The indignities never ceased. At last, it came down to this: A gassed reliever, two days removed from the disabled list and one day removed from a 31-pitch outing, trying to hold a tenuous Royals advantage.
Tim Collins faltered in the final moments of a stinging, 6-5 defeat in 12 innings to San Diego on Monday night, but he was far from the only culprit. He was merely the last one. Padres outfielder Will Venable drove a hit into right field that plated a pair of runners to complete the walkoff defeat.
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“This is definitely one of the tougher losses of the season,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said, an understatement on a night when the Royals, 14-17, blew a pair of saves and stranded a small army (11 men) on the bases.
“Any time you lose a ball game it hurts,” manager Ned Yost said. “Especially when you’re struggling a little bit.”
The phrase “a little bit’ is generous. The Royals have now lost five in a row. Their latest defeat deepened the malaise wrought after a harrowing weekend at Kauffman Stadium.
The result on Monday wrenched their nerves. Their starter surrendered a three-run lead. Their closer blew his first save of the season. The lineup amassed 11 hits against soft-tossing Padres starter Eric Stults but only plated three runs. They put the go-ahead run at third in the 11th, and came up empty. They took the lead on an RBI single by Mike Moustakas in the 12th and gave it right back.
Yordano Ventura set a career-high with 10 strikeouts across six mostly spotless frames. He also collected the first hit of his career to spark a fifth-inning rally. But he blew a three-run lead when Yasmani Grandal boomed a game-tying home run in the sixth.
Greg Holland made one mistake, a belt-high, 95-mph fastball. Padres second baseman Jedd Gyorko sent the heater screaming into the left-field seats to tie the game in the ninth. His drive erased the good cheer wrought by Hosmer’s go-ahead, seventh-inning homer, his first of the season.
“Losing sucks, either way,” Holland said. “To get a good start out of Ace, and the big home run by Hos, it’s unfortunate, obviously.”
And then there was Collins. In the aftermath, he looked miserable. He cast his eyes downward. His tone was matter-of-fact.
“It’s not the way you want it to go,” he said.
Yost turned to Collins out of necessity. Louis Coleman started the 12th but yielded a leadoff single. It was Coleman’s second inning of work, and a spate of lefties loomed in San Diego’s lineup. In came Collins. Facing Yonder Alonso, he allowed a double that blooped in front of a diving Alex Gordon in left.
From there, Collins challenged Venable with a 93-mph fastball. Venable won the duel. “Just got a fastball up on him,” Yost said.
The game left the team taxed and frustrated. The Royals arrived in San Diego on their worst losing skid of the season. Detroit bulldozed them over the weekend at Kauffman Stadium. The outcome on Sunday provoked post-game frustration, but the tension dissipated by the time the team gathered at Petco Park on Monday.
“Sometimes you’re going to get your teeth kicked in in a weekend series,” James Shields said, with a shrug.
To arrest their decline, the team turned to Ventura. At times in his rookie season he has looked unsettled, distracted by runners on base and prone to youthful indiscretions. At other times, he has looked on the verge of dominance. He struck out seven Astros for his first big-league win; he logged eight scoreless frames against Baltimore.
On Monday the setting was ideal for him. His opponents were far less fierce than the Tigers. If the Royals lineup has been disappointing, the Padres have been dreadful. San Diego entered Monday’s game ranked last in the majors in runs and last in on-base plus slugging percentage.
Ventura toyed with his hosts for five innings. He wracked up strikeouts, zipping his fastball for strikes and finishing at-bats with offspeed pitches.
But he faltered in the sixth. With two on and one out, Grandal tipped a 1-2 changeup. Catcher Salvador Perez stabbed at the ball with his glove but could not corral it. Grandal crushed Ventura’s next pitch to tie the game. Ventura wanted the pitch in the dirt. Instead, it ended up in right-field the seats.
“It’s one pitch that he didn’t execute,” said Jeremy Guthrie, who translated for Ventura. “But he threw good pitches all night, and was very pleased with that.”
The visit to a National League park cost the Royals their hottest hitter. Maligned for his horrific April, Butler roared into May, batting .381 on the most recent homestand with a 1.010 on-base plus slugging percentage. But Yost relegated him to the bench and stuck with Hosmer at first base.
The lack of power persists as problematic. The second inning on Monday laid the problem bare. The Royals raked four hits off Stults. They scored just one run.
The offensive load fell on Ventura’s shoulders. The pitching staff ordered bats at the start of spring training. Unsure if he would make the club, Ventura never placed an order. For Monday he borrowed one of James Shields’ bats, a Marucci model designed for Robinson Cano.
In his second at-bat, Ventura cracked an 85-mph fastball into left. Aoki followed with a single of his own, and Hosmer threaded another base hit up the middle to score both runners.
The lead was in place. They couldn’t hold it. Just like they couldn’t hold a lead after Hosmer’s homer, or after Moustakas’ late-game knock.
“Things aren’t going our way right now,” Hosmer said. “But we’ve got to stick with it. And we’re confident things are going to change.”