Before it all unraveled on Saturday night — before it all came apart in a 11-4 loss here at AT&T Park — the Royals once led 4-1 after a pop-gun, piecemeal rally of infield singles and timely hitting.
The Royals were legging out infield singles and grinding out at-bats and circling the bases. Starting pitcher Jason Vargas was batting twice in the third inning. The dugout along the first-base line here was full of smiles and laughter and shouting.
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In a stretch of seven batters against Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong, the Royals attacked with a one-out single to center, a fielder’s choice, a stolen base where the throw caromed off Alex Gordon’s arm, two infield singles and some sloppy defense from the Giants.
The biggest cut came from the bat of second baseman Omar Infante, who continued his postseason surge with a two-run single with two outs and the bases loaded. This was the personification of a Royals rally. Put the ball in play. Run like (heck). Put the ball in play again.
When Eric Hosmer dribbled a ball passed Vogelsong, the Royals had erased a 1-0 deficit. When Infante singled up the middle, the Royals led 3-1. Two batters later — after a walk and another bloop from Salvador Perez — the lead had stretched to 4-1 in the top of the third.
“We took advantage of some mistakes right there,” Hosmer said. “And unfortunately, it didn’t work out for us. We couldn’t hold the lead.”
Nine batters into the top of the third, the hardest hit ball had come off the bat of Vargas, who had begun the inning by lining out to Giants center fielder Gregor Blanco. Now Vogelsong was hitting the showers after just 22/3 innings, and for a moment, the Royals were just 21 outs from pushing their series lead to 3-1.
The feeling wouldn’t last.
“We still had a lot of game to play,” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for the Giants. I don’t ever feel good even with the lead until we make the last out.”
The Royals’ offense would not stir again. Hosmer led off the fifth with a double to right off Giants reliever Yusmeiro Petit. Center fielder Jarrod Dyson shot a single into right with nobody out in the sixth. Each time, the Royals came away with nothing.
Moments later, the floodgates would open, and the Giants would take control.
But in a silent clubhouse after the loss, the Royals desired to look forward, to forget the opportunity that vanished along with the three-run lead.
“It was their night tonight,” Hosmer said. “The good thing is, it’s a fresh start.”
It’s a three-game series now, and the final two games are slated for Kauffman Stadium.
“If we win tomorrow,” Hosmer said, “we have the ability to go home and basically win one of two and we’re world champions. So it’s starts with tomorrow. Tomorrow will set the tone.”