The average life expectancy of a typical praying mantis — Mantis religiosa if you prefer specificity — is four to six months. The insect will often die sooner, depending on its size, surroundings and good fortune.
But a lucky one, scientists say, can often survive for a year.
And then there is Rally Mantis, the spindly, green-legged creature that appeared in the Royals’ dugout on Saturday, found a home on the hat of outfielder Billy Burns and begat two victories before a day off on Monday. In the hours after a victory over the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, an anonymous Royals player moved the mantis to a safe zone inside the team’s clubhouse, hoping to capture its luck and charm for the rest of the homestand.
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It was the kind of story made for August of a baseball season, the dog-day stretches where all that remains is hope. It was the kind of story with a short life expectancy.
On a humid Tuesday night at Kauffman Stadium, the myth of Rally Mantis was squashed in a 7-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox. In specific, the mantis hype was crushed by a three-run homer from Chicago’s Todd Frazier off reliever Kelvin Herrera in the top of the 10th inning.
The Royals had knotted the score at 4-4 in the bottom of the ninth inning. The White Sox had runners at second and third with Frazier at the plate. With first base open, the Royals still liked the idea of Herrera attacking Frazier with hard sinkers.
“We definitely thought about (walking Frazier),” Royals manager Ned Yost said. “I just didn’t mind the matchup, the way Kel is throwing the ball. I just didn’t mind that matchup.”
Moments later, Herrera left a fastball over the plate. Frazier roped it into the seats in left field, giving the White Sox a 7-4 lead.
The loss dropped the Royals to 53-59 on the season, back into sole possession of fourth place in the American League Central.
“We feel like if I execute the sinker in, he’d kind of make bad contact or a swing and a miss,” Herrera said. “That was what I feel like.”
The Royals would score another run in the 10th off the Chicago bullpen. But it was simply a footnote as Kansas City let a winnable game slip away against a division rival. The Royals’ offense had scored three early runs against White Sox ace Chris Sale. But starter Edinson Volquez allowed four runs in six innings, including three in the fifth, a number that ultimately shifted the course of the game.
“I think I made a lot of bad pitches in that inning,” Volquez said. “All my breaking balls were hanging, so they put a good swing on the ball. I got in trouble myself. It was 3-1. It should be a tie game. So I almost lost the game that inning. It’s my fault.”
If there were slim hopes that a series victory over Toronto could spur an August run, those feelings lasted just two days. The Royals will face the White Sox twice more this week before heading out on a road trip to Minnesota and Detroit. But for the moment, this loss will sting.
Leading 3-1 entering the fifth, Volquez recorded two outs before allowing three runs in the inning. It was, in some respects, death by the single. In the span of five batters, Volquez allowed five hits, all of them singles. The tie-breaking RBI belonged to designated hitter Justin Morneau, who deposited a single into center. When the dust settled, the White Sox led 4-3, and the Royals were in a hole against Sale.
“His whole game hinged on one-third of an inning,” Yost said of Volquez. “He just couldn’t contain it.”
On Tuesday afternoon, as the mantis returned to the Royals’ dugout, Yost had unveiled a new-look lineup, inserting center fielder Paulo Orlando into the leadoff spot and moving shortstop Alcides Escobar into the eight-hole. The gambit paid dividends in the bottom of the first. Orlando led off with a double to deep left and scored on a single from third baseman Cheslor Cuthbert. In a matter of moments, the Royals had taken a 1-0 lead against Sale.
The White Sox drew even with a run against Volquez in the top of the third. But the Royals would continue their early barrage against Sale, the lanky left-hander who started the All-Star Game for the American League in July.
In his career, Sale had posted an 8-9 record with a 3.04 ERA against the Royals. On Tuesday, the Kansas City lineup scratched across seven hits in the first three innings and hit Sale for three runs. Eric Hosmer notched the key hit, lacing a two-run single to left field. He scored Cuthbert and Lorenzo Cain, who had opened the rally with a single and double, respectively.
For a moment, it appeared as if the Royals might be poised to light up the scoreboard with crooked numbers. But Sale would settle down, retiring 11 straight before issuing a two-out walk to Raul A. Mondesi in the bottom of the seventh. By the end, Sale had allowed three runs over seven innings while throwing 115 pitches.
“It’s a nice number,” Yost said. “But you still have to be able to tack on. We finally did tying it in the ninth — but not enough.”
The Royals would tie the score in the ninth inning on a clutch single from Escobar. The White Sox would find an extra gear in the 10th. Another series against a division rival opened with a loss.