One of the Royals’ season-long strengths, a stout defense, threw a shoe Saturday night at two key points in a 5-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox in front of a sellout crowd at Kauffman Stadium.
To be fair, it might be that the Royals are victims of their own success in pointing to two key playsnot made
as turning points.
Even so, the inability of right fielder Justin Maxwell to make a sliding catch on Stephen Drew’s sinking liner contributed significantly to Boston’s four-run fourth inning.
“I had a good bead on it,” Maxwell said. “On my way in, I just lost it in the lights. At that point, I just tried to keep it in front of me. It just bounced (past) my glove.”
And Mike Moustakas’ belated throw from third on Will Middlebrooks’ two-out grounder in the sixth preceded an RBI double by Jacoby Ellsbury after the Royals had closed within 4-3 with a three-run fifth.
“I didn’t a have a good hold on the ball,” Moustakas said, “so I needed an extra shuffle. That’s why he was safe.”
Let’s be clear. Neither play, particularly Drew’s liner, was a routine play. Both were scored hits. But the Royals have spent much of the season denying runs by turning potential hits into outs.
And Saturday, it didn’t happen — and the Royals lost for just the fifth time in 22 games since the All-Star break.
Royals starter Jeremy Guthrie, 12-8, threw a season-high 123 pitches while allowing five runs and 10 hits in six innings. He probably deserved better.
“The big key was I fell behind a couple of guys,” he said. “A leadoff walk (to Mike Carp in the four-run fourth). The Stephen Drew at-bat was a 2-1 pitch.
“Certainly, the Ellsbury pitch (in the sixth). Even the Middlebrooks at-bat was a 2-0 count. He didn’t hit it well, but it was a hitter’s count. That gives those guys a better chance to put the ball in play, and they did that.”
Boston starter Felix Doubront carried a 4-0 lead into the fifth but couldn’t complete the inning. The victory went to Brandon Workman, who worked 12/3 innings of scoreless relief.
Koji Uehara pitched a scoreless ninth for his 12th save.
The loss dropped the Royals to 60-54 and 81/2 games behind first-place Detroit in the American League Central. They remained 41/2 games behind Oakland for the AL’s final wild-card berth.
Boston opened the scoring in the fourth after Guthrie walked Carp, who went to second on Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s one-out single through the right side. Drew then pulled a floating drive into right that eluded a charging Maxwell, who made a sliding attempt at a catch, for an RBI double.
Manager Ned Yost said an outfielder more experienced with Kauffman Stadium likely makes the catch. But this was just Maxwell’s third game in right field at the K since arriving in the July 31 trade from Houston.
“We’re still going through a transitional period with him,” Yost said. “He’s learning the stadium, learning the lights and learning the vision of it. When it was hit, he didn’t pick it up right away. By then, he was just a hair late.”
Maxwell said: “I’m sliding and hoping it’s going to come out of the lights on the way down. It just hit in front of me.”
And that opened the floodgates.
Middlebrooks followed by dumping a two-run single into short right that fell just inside the line. Ellsbury then pumped an RBI double into the right-center gap for a 4-0 lead.
The Royals got three runs back in the fifth inning after Alcides Escobar led off with a walk. Eric Hosmer followed with a line drive into the left-center gap for an RBI double.
Billy Butler then sent a drive into the right-field corner for another RBI double. Butler went to third when Alex Gordon floated a single into left, which put the tying runs on base with no outs.
That finished Doubront, which meant he couldn’t get the victory despite carrying a four-run lead into the fifth.
“They're tough,” he said. “I was helping them by not throwing strikes and getting behind in the count. But they're good hitters.”
Workman, 3-1, struck out Maxwell on three pitches, but Miguel Tejada drove an RBI single up the middle that made it 4-3. A double steal put both runners in scoring position, but Moustakas popped to short.
Workman held the lead by striking out Brett Hayes.
The Moustakas play in the sixth led to the game’s final run. He needed that extra step on Middlebrooks’ two-out grounder and even his howitzer arm couldn’t compensate.
“I knew he was playing me back,” Middlebrooks said, “and I knew I didn't hit it very well. I got down the line as fast as I could. And with the way Jacoby swinging the bat, I wanted to get on base for him.”
Ellsbury drove a double into the left-center gap. He was thrown out at third in trying for a triple, but the Red Sox had a two-run lead.
Even so, the Royals had some chances in the closing innings.
Workman departed after Escobar’s one-out single in the bottom of the inning. Craig Breslow ended the inning by getting Hosmer to ground into a double play.
The Royals got a leadoff double by Butler to start the seventh against reliever Junichi Tazawa. It was Butler’s 241st career double, which tied him with Willie Wilson for sixth on the club’s all-time list.
It came to nothing.
Tazawa retired Gordon on a fly to left before striking out Maxwell and Elliot Johnson, who replaced Tejada earlier in the inning. Tejada suffered a strained right calf while diving for a ground ball. He will be evaluated further on Sunday.
The Royals also got a one-out double in the eighth from Hayes, when left fielder Daniel Nava couldn’t hold the ball after crashing into the wall. But Tazawa retired the next two hitters.
“Their bullpen did a great job of coming in and stopping us,” Hosmer said. “It was a tough loss.”