There’s one game to go before the All-Star break, but the Royals pretty much summed up their season to date Saturday night in a 5-3 loss to the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field.
There were sufficient positives to offer hope that, maybe, better days aren’t too far away. But it came dashed with enough cold reality to suggest those days aren’t yet here after a fourth straight loss.
“I know guys are upset about this game,” left fielder Alex Gordon said, “but (Sunday) is a big game, too. We’ve got the break coming up, and we’ve got to play nine innings to try to salvage a win out of this series.”
Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie, 8-7, was sharp for much of his seven innings but paid dearly for hanging a two-out curve in the sixth with the bases loaded to Lonnie Chisenhall.
The grand slam put the Royals in a 5-0 hole.
“It was hit for a home run,” Guthrie said, “so it wasn’t a great pitch. I think we can all figure that out.”
That came after the Royals backed Guthrie with some highlight-reel defense — nothing new there. But it was a sputtering attack that most mirrored the season’s first 91 games.
First, it hit the snooze bar with the erratic regularity of a soused collegian after a hazy weekend. The Royals had gone 22 innings without scoring before breaking through for three runs in the seventh.
“It’s been a bit of a struggle,” manager Ned Yost agreed. “At least we had stuff going the last few innings. It’s ebb and flow. One of those little periods you have to grind through. You have to compete yourself through it.”
The Royals put the tying runs on base with one out in the eighth inning but remained, as they have so often this season, one big hit away from getting what they need to get.
So here they are at 43-48 on the eve of the break, looking to avoid a three-game sweep against the Indians, and trailing first-place Detroit by seven games in the American League Central Division.
“Obviously, we don’t want to be doing this,” Gordon said. “This is a big series. After the All-Star break, there’s a big series (at home against Detroit). We know that. We can’t get too down.”
Indians starter Scott Kazmir, 5-4, entered the night with one victory in seven starts since May 30 while sporting a 4.35 ERA in that span. But he rolled through the Royals for the first six innings.
“He uses his cutter a lot,” second baseman Miguel Tejada said. “So when he throws his fastball, it’s like 100 miles an hour. He kept everybody off-balance.”
Even so, the Royals trailed just 1-0 when the game got away in the sixth. Guthrie had retired nine in a row before Jason Kipnis opened the inning with a single past third. Michael Brantley’s one-out double moved Kipnis to third and prompted an intentional walk to Carlos Santana to load the bases with one out.
“He’s got 51 walks,” Yost said. “You can’t pitch around the guy. He’s going to take a walk. But you make a mistake, he’s going to make you pay.”
Guthrie struck out Jason Giambi, but hung a first-pitch curve to Chisenhall — 388 feet later, the Indians led 5-0.
“That’s probably the biggest home run of my career,” Chisenhall said. “(Kazmir) deserved to win that game. I was glad to help him out.”
The Royals clawed their way back after Salvy Perez and Lorenzo Cain opened the seventh with walks. Kazmir won a 10-pitch battle with Mike Moustakas, who fouled out to the catcher, before the Tribe went to its pen.
Matt Albers immediately surrendered the shutout by yielding an RBI single to Tejada. That single also broke a 22-inning scoreless streak that extended to the second inning of Thursday’s 8-4 loss at New York.
The runners moved to second and third on David Lough’s grounder to first before an intentional walk to Gordon loaded the bases for Alcides Escobar.
Albers worked the count full before Escobar sent a slow roller to short that turned into a two-run single when he beat the throw from Asdrubal Cabrera. Cain scored easily and Tejada kept running from second.
“In a situation like we are, 22 innings without scoring a run,” Tejada said, “you’ve got to force it. You can not wait for somebody to hit a home run or get a big hit.”
The Indians replaced Albers with Rich Hill for a lefty-on-lefty matchup against Eric Hosmer, who struck out on three pitches.
The Royals got singles in the eighth from Butler and Cain against Vinnie Pestano, but Moustakas popped out before Tejada’s liner to the right side when Santana made a lunging grab from first.
“It would have been great if that ball had gone in the gap,” Tejada said. “We might still be playing. But that’s part of the game. He made a great play.”
Chris Perez closed out Kazmir’s victory by working a scoreless ninth for his 12th save in 14 chances.
Guthrie benefited early from some marvelous defense.
Cabrera walked with one out in the first, and Kipnis followed with a single to left before Gordon made a diving catch on Nick Swisher’s slicing drive to left.
“The only play I had was to lay out,” said Gordon, who scraped his left arm on the warning track. “Kipnis dropped one in there right before that. I didn’t want two to drop like that to start off the game.”
Guthrie found more trouble in the second after Santana led off with a shift-beating bunt single to third. Guthrie then hit Giambi before Cain ran down Chisenhall’s deep drive into the left-center gap.
“Great defense,” Guthrie said. “Gordo saved two or three runs in the first inning. Lorenzo made great plays. We’ve played strong defense all year long, and I’ve benefited every time from it.”
That luck couldn’t hold.
The Indians put runners at first and third with no outs in the third after singles by Michael Bourn and Cabrera. A wild pitch moved Cabrera to second before Kipnis sent a drive to deep left for a sacrifice fly.
It stayed 1-0 until the sixth.