Picking up where they left off in the weeks heading into the All-Star Break, the Royals played a hybrid form of somnambulic and absent-minded baseball en route to a 5 - 4 loss at Fenway Park.
As only a team managed by Ned Yost could do, the Royals squandered a 4 - 1 lead in the sixth inning, thanks to a pair of two-run dong hangings allowed by James Shields and Scott Downs. Shields, who passed the 80-pitch mark just before the end of the fourth inning, was clearly slipping as he worked towards his 112th pitch in a messy sixth frame. After a Daniel Nava single to left, Medium Game James grooved an 85-MPH cutter that Xander Bogaerts ripped to straightaway centerfield.
As Bogaerts's dong hanging was on Shields's 104th pitch, it would stand to reason that maybe Yost should have gone to the pen.
He did not.
Stephen Drew followed with a ground rule double that mystifyingly made it past Lorenzo Cain when it seemed to be entirely within his range. James Shields stayed in for another batter, David Ross--who he struck out on his 112th pitch--before being lifted with Jackie Bradley, Jr. in the on-deck circle. Yosted stepped onto the dirt, and with lefty Scott Downs and righty Kelvin Herrera warming up and a fully rested bullpen, he gestured for the southpaw. John Farrell quickly countered with lefty(-and-Royal)-destroyer Jonny Gomes, who predictably crushed the second Sox hung dong of the inning. Rather than go with the best pitcher--especially when Farrell's counter was so obviously going to be to pinch-hit Gomes for the absentee bat of Bradley--or rather than pull his starter when it was perfectly clear that he needed to come out of the game, Ned Yost did precisely what got him run out of Milwaukee in the heat of a pennant race.
Of course, the Royals played baseball in other innings, and that baseball was not pretty. In addition to the predictable dong hangings and the ground rule double that should have been a relatively routine out on the warning track, Alcides Escobar had a throwing error to kick off the second inning. That baserunner (Bogaerts) eventually came around to score the first Boston run. Alex Gordon had a highlight reel catch get jarred loose from his glove on impact with the ground that ended up going for a single. Even when they were converting outs, it looked like it was only by the grace of God.
This makes no mention of the fact that Eric Hosmer was thrown out trying to steal second and almost ran his way into another out on the basepaths. It also fails to factor in the Royals squandering two runners in scoring position in the final two innings--the most egregious being when Billy Butler advanced Alex Gordon to third base on a line-out for the first out of the eighth inning, only to have Mike Moustakas meekly dribble a grounder to Dustin Pedroia well onto the infield grass for the first out of the inning. Alcides Escobar's grounder to short let Junichi Tazawa out of the inning unscathed, and the Royals' modest two-out threat in the ninth proved similarly impotent.
The Royals attack was as impatient and punchless as always, earning no walks and managing just three spread out extra base hits, only one of which came with a runner on base. While one would assume that would lead to a run scored, we all know that assuming things just makes an ass out of you and me. Eric Hosmer's double was a ground rule double up the first base line thanks to an overzealous (and nice) play by the ball girl, who then dropped the ball in horror as she realized what she had done. Both runners scored, so it was immaterial, but it was a microcosm of what Royals baseball really is.
To be fair to the heart of the order, Omar Infante, Hosmer, Salvador Perez, and Gordon combined to go 10-for-18 with three doubles and nearly all of the run production. Unfortunately, the only other Royals to get on base were Butler and Norichika Aoki.
The team that hung dong tonight won. The team that walked tonight won. The team that worked counts tonight won. The team that looked bad even when things were going well lost.