The Pirates and Royals engaged in quite the lengthy hit-fest tonight. Royals pitchers combined to strike out 13 Pittsburgh batters and walked just one while Royals hitters managed 14 hits, two hung dongs, and stole four bases en route to plating seven runs. Sadly, Royals pitchers bore the brunt of a 17-hit attack from the Pirates offense, and ended up on the bad end of a 10 - 7 game.
After being spotted a 1 - 0 lead in the bottom of the first, Yordano Ventura spent the top of the second pounding the middle of the strike zone. As one could reasonably surmise, this plan of action did not work. The Pirates rang up six straight hits to start the second, and before Ventura and the Royals could walk back into the dugout, the Pirates held a 4 - 1 lead.
The Royals threatened to slash into that lead in the next half inning, but A.J. Burnett escaped a no-out, runners at second and third situation and consecutive one- and two-out bases loaded jams without ceding a run.
Ventura yielded another run in the fourth, running the Royals' deficit to 5 - 1. It took Ventura 30 pitches to get out of the second and 28 to get out of the third, so Ventura proved unable to go deep into the game.
The Royals got a run back in the home half of the fourth, the rally starting with an Alex Rios double. Jarrod Dyson reached on an infield single that Neil Walker was unable to pick from his glove in time to make the throw to first. Immediately looking to advance into scoring position, Dyson got caught off the bag and engaged the Pirates' infielders in a run-down, at which point Rios broke for home. Rios beat the throw home safely, Dyson slid back into first safely, and then stole second on the next pitch anyway. Rios's steal of home was the Royals' first since Alcides Escobar did so in 2013. Escobar stranded Dyson, but the Royals narrowed the deficit to three runs.
Of course, this doesn't tell the whole story of Ventura's start. When Ventura missed, he missed in the strike zone. What Pirate batsmen were unable to do was crush the ball. They hit a few to the warning track, and a Travis Ishikawa double nearly left the park, but other than that, the Pirates threw a singles parade. Ventura also happened to strike out seven and walked just one. On balls in play, the Pirates went 10-for-15 against the flame-throwing righty.
The lead-off double that Ventura yielded in the fifth came around to score after Kris Medlen gave up an oppo-dong to Travis Ishikawa--who drove in four runs--after retiring the first two batters he faced with Ks in his first appearance for the Royals. Ventura's final line was 4+ IP, 10 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 1 BB, and 7 K. It was his first appearance in 17 days. Some of his struggles may have been rust-related, and it's hard to get unluckier than a .667 BABIP in a game, but this is not the start that Ventura needed within days of it being implied that he may be pitching for his spot in the rotation with Vargas coming off the disabled list tomorrow.
With Medlen's activation and the fact that he got stretched out in his minor-league rehab assignment, the former Braves' star pitcher looked set to stay in until he forced his way out of the game.
With two down in the bottom of the fifth, Kendrys Morales hung a two-run foul-pole dong to get two runs back for the Royals, re-establishing the balance of the three-run deficit that Medlen entered the game protecting.
With the exception of the Ishikawa opposite field shot that landed just into the bullpen in right, Medlen looked very good early. Pirate batsmen looked routinely baffled as Medlen dance around the edge of the strike zone with fearlessness and precision. The Ishikawa oppo-shot was a couple inches off the plate, so it was not as though he left a breaking ball up in the strike zone. He struck out two in the fourth, one looking. He struck out two in a one-two-three fifth.
After the Royals stranded a runner in the bottom of the sixth, Starling Marte singled to center, stole second, advanced to third on a Jung-Ho Kang fly ball, and scored on a Pedro Alvarez dribbler up the line that seemed likely to roll foul before Hosmer fielded the ball cleanly, much to Medlen's dismay.
