With Johnny Cueto on the hill, the gameplan for the Royals was simple: get through six innings with a lead. It always is. On Friday night, it took an unusual and unfortunate turn from the norm.
Kansas City blew two separate three-run leads en route to dropping Friday night's game in Toronto, 7-6. Josh Donaldson's walk-off single was the deciding at bat, ruining "Cueto Day" for all Royals fans.
The Johnny Cueto era began with, like last night, an offensive outburst in the first inning. With two outs, Lorenzo Cain ripped a double, Eric Hosmer walked, and Kendrys Morales jolted an RBI double just fair inside the left-field line. Next was Ben Zobrist, who recorded his first base hit as a Royal when he plated two more runs, stretching Kansas City's lead to 3-0.
Cueto took the hill with a three-run cushion. He began his Royals tenure with two perfect innings, but coughed the lead back up when Josh Donaldson and Kevin Pillar recorded two-out RBI hits in the third and fourth innings. Despite struggling to throw a first-pitch strike, Cueto worked in and out of trouble in the next two frames to earn a quality start in his first start with Kansas City. He threw 111 pitches, yielding seven hits and three runs. He fanned seven and walked two.
Looking to give their new ace some additional run support, the Royals' offense finally struck in the sixth inning. Cain and Hosmer opened the frame with infield singles, but Donaldson airmailed the latter's chopper into foul territory. It practically rolled into the foul ground in right field, allowing Cain to score and Hosmer to advance to third. On the next pitch, he would score on a sac fly by Morales.
Additional insurance came in the seventh inning, as Alcides Escobar chopped a grounder up int eh middle to plate the team's sixth run of the game. With a three-run cushion and a seemingly rested Herrera-Davis-Holland trio, Kansas City appeared in position to cruise to the win. But when the bullpen doors opened, it was Ryan Madson, not Kelvin Herrera that trotted on in relief of Cueto.
Madson wasted little time in erasing any chance Cueto had at winning his Royals debut. He allowed hits to all four hitters he faced. Two of them scored to cut Kansas City's lead to 6-5. Herrera was summoned on with runners on the corners and none out, walked Edwin Encarnacion to load the bases, and induced a double play that allowed the tying run to score. He would strand the go-ahead run on third, but not before the game was tied and Kansas City's bullpen was credited with a blown save.
In his last two appearances against the Toronto Blue Jays, Ryan Madson has faced nine batters. He has allowed eight hits and seven runs. He has recorded just one out in that span. If you're a fan of meaningless statistics, that would project to an ERA of 136.3 (which is only that low because two of the four runs from the July 12 game were unearned) and a WHIP of 24.00.
So yeah, how about no more Ryan Madson against Toronto, ever again?
The teams exchanged zeroes throughout the eighth and ninth innings, sending the game into extras. Herrera threw two innings in a regular-season contest for the first time in over a year. Luke Hochevar blew through the heart of the Toronto order on six pitches in the ninth. When he was called on for the ninth, it became clear why Yost signaled for Madson to pitch the seventh frame. For one reason of the other, Wade Davis was unavailable for Friday's game, despite not having pitched since Tuesday.
Hochevar continued to roll into the 10th, working around a one-out single to keep the Toronto bats at bay. In the 11th, Franklin Morales allowed a one-out single to Troy Tulowitzki, and a balk advanced him to second base. Josh Donaldson then walloped a 3-2 pitch into center field, winning the game.
Kansas City's last 13 hitters were retired by a Blue Jays bullpen that boasts one of the worst ERAS in the American League. Former Royal and 2014 AL Champion ring recipient Liam Hendricks (3-0) earned the win. Morales (3-1) took his first loss of the season.
Suddenly, the Royals (61-41) find themselves in their first three-game losing skid since dropping four straight June 29-July 2. Fortunately, they didn't lose any ground in the American League Central, as the Twins, Tigers, and White Sox all lost as well.
Being subjective here for a second, Angel Hernandez is the worst official in professional sports, so it shouldn't come as a surprise, but who is he to call a balk in that situation? Nothing in Morales' delivery was abnormal than any lefty's move to first base. A better question could be why is Morales worrying about the runner on first base when one of the best hitters in the American League is at the plate? And why pitch to Josh Donaldson with an open base anyway?
Tomorrow, Kansas City will look to pick up its first win north of the border in their last five attempts when Yordano Ventura (5-7, 4.86 ERA) opposes Mark Buehrle (11-5, 3.29). Less than one month ago, the southpaw veteran held the Royals to two runs over seven sharp frames, earning the victory. Ventura has made just one career start against the Blue Jays, throwing five shutout frames last April 30 in an eventual 4-2 win.