As if suddenly allergic to scoring runs, the Royals faced their second-straight left-handed Chicago starter and for the second straight night managed little in the way of offense while falling behind the Pail Hoes early and with virtually no substantive threats posed to narrow the gap.
Danny Duffy cruised through the first three innings, requiring an un-Duffy-like 41 pitches to complete the first three frames. Early on, he pounded the strike zone, striking out three in the first three innings while walking one and allowing two early singles.
The Royals first semblance of a rally happened in the bottom of the second, as Royals put runners on the corners with no outs behind a Kendrys Morales double and an Alex Gordon single that virtually any other Royal barring Salvador Perez might have scored on, even on Avisail Garcia's arm. Instead? Runners on the corners with nobody out.
Cheslor Cuthbert--representing the last best hope before Ned Yost's expanded-roster lineup descended into its seven-through-one black hole from which no runs could escape--punched a ground ball to the right side of the infield where Jose Abreu was drawn in while holding the runner.
Not needing to advance on the play until certain that the ball left the infield with Gordon standing two bases away, Kendrys Morales broke for home and was caught too far off the bag as Jose Abreu came home with the throw. Morales retreated nearly all the way to third base before the relay throw was made to the third baseman Tyler Saladino. Ten feet down the line, Morales was tagged out easily, and Gordon was left at second without a realistic opportunity to advance to third during the rundown presenting itself.
Paulo Orlando flew out to deep right, [rather than plating Kendrys Morales on the could-have-been sac fly] allowing Gordon to tag up and advance to third, putting runners back at the corners with two outs for Omar Infante. Infante, who had worked the count full against Jose Quintana, started to offer at a breaking ball in the dirt and was called out swinging by the home plate umpire Vic Carapazza. Infante had started toward first, feeling he held up in time, and replay showed it was close, but the fact that he even began to offer at such a clear ball should be justifiable cause for being called out swinging, especially when you are Omar Infante and have lived within spitting distance of the Mendoza Line all season.
In the third, the Royals squandered a one-out double from Alcides Escobar, which is unfortunate because any production from a player mired in an such abysmal slump (since July 21 he had hit .197/.230/.230 over 191 plate appearances as the lead-off man heading into action tonight) would ideally lead to a run.
Duffy kicked off the fourth inning by walking Jose Abreu on four pitches. After throwing two more balls, Garcia hit a ball back up the middle that caromed off Duffy and trickled off to the gap between first and second, where Infante fielded the ball but without an opportunity to record an out on the play. Trayce Thompson gave a Duffy four-seamer a ride, but Alex Gordon fielded the ball near the warning track in left for the first out of the inning. Then Alexei Ramirez yanked an 1-2 curveball that did not curve into the stands in left for a demoralizing dong hanging. Duffy eventually escaped the inning, needing 22 pitches to accomplish the feat, but the Pale Hoes led 3 - 0 heading to the home half of the fourth.
Much like the inning before, the Royals failed to capitalize on a one-out double, this time from dreamboat Alex Gordon. Cheslor Cuthbert grounded out, and Paulo Orlando flew out to Garcia, leaving the Royals down three with five innings to go.
Duffy worked a quick 12-pitch top of the fifth, but Ned Yost's punchless lineup reached the unholy triumvirate of Omar Infante, Drew Butera, and Alcides Escobar. Shockingly, none of these men reached base in the fifth, though fans of three-pitch at-bats had much to cheer for in this frame as Jose Quintana took a neat nine pitches (three apiece!) to complete his bottom of the fifth.
Abreu roped a first-pitch liner to lead off the sixth; but two pitches later, Duffy found himself two outs into the sixth as Garcia grounded into a double play. Facing Trayce Thompson, who scorched a fly ball for an out in their previous meeting, Duffy got him to ground harmlessly to third on his sixth pitch of the inning, preserving the three-run deficit with an efficiency that would make Kris Medlen blush.
After Cain concluded a nine-pitch at-bat with a broken-bat ground-out to first, Eric Hosmer flew out weakly to left for two outs threatening no damage. Kendrys Morales fought off a 1-2 four-seamer and sent it screaming on a line into the gap in right-center for a two-out double. Unfortunately, Alex Gordon struck out swinging on a strike in the corner up and away, ending yet another Royal scoring threat, marking the ninth time a Royal came up with a runner in scoring position but failed to drive in the run.
Facing the man who put the Pail Hoes' three runs on the board the last time they faced each other, Duffy battled through a six-pitch at-bat before finally striking out Alexei Ramirez for the first out of the seventh. That out made this outing only the second time in the past nine starts that Duffy went deeper than six innings.