Mike Moustakas led off the bottom of the seventh with a dong hung rather majestically into the seats in right field. Lorenzo Cain followed that with a single, ending A.J. Burnett's night with an ERA pumped up to 2.37 from the 2.11 mark he enjoyed before the game. Antonio Bastardo came in to face Eric Hosmer with an 8 - 5 lead and a runner at first. Hosmer drilled the southpaw's second offering down the line into the right field corner, reaching third and driving in the sixth Royal run of the night, and raising Burnett's ERA up to 2.44. Morales poked a routine grounder to short, plating Hosmer and taking the American League lead in RBIs with the sacrifice.
With one down in the seventh, the Royals trailed by just a run, 8 - 7.
With Jared Hughes in to face the right-handed Salvador Perez, Perez chopped a single through the left side of the infield, but Omar Infante followed with a grounder to start a 6-3 double-play, killing the rally and leaving the Royals down a run with just two frames to try to steal the game from the visiting Pirates.
After Travis Ishikawa--who at this point seemed to be possessed by Satan, who specifically had it out for the Royals--doubled to lead off the eighth, Sean Rodriguez tried to bunt Ishikawa over to third on three straight strikes, finally bunting back to Medlen, who rifled the throw to Moustakas at third, erasing the runner in scoring position. After running a full count against Gregory Polanco, Polanco poked Medlen's 52nd pitch of the night into shallow left field. Dyson dived and nearly made the catch, which would have been a sure double play as Rodriguez had already rounded second and was on his way to third, but Dyson was unable to snatch the flare single from the air, just managing to keep the ball in front of him and prevent the run from coming across the plate for at least an at-bat.
Alex Rios meandering to a ball in the corner on Luke Hochevar's first proffered pitch--that a leaping Eric Hosmer nearly came down with--meant that both Polanco and Rodriguez would come around to score on Neil Walker's triple (the throw came home). Hochevar struck out Andrew McCutchen looking for the second out, and Starling Marte grounded out to short to end the inning, but not before the Pirates ran the score to 10 - 7.
Alex Rios and Jarrod Dyson grounded out and struck out, respectively, to start the eighth, but Escobar singled after working a 3-2 count against lefty Tony Watson. Moustakas followed with his second hit-by-pitch of the night, putting runners at first and second with the red-hot Lorenzo Cain coming up to the plate. Cain just missed crushing a 97-MPH fastball middle-in sending it to left but into Starling Marte's mitt, leaving two runners aboard and heading to the ninth.
Hochevar came back out for the ninth and sent down Jung-Ho Kang before allowing consecutive singles to Pedro Alvarez and Chris Stewart. Hochevar felled the Ishikawa Beast with a strike out swinging, and Dyson ended the ninth with a leaping grab in left, robbing Sean Rodriguez of a likely double and a pair of RBIs.
Facing Pirates' closer Mark Melancon, who had successfully converted his past 27 save opportunities, the Royals were down to Eric Hosmer, Kendrys Morales, and Salvador Perez to put three runs on the board and keep Kansas City's chances for the win alive. Hosmer worked a seven-pitch walk to kick off the bottom of the ninth. Melancon got ahead of Morales 0-2 before working the count full. Of course, the cutter-loving Melancon--which can be read in more than one way should one feel so moved--induced a double-play ground ball to erase the runner, and the Royals hopes were winnowed down to one out with Perez and the bottom third of the lineup coming up behind him. Perez lunged at a 2-2 offering low and away to end the night.
Defense-independent pitching stats liked Ventura's appearance tonight. Ventura had a 0.31 FIP and 1.35 xFIP tonight. That stood in stark contrast to the 13.50 ERA he had in his four innings. Medlen gave up four hits and four runs but also struck out four and walked none in his 3.1 IP. Just as he screwed over Ventura by allowing his inherited runner to score, Hochevar let Medlen's two passed-on runners score, and those were two runners who were nearly erased by a could-have-been diving catch..
Royals pitching was not great tonight, but they were not helped much by the defense tonight, who saw a number of close plays end up going for hits. Perhaps this was bad luck. Perhaps this correlated with the fact that this was the Royals' fifth game in four days. These things happen in baseball, and tonight was not the Royals' night, especially after squandering such a ripe scoring opportunity in the second inning.