Through the first week of the season, the Kansas City Royals were literally unbeatable. They started the season 7-0 and hit at least one home run in each game. Since that magical first week, the defending AL Champions now find themselves with a 5-6 record in their last 11 games. The Royals have homered in just two of their last nine games. They've lost consecutive division road series against the two worst teams in the AL Central.
Should Royals fans be concerned, or is it an inevitable fork in the winding road that is the baseball season?
At 1:10, the two teams took the field to finish the suspended game from Friday night. They entered play tied at two in the top of the ninth inning, and Chicago closer David Robertson (2-0) struck out the side using an arsenal of nasty pitches.
In the bottom half of the frame, Kelvin Herrera took over for Kansas City, and he began his day by striking out Emilio Bonifacio and retiring Adam Eaton with the aid of a diving catch from Alex Gordon. However, it would be all downhill from there, as the strike zone shrunk suddenly when Herrera walked Melky Cabrera on four pitches. He advanced into scoring position on a wild pitch, and after na intentional walk to Jose Abreu, Avisail Garcia ended the game with a walk-off bloop single to left. After being humiliated by three straight Herrera (0-1) fastballs on Thursday night, Garcia wasted little time attacking the fire-throwing reliever, and it wound up winning Chicago the game.
30 minutes later, play resumed as the two teams began the originally scheduled Sunday game. After exchanging zeroes for the first two innings, the Royals drew first blood when Omar Infante and Mike Moustakas both doubled in the third frame. Moustakas' sixth two-bagger of they ear scored Kansas City's first run; it was just another opposite field knock for the Royals' third baseman, who has been on a mission to prove that he can hit to all fields this year.
In the fourth, the Royals added two more runs when Alex Gordon lifted a towering two-run bomb into the right-field bullpen. It was only foreshadowing the terrific game that Gordon would go on to have, but after Kansas City inflated its lead to 3-0, it looked as if the Royals would cruise to another series victory.
Gordon's terrific day continued in the fourth inning when Royals starter Edinson Volquez got into trouble for the first time. After the first two White Sox hitters reached to begin the frame, Adam LaRoche flew out to right before Avisail Garcia lined sharply to Gordon in left. Melky Cabrera took off from second on contact, and Gordon raced over to snag the ball. He then fired an off-balanced throw across his body to somehow double Cabrera off of second base. Any other day, Gordon's play would have been good enough for defensive highlight of the game, but not on Sunday afternoon.
In the sixth inning, with Volquez still cruising along, Alex Gordon made a catch that was so incredible and terrific, it drew a standing ovation from some of the White Sox fans. Micah Johnson fouled a pitch off that looked like it would be well off into the left-field seats, but out of nowhere, Gordon leapt into the air and snagged the ball as it was headed three rows deep into the stands. For a person who's won soon-to-be five straight Gold Gloves, it was a career-defining play that will forever rank near the very top of all-time defensive plays by Royals players.
Volquez tipped his cap, and the Royals had all of the momentum. The air had been sucked out of U.S. Cellular Field. Not one fan thought that Kansas City wouldn't leave Chicago with a victory.
Then the rest of the inning happened.
After Volquez surrendered just one hit through the first 5.1 innings, five straight Chicago batters reached by way of a single, a walk, an error, and two more singles to close the score to 3-2. The key play of the inning was when Volquez induced what appeared to be an inning-ending double play, but Moustakas whiffed the soft ground ball entirely as it rolled into left field. Had he made the play, the shutout would have remained intact, and the inning would have ended. Instead, it was the second time this week that a potential inning-ending double play was fudged by Moustakas that eventually led to a big inning.
Instead, things only got worse. After Volquez struck out Alexi Ramirez for a much-needed second out, Conner Gillaspie stepped in with the bases loaded. Gillaspie, who's normally attrocious but has always been dynamite against Kansas City, lined a sharp single to right, plating two runs to give Chicago a 4-3 advantage. Volquez was yanked from the game before anybody could realize how quickly things had fallen apart, and Jason Frasor was unable to escape the inning without inflicting further damage. Tyler Flowers, another member of the "awful against most teams but hitting close to .500 against KC" club, blooped a single to plate the fifth run of the inning. The 5-3 score would hold through the last out.
The final line for Volquez (2-2) shows five runs, but only one earned, to go along with five hits and six strikeouts. For the first time this season, he walked multiple batters. He yielded just one hit through the first 5 1/3 innings before five of the last six hitters he faced reached base. As for Chicago's starter, John Danks (1-2) departed the sixth inning in a 3-0 hole, but the offensive eruption in the home half of the frame gave him his first win of the year. Like Volquez, he yielded five hits in his outing, which spanned six innings. He struck out eight batters, which is the most in a single game for Danks since May 7, 2014.
Franklin Morales and Ryan Madson worked perfect seventh and eighth innings to keep the game close. The Royals had chances to score off of the Chicago bullpen in each of the last two frames, but Alcides Escobar was stranded after a leadoff double in the eighth, and Omar Infante grounded out with the tying runs on base to end the game. David Robertson earned two saves in one day, and the White Sox won their first series against Kansas City in their last five chances.
The Royals, 12-6, suddenly find themselves on a losing skid. The offense is struggling to score runs, and it doesn't get any easier as they will next matchup with the reigning Cy Young winner in Corey Klubler. Kansas City will head to Cleveland for a three-game set with the Indians beginning tomorrow; Jason Vargas (1-1, 6.75 ERA) will oppose the struggling Klubler (0-2, 3.90).
It's a long season, and the Royals' status as a World Series contender certainly isn't changing after one bad day. However, it was definitely a disappointing way to end a series that Kansas City had waited nearly two full days to finish off.