In the precious seconds that cost the Royals on Sunday afternoon, the critical moments of a 4-3 defeat to Minnesota, Wade Davis committed two mistakes. One was physical. The other was mental.
A misplaced throw cost the Royals (4-7) the lead. A momentary lapse cost them the game. He looked stoic but still seething inside the Royals clubhouse as they packed for three games in Houston.
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“That’s extremely frustrating,” Davis said. “We had the win right there staring us in the face. It just didn’t happen for me.”
Protecting a one-run lead in the eighth, Davis induced a groundball back to the mound off the bat of backup outfielder Chris Herrmann. Davis wheeled to throw home, potentially able to start an inning-ending double play, but found the ball stuck in his palm. His throw was off target, and a run scored.
What followed next, Davis admitted afterward, was “unacceptable.” He yelled into his glove, and paused for a moment in the middle of the diamond. As he idled, Twins second baseman Brian Dozier took advantage and raced him. He beat the tag at the plate.
“I got frustrated,” Davis said. “And I made a mental mistake by not getting there.”
Thus, the Royals suffered a sweep at the hands of their division rivals, thanks to a variety of factors. In the first two games, their starting pitchers imploded. The offense was mostly silent throughout. On Sunday, the bullpen contributed to the frustration.
Just last week, the Royals won a series against Tampa Bay, a club widely considered one of the American League’s best. Then they caught a beating here at Target Field. The Twins outscored the Royals, 17-2, in the first two games. But Sunday offered a more painful method of defeat.
“Every time we come here to Minnesota, we know it’s a tough game with these guys,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “But we shouldn’t be getting swept like this. We’ve just got to put a stop to it. Better early than late.”
The series in Houston begins Tuesday. Hosmer smiled when he said Monday’s day off came at an opportune time. The bitterness of this weekend could linger. Once again, they wasted another quality start from Jason Vargas, who allowed two runs across seven innings.
The afternoon illuminated the two chief concerns of the club during the season’s first fortnight: The offense and the bullpen. Save for an eighth-inning rally, a three-run burst punctuated by Hosmer’s go-ahead, RBI double, the bats were quiet against middling starter Kevin Correia.
“We’ve still got to come out swinging a little better than that,” Hosmer said.
Yet they managed to enter the bottom of the eighth with the lead. Here is where things began to go awry. During the top of the frame, as the Royals knocked around Correia and reliever Brian Duensing, Aaron Crow was warming up. Davis was not.
Manager Ned Yost chose Crow to start the inning. His reasoning was two-fold, one a short-term consideration and the other a long-term reasoning. Crow was ready to pitch, and Yost is still trying to determine the proper bullpen roles for his relief corps.
“I’m trying to find somebody to tandem [with Davis in] in the eighth inning,” Yost said. “And Aaron is one of those candidates that I think can handle the eighth inning.”
Crow failed his test on Sunday. He opened with a walk to No. 9 hitter Pedro Florimon. Next he walked Dozier. “The biggest thing is you can’t come in and get behind in the count,” Crow said, after he had done exactly that.
“It’s frustrating,” Yost said. “But I still felt like we could cover it.”
He turned to Davis, who struck out Joe Mauer, then walked third baseman Trevor Plouffe. The bases were loaded. The moment of reckoning, when Herrmann tapped a grounder back to the mound, was at hand.
“It’s one of those things you don’t anticipate,” Vargas said. “The momentum is going your way. That’s how quick the game can shift. You definitely don’t want to get swept by a division team.”