 giveaway loss to the Cleveland Indians at Kauffman Stadium.
Eight walks. Eight freebies. Eight.
In a one-run loss.
“You’re kind of shooting yourself in the foot when you’ve got eight walks and a hit batter,” manager Ned Yost agreed. “Half of their runs came off walks and the hit batter.”
The Royals made it interesting in the ninth inning against Cleveland closer Chris Perez when Jarrod Dyson drew a one-out walk and went to second on Alex Gordon’s single to right.
Perez survived by striking out Alcides Escobar on three pitches before Eric Hosmer grounded to short.
So, yes, the Royals failed to cash a late opportunity, but this game slipped away much earlier through a depressing inability to throw strikes.
Royals starter Luis Mendoza opened the game with a walk and later walked a batter and hit a batter, both with the bases loaded, in a two-run first inning.
Mendoza also moved two runners into scoring position with a walk in the fourth inning before yielding a ground ball through the left side by Asdrubal Cabrera that extended the Indians’ lead to 4-0.
“I wasn’t able to throw strikes,” Mendoza said. “I don’t think I got hurt with hits. I got hurt with my command. My curveball, especially, I couldn’t throw it for strikes. They just let me throw it. Ball, ball, ball.
“When I got into a fastball count, I got hurt.”
Gordon erased those sins with a grand slam in the fifth against Cleveland starter Corey Kluber. Gordon put a 392-foot charge into a 3-0 fastball.
“I was just looking fastball and hopefully it would be a strike,” he said. “I was just trying to drive the ball with the bases loaded. Maybe put it in a gap. I just got out in front of it and put a good swing on it.”
So Tim Collins inherited a 4-4 tie when he began the seventh inning by walking Asdrubal Cabrera and Jason Kipnis. That brought Aaron Crow into the game just as a light rain started to fall.
It was Collins’ second straight forgettable performance. He surrendered three runs in one-third of an inning Sunday in a 9-8 victory at Minnesota. His ERA has jumped from 2.51 to 4.03 over his last two outings
“I can’t say it’s everything,” Collins said, “because I’m falling behind, and I can’t throw my off-speed (pitches).
“When you’re not throwing strikes with your fastball, they’re not even going to swing at your off-speed (pitches). You can’t even throw it. Right now, it’s just (a lack of) fastball command and getting ahead of hitters.”
Crow immediately loaded the bases by walking Nick Swisher before Carlos Santana sent a sacrifice fly to deep center for a 5-4 lead. Kipnis moved to third on the play.
Mark Reynolds struck out, but Jason Giambi pulled an RBI double into the right-field corner that made it 6-4. In short, those two inning-opening walks by Collins, 2-3, both scored.
Yost deflected a question about altering roles in his bullpen.
“Right now, I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said. “We just lost a tough game where we walked eight guys and hit a batter. I don’t make decisions when I’m a little upset.”
The Royals struck back in the eighth inning after Hosmer led off with a single against Vinnie Pestano. Billy Butler followed with an RBI double on a grounder past third.
Pinch-runner Elliot Johnson took third on Salvy Perez’s grounder to first, which prompted the Indians to shorten their infield. Mike Moustakas drew a four-pitch walk.
Up stepped Sunday’s hero, David Lough, who had four extra-base hits in that victory over the Twins, including a homer after Collins and Crow squandered a three-run lead in the seventh.
Not this time: Lough grounded into a second-short-first double play. It was a bang-bang play at first.
“I went back and took a peek at it (on tape),” Lough said. “It was a close play. I was out though. It’s one of those situations in baseball where you’ve got to get it where you stay out the double play. I couldn’t do that.”
Perez then survived a shaky ninth inning for his eighth save. Cody Allen, 3-0, got the victory for recording just one out —although it came with two runners on base in the sixth inning.
The loss dropped the Royals to 38-42 and pushed them 51/2 games behind first-place Cleveland. Tuesday’s series opener was the first of 20 straight games against opponents with winning records.
“That was a big game,” Gordon admitted. “We could have gained some ground on the Indians. We know it’s going to be a grind when we play them, and that’s what it was tonight.”