On the very next batter faced, Duffy offered up a 2-0 fastball to Geovany Soto, who was looking fastball all the way and ripped the ball into the Royals' bullpen in left field. 4 - 0 Pale Hoes. Tyler Saladino followed with a bloop single to shallow center that Lorenzo Cain nearly got to but caught on a bounce. With Duffy paying Saladino little heed, Saladino took second with ease, eliminating the double play. Duffy reared back and struck out Gordon Beckham in a blow against casual homophobia heard the world over. Likely facing his last batter of the evening just two pitches shy of the century mark, Duffy got Adam Eaton into an 0-2 hole from which the Loather of Quick Pitches was unable to extract himself, notching his third strikeout of Eaton and his seventh of the night.
On the night, Duffy went seven innings, striking out seven, walking two, yielding seven hits, and allowing four runs, all earned and all coming via the long ball.
With just three innings to get back into the game and needing four runs to have a shot, Cheslor Cuthbert showed some patience at the plate to lead off the seventh, working a seven-pitch at-bat before grounding out harmlessly to second. Paulo Orlando saw six pitches himself, running Quintana's pitch count to 99 before lining a "single" off Tyler Saladino's glove into left field. Because why wouldn't the ass-end of the Royals lineup get a rally started, Omar Infante took advantage of a drawn-in outfield, notching his 250th career double, putting runners at second and third with Quintana at 101 pitches.
With the option of sending Drew Butera to the plate with runners in scoring position absolutely unpalatable when trailing four runs in the late innings--although a justification for always pinch-hitting for Butera could probably be made, but that is an argument for another time--Ned Yost turned to the newest player to the Royals organization, deadline acquisition Jonny Gomes. Gomes dug himself a 1-2 hole before being unable to hold up on a breaking ball in the dirt. Because Alcides Escobar will always get the most at-bats and never be pinch-hit for, he got the opportunity to chase the first goddamn pitch from a laboring lefty and grounded out meekly to second to end yet another scoring threat, the eleventh time in the game that the Royals failed to drive in a runner in scoring position.
Mercifully, at least for those concerned with pace of play, Franklin Morales worked a relatively quick top of the eighth allowing just a two-out double.
The good part of the Royals lineup was due up in the bottom of the eighth as the Royals faced Jake Petricka down four runs. Lorenzo Cain singled on a swinging bunt to kick off the inning, and Petricka's night was done after a mere four pitches. Petricka gave way to the Pride of Waco, Zach Duke. Eric Hosmer rifled a grounder that was too hot to handle for Beckham at second. The ball bounced back toward the bag at second, where Alexei Ramirez tried unsuccessfully to grab the ball with his glove while maintaining contact with the base. With batted balls travelling a the approximate combined distance of roughly 140 feet, the Royals had runners at first and second with no outs.
Kendrys Morales followed with a grounder to short, but runners had advanced too far for the Pail Hose to get more than just the out at first. With runners at second and third and one out, Alex Gordon--the only Royal in the evening to work a hit with a runner in scoring position--stepped to the plate. Gordon also managed a swinging bunt to the left side of the infield and raced up the line to beat the throw from Duke by a hair, putting runners at the corners with one out and scoring Lorenzo Cain from third. 4 - 1 Pale Hoes.
Enter September substitutions: Right-hander Nate Jones for lefty Zach Duke, Dyson pinch-running for Gordon, and Moustakas pinch-hitting for Cuthbert. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Jarrod Dyson slipped when breaking for second, and Mike Moustakas scorched a grounder up the middle, where Alexei Ramirez was headed to cover the throw at second. It was an easy double play for the Southsiders, ending the Royals' rally with just a single run scored. When the strings are pulled correctly and shit still isn't breaking the right way, one suspects, perhaps, that black magic is at play.
Triple-A battery mates, Scott "Don't Call Me 'Doyle'" Alexander and Francisco "My Dad Showers with His Clothes on" Pena went to work in the top of the ninth. After two quick outs, Tyler Saladino walked, Gordon Beckham ground a single up the middle, and Adam Eaton hit a second single right back up the middle to score the fifth White Sox (who cares anymore?) run. Then Melky Cabrera ripped a liner up the middle. Another run.
At this point, the up-the-middle tag should be sufficient as a signifier that Alexander was not fooling anyone.
Jose Abreu got called out looking on a pitch that painted the inside corner, a pitch that made one wonder what happened with the previous four batters but was little more than an afterthought as the rookie ran his ERA to 9.00 in his second outing.
Now trailing 6 -1, Paulo Orlando and Omar Infante needed just five pitches to record two outs. Relishing the opportunity to record his second major-league plate appearance, Francisco Pena worked the count to 2-2 on five pitches before being called out looking on a pitch on the inside corner from solid Hoes' closer David Robertson.
Royals lose. Children cry. People the world over freak out about the Royals' suddenly anemic offense. The Royals hope they never face lefties again. The world still turns on its axis.
The Royals now hold just a five-game lead over the hard-charging Blue Jays in the quest for home-field advantage in the American League playoffs. The loss drops the Royals to 29 games over .500 for the first time since they started the 2009 season 18-11.