Royals rally, fall short in heartbreaker

This one hurt. - David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

It turns out solo home runs do hurt. Same for questionable pinch hitting tactics.

So close. So damn close.

The Royals bats struggled all night against Ubaldo Jimenez. When Cleveland finally went to the bullpen, good things started to happen. The Alcides Escobar double to lead off the eighth was crushed. Probably the hardest ball he's hit since April. Alex Gordon follows that up with bomb and the Royals pull within a single run.

Then the ninth inning happened. Nervous Ned pushed all the buttons. Let's recap.

-- Salvador Perez reached for a slider and pulled it between third and short for a leadoff single.

-- Perez is lifted for Chris Getz
ANXIETY LEVEL: ELEVATED

Getz isn't a smart baseball player. He just isn't. Scrappy? Yes. Gritty? Damn straight. Smart? No. I'm worried he will either get picked off or caught stealing.

-- Mike Moustakas walks on four pitches. Four fastballs from Chris Perez and they weren't close.
ANXIETY LEVEL: MODERATE

Good plate appearance. I was worried when the count went to 2-0 that Moustakas was ripe for a pop out. Now the tying run is at second base. Nobody out. We all know what Yost is going to do next.

-- Pedro Ciriaco pinch runs for Moustakas.

-- David Lough pinch hits for Lorenzo Cain.
ANXIETY LEVEL: SACRIFICED

Lough squares on the first pitch and sacrifices, advancing Getz to third and Ciriaco to second. I suppose I can live with the sacrifice here. It makes sense to advance the go ahead run to scoring position. A single gives you the lead and Greg Holland is lurking in the bullpen. I'll take those odds. A tie game and Holland won't appear. It's managing by the book. Which Nervous Ned does oh so well.

The bunt is OK, except...

-- Carlos Pena pinch hits for Jarrod Dyson and strikes out.
ANXIETY LEVEL: EXTREME TO THE POINT OF MAXED OUT

Just an awful plate appearance. Just an awful move. You have a runner on third with less than two out. You need to make contact. And you turn to Carlos Pena. Carlos Pena who strikes out nearly 30 percent of the time. Maybe 2007 Pena hits a home run. Except all you need is a single. A stinking single.

Not only did Pena strikeout, HE DIDN'T SWING THE FREAKING BAT.

Sorry. My anxiety level is extreme.

Seriously, Pena is the last guy I'd put up there in that situation. But I'm not a major league manager. What do I know?

-- George Kottaras pinch hits for Alcides Escobar and walks.
ANXIETY LEVEL: HOPEFUL

The Kottaras plate appearance was the exact opposite of the Pena plate appearance. Kottaras was screwed on the first two strike calls, took a couple balls, fouled off four pitches and finally drew the base on balls to load the bases.

-- Alex Gordon pops out to end the game.
ANXIETY LEVEL: NON EXISTENT. JUST DEPRESSED.

The Pena plate appearance was just brutal. I have no clue what Yost was thinking in that situation. Although with every September contest, it becomes easier to understand why Milwaukee kicked him to the curb in the thick of a pennant race. The flawed decision making process becomes magnified when the games gain importance.

About the start of the game: Last winter when the Royals acquired Ervin Santana, my first thought was, "Oh my god, what about the home runs?" It was a genuine reaction given Santana allowed a league-high 39 home runs in 2012 which was good for a 1.97 HR/9 rate. Santana struggled a bit with the long ball early in the season, but overall has trimmed his home run rate to an acceptable 1.08 HR/9 entering his start on Monday in Cleveland.

Then he gave up three solo home runs.

It was Santana's fifth start of 2013 where he gave up three or more home runs. It's never a good thing when a start like that happens. It especially sucks when you're on the fringes of the Wild Card race, fighting to stay relevant.

Fortunately, a loss Monday doesn't sink the Royals postseason hopes. The odds have been long all year. They're still long. But as I mentioned earlier, the Royals desperately need to win the next two against Cleveland and hope the Yankees and Orioles split their series.

Still, this game was there for the Royals to take. That they didn't hurts like a drop kick to the groin.

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