It’s easy — all too easy, probably — to point simply to a costly error by Elliot Johnson, whom the Royals put at third base Wednesday afternoon in place of an injured Mike Moustakas, as pivotal moment in a wrenching loss.
And it’s true that Johnson botched a spinning grounder in the seventh inning that led to two unearned runs in a 5-2 loss to the often-woeful Miami Marlins at Kauffman Stadium.
“It seems like an easy play,” Johnson said. “It wasn’t as easy as it seemed, but still, I should have made it. I’m playing in the big leagues. You’ve got to make those kind of plays.”
There was more, though.
The Royals’ attack again shows disturbing signs of flatlining after mustering only five hits one night after getting just four over 10 innings in a 1-0 loss to the Marlins.
“It’s two days,” manager Ned Yost said. “And (Tuesday) night, we faced arguably one of the best young pitchers in the game (in Jose Fernandez). Good pitching again today.
“It’s not an excuse. If we’re going to do what we want to do, eventually we’re going to have to beat good pitchers. That’s a fact.”
And beat bad teams.
This was a second straight home loss to the Marlins, who possess the National League’s worst record, even after these two victories, at 46-73.
So...not exactly the momentum kick the Royals wanted prior to what still projects as a season-defining, five-game weekend series against the first-place Tigers that begins Thursday night in Detroit.
“We had plenty of chances to score runs,” first baseman Eric Hosmer agreed. “We had runners on base all day. We should have put up a lot more runs. It’s a tough one to swallow, but we’ve just got to look ahead.
“We’ve got five games in Detroit, and we can make up some serious ground. There’s a lot of time. We’ve just got to forget about this one.”
The Royals now trail the Tigers by 7½ games in the American League Central Division. They also fell 5 games behind Tampa Bay for the AL’s final wild-card spot.
Johnson’s error came in the seventh inning. Lefty reliever Tim Collins had just inherited a 2-1 lead from starter Ervin Santana, who gave up eight hits while striking out three and walking two.
Collins, 2-6, served up a leadoff double to Koyie Hill on a full-count fastball but should have gotten an out on Christian Yelich’s grounder to Johnson at third base.
“It was just your classic squibber,” Johnson said. “I let the ball play me a little bit. I kind of froze on it. Wasn’t sure what to do. The last hop that got to me, it kicked right and, obviously, I didn’t have time to react to it.
“If I attack the ball, then it’s routine. It’s no big deal, and we probably get the win.”
The result, instead, was a two-base error that moved Hill to third.
The Royals chose to keep their infield deep, which meant Chris Getz, after looking toward the plate, went to first on Donavan Solano’s grounder to second. Hill scored the tying run, and Yelich moved to third.
“There’s no way you can go home with that,” Yost said. “We’re playing back, conceding one not two in that situation.”
That ensured Santana of a no-decision.
The Royals then shortened their infield — and that didn’t work either. Logan Morrison's grounder to first was too soft for Hosmer to come to the plate. Yelich scored, and the Marlins led 3-2.
Miami added two insurance runs in the ninth against Luke Hochevar with Solano and Morrison delivering one-out RBI singles.
Those runs looked huge when Hosmer lined a two-out double in the ninth against Miami closer Steve Cishek, who then walked Billy Butler.
After Justin Maxwell replaced Butler as a pinch-runner, Cishek ended the game by striking out Alex Gordon.
Cishek’s 26th save in 28 chances came after A.J. Ramos worked two scoreless innings. Dan Jennings, 2-3, got the victory for pitching a scoreless inning in relief of Miami starter Jacob Turner.
The Royals had won seven straight series since returning from the All-Star break before losing two of three to Miami. They were also on a 19-5 run prior to Tuesday’s loss.
“It’s always fun to play well against good teams that are fighting to make the playoffs,” Miami manager Mike Redmond said. “You can't sleep on the Fish, that's for sure.”
While Johnson’s error hurt, the Royals can also kick themselves for failing to capitalize on Turner’s inability to throw strikes — just 38 in his 89 pitches before exiting after a leadoff walk to Chris Getz in the sixth inning.
In came Jennings, who struck out Johnson before walking Jarrod Dyson. But David Lough popped out to short right, and Hosmer lined out to second.
Turner permitted two runs, but just one was earned, while yielding four hits and six walks. The Royals got nothing against the Miami bullpen until their threat against Cishek.
Now it’s on to Detroit, where a good weekend will wash away the sour taste of the last two games.
“We’re looking forward to playing a great team and handling business,” Dyson said. “We’re going to take care of business. We’re on a mission.